The stories are set in an Alternate History in which the United States has a communist revolution led by prominent Real Life American Socialist Eugene Debsnote in 1917, with subsequent events parallelling the real-life history of the USSR. (Russia, in this history, remains an empire but evolves into a constitutional monarchy, and allies with the UK against the USSA in the Cold War.) They feature Newman's trademark Massive Multiplayer Crossover style, with fictional characters rubbing shoulders with historical figures in surprising new contexts.
The stories are:
- "In the Air"
- "Ten Days That Shook the World"
- "Tom Joad"
- "Teddy Bears' Picnic"
- "Citizen Ed"
- "Abdication Street"
- "On the Road"
"On the Road" is original to the collection; the other stories had previously been published in Interzone. "Teddy Bears' Picnic" was also reprinted in Newman's collection Unforgivable Stories.
These stories provide examples of:
- Allohistorical Allusion:
- A character comments that something was as strange as finding London Bridge in the Arizona desert.
- In "Teddy Bears' Picnic", Bob objects to William Hartnell being cast as Sgt. Grimshaw in The Movie of the Book due to Hartnell being more well known as the Doctor, and recommends Patrick Troughton instead, because Troughton comes off as a more sinister and threatening actor. There's a triple whammy here; both Hartnell and Troughton played the Doctor in the actual world, Troughton's version of the Doctor was actually a lot friendlier and nicer than Hartnell's version, and Hartnell actually did play Grimshaw in the movie he originally appeared in (Carry On, Sergeant).
- Celebrity Paradox: Fictional characters will often appear alongside the people who played them. In one instance, "Teddy Bears' Picnic" includes the actor William Hartnell and fictional characters from the movie and TV show he's most famous for starring in.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: "Teddy Bears' Picnic" features a truly psychotic version of Sergeant Grimshaw, the drill sergeant from Carry On, Sergeant, mixed with a large helping of the Trope Codifier from Full Metal Jacket.
- Evil Colonialist: Basil Fotherington-Thomas in "Teddy Bears' Picnic", where he has become his world's equivalent of Colonel Kurtz.
- Going Native: Basil Fotherington-Thomas (from the molesworth books) fills the Kurtz role in "Teddy Bears' Picnic", a bizarre Alternate History retelling of Apocalypse Now. William Brown also fits as the soldier sent to kill Fotherington-Thomas who ends up joining him.
- Historical Domain Character:
- Eugene Debs plays an important role, as the Revolutionary that started it all. Significant liberties are taken about his personality.
- In Spite of a Nail: The American government and capitalism collapse in 1917 and Eugene Debs leads a Socialist revolution. After that things go much as in the USSR in our timeline, but with American figures — e.g., Al Capone fills the role of Stalin, J. Edgar Hoover is the equivalent of Lavrentiy Beria, and Eliot Ness is an agent of the Federal Bureau of Ideology. Dissidents risk getting exiled to Alaska.
- I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: Sergeant Grimshaw in "Teddy Bears' Picnic" does this.
- Malicious Misnaming: In "Teddy Bears' Picnic", film director Michael Powell makes a deliberate decision to refer to the government censor Putnam as "Putt-man", and instructs all of his staff to do the same.
- Massive Multiplayer Crossover: For one example, "Teddy Bears' Picnic" is about Terry and Bob of The Likely Lads fighting in the Vietnam war with William of Richmal Crompton's Just William stories and other fictional characters.
- The Neidermeyer: Captain Fisher, a.k.a. "Billy Liar", in "Teddy Bears' Picnic".
- Peeling Potatoes: Done by the Drill Sergeant Nasty to the trainees in "Teddy Bears' Picnic". In a particularly sadistic twist, he then changes his mind and orders the recruits to glue the skins back on.
- Richard Nixon the Used Car Salesman: All over the place, with both real and fictional people. Al Capone is the American Stalin, Kurt Vonnegut is the American Gorbachev, and Trotsky's daughter is a commoner who marries the British Crown Prince. Lafayette Hubbard, Mitch Morrison, Charles Lindbergh and Joseph McCarthy appear as a propagandistic "troupe of war heroes" in the 1950s Communist America.
- Send in the Search Team: "Teddy Bears' Picnic", which is essentially a retelling of Apocalypse Now with British characters and a few nasty surprises.
- Unfriendly Fire: The final fate of Captain Fisher in "Teddy Bears' Picnic". He gets fragged by his own troops using a white phosphorus grenade.
- Whole Plot Reference: Several of the stories:
- "Teddy Bear's Picnic" borrows liberally from many Vietnam War movies, most particularly Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter.
- "Abdication Street" is a pretty straight retelling of Cinderella, if you ignore the alternate history royal wedding in a 1970s Tsarist Russia where "Cinzia" is a TV make-up artist, Prince Charming is Prince Charles, and the "Fairy Godfather" is Peter Sellers.