by Eugene Byrne & Kim Newman

Mark V. Zeising


356pp/$29.95/October 1997

Back in the U.S.S.A.
Cover by Arnie Fenner

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In 1917, following a Eugene Debs led revolution, the United States became a socialist superpower, opposed to the other world superpower, a Czarist Russia. That is the background to Back in the U.S.S.A., the new book by Eugene Byrne and Kim Newman. Although called a novel, Back in the U.S.S.A. is composed of several short stories, all except one of which were originally published in Interzone. Ranging in period from 1912 until post-socialist 1998, these stories cover a wide range of serious topics, but manage to maintain a wide variety of humorous pop-culture references throughout.

The U.S.S.A. is populated by a strange mix of real and fictitious characters, ranging from Isaac Asimov and Harlan Ellison to Jake and Elwood Blues. Several are more esoteric than these, and half the fun of reading Back in the U.S.S.A. is trying to figure out who everyone is. Although at times, the inclusion of these figures stretches the boundaries of disbelief, their cameo appearances add to the reader's enjoyment of these stories.

The quality of the stories vary. Although well written, "Abdication Street" probably relies a little too heavily on its readers' familiarity with the British television series "Coronation Street." Similarly, knowledge of "Apocalypse Now" will enhance enjoyment of "Teddy Bears' Picnic."

Perhaps the best stories are the ones with the most original plots. "Ed Gein," for instance, examines the role of the serial killer in a society in which serial killers do not exist. As evidence of Ed's atrocities mount, the party leaders must work harder and harder to continue to turn a blind eye towards the crimes of the Socialist Hero. "Ed Gein" contains a good example of the kinds of walk throughs fictional and non-fictional characters have, with mentions of Martha and Abby Brewster, Norm Bates, Randall Flagg, Kaspar Gutman, Bruno Anthony, Harry Truman, and Hannibal Lector.

Back in the U.S.S.A. can be read on multiple levels, gaining insight into what freedom, civilization, and democracy really mean, as an examination of socialism and the human spirit, or as a fun romp through a world that never was. We should be thankful that Mark V. Zeising decided to take a chance in collecting these stories. With luck, a larger publishing house will elect to issue this book in a mass market edition to make it more accessable to the average reader.

In the Air (1989)
Ten Days That Shook the World (1912-1917)
Tom Joad (1937)
Teddy Bears' Picnic (1965-1969)
Citizen Ed (1945-1984)
Abdication Street (1972)
On the Road (1998)

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