Roots: There is a quotation from Picasso, whose painting Guernica plays a key role. There are references to Max Castle, the Monkees, Catatonia, Vittel mineral water, Betty Boop, Sherlock Holmes, The Guardian, Oscar Wilde, Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Bluebeard, and The X-Files (Trust no one). There are quotations from Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood, W. H. Auden, Antony Beevor, and George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. There is a bibliography and filmography at the end of the novel, listing the author's research sources.
Continuity: Someone built The System and the Absolute to gather information, although it is not known who. The Absolute can travel through time and can apparently possess people, allowing them to observe events from the point of view of humans. The Absolute adopts the identity of Enrique, although whether it possesses him or simply creates the identity is unclear. The telephone network in Barcelona reminds the Absolute of the System, but far more primitive. They can transfer humans into the System, although this proves fatal for the humans. The Absolute cannot cope with the conflicting views of history provided by different human witnesses of the same event and is driven insane; in response to this, it expels the conflicting data, creating a second creature (or possibly just splitting itself in two) which is composed of the personalities of those possessed by the Absolute. The connection between the Absolutes possessed and the creature can be severed, removing that persons perspective from the creature. The Absolute is unable to recombine with the creature, partly because both of them grow so big that whatever matter they are composed of reaches critical mass when they enter close proximity.
Sabbath reads a copy of La Batalla. He recently sent the agent who calls himself Sasha and Jueves on an assignment in Rome, to assassinate somebody; his agent failed when the target ducked. Sabbath picks his agents pocket with ease. He likes coffee and sherry. He dons a linen suit and fedora.
Proximity to Sabbath makes the Doctor's chest itch (see Camera Obscura). The Doctor still has the note from The Burning. He realises that the handwriting on it is not Fitz's [it is Compassion's - see The Ancestor Cell]. He changes into a dark red coat and short whilst in Barcelona. He is terrified of being stranded on twentieth century Earth again.
Fitz is reading a copy of Sartre's The Age of Reason, which he found in the TARDIS library. He can blow smoke rings. The Doctor forges ID papers for him, using his real name and giving him a Prussian birthplace and date of birth in 1907. When he was at school, Tubby Johnson beat him up and stole his prize-winning marble. The Doctor gives him a small spherical TARDIS tracker [the same kind used in The Shadow in the Glass].
Anji used to use a step-machine at a London gym. She has visited New York. She speaks French and starts to learn Catalonian whilst in 1930s Spain. She keeps and old bicycle lamp in her handbag. She has been taught how to use a rifle by the militia, but isn't very good at it. She cant dance.
The TARDIS rebuilt herself from the smallest atom up, recreating all the books in her library from rare folios to battered paperbacks. The Doctor uses a book cover recreated out of TARDIS matter to travel through time and space with the Absolute and the creature that it creates. To avoid being infiltrated by the Absolute via the telephone network, the TARDIS becomes inert; the archway entrance to the kitchen vanishes, the interior door becomes locked, and the bookshelves in the library are sealed off behind unbreakable glass. The Doctor is forced to use a crank handle to open and close the doors from inside (see Death to the Daleks). The regenerated TARDIS still has a ticker-tape printer (State of Decay). Sasha is able to connect to the Absolute's System via the telephone in the TARDIS door (Cat's Cradle: Times Crucible) and travel along it.
Links: There are references to the Doctor's beard, grown in The Adventuress of Henrietta Street and shaved off just before the start of Hope. The Doctor avoids Kim Philby so as not to preempt their meeting in Endgame. Albert is mentioned (Grimm Reality).
Location: Barcelona, 1937; Bilbao, 21st April 1937; Barcelona from April 1937 to summer 1937; Paris, summer 1937
Unrecorded Adventures: The Doctor has met Sartre before. He visited Spain during Franco's reign whilst stranded on Earth. He also spent time in America, China, Asia and Australia during this period (see The Year of Intelligent Tigers).
The Bottom Line: 'I'm restoring anarchy to history!' An impressive debut, although it feels padded during the middle section. The concept of history being perceptual is fascinating, although the point is driven home rather more than is necessary. Despite these minor shortcomings, the prose style and characterisation maintain interest until the end. Sabbath's fleeting appearances hint at bigger things to come.