cover image Back in the USSA

Back in the USSA

Eugene Byrne. Mark V. Ziesing, $29.95 (356pp) ISBN 978-0-929480-84-8

In the zany scenario of this alternative history of the 20th century, Russia didn't have a revolution, but the United States did, sparked by Teddy Roosevelt's death in a gun battle between the Rough Riders and striking meatpackers in 1912 Chicago. Soon Chairman Capone and the iron arm of the Federal Bureau of Ideology have remade the party of Eugene Debs in their own image. As the authors laboriously conceive it, the U.S. becomes a sort of simplified Eastern Bloc in which historical and pop-culture figures mingle with the fictional characters. Sometimes the rules of this transformation bend weirdly enough to create a kind of brief, madcap diversion, as when Buddy Holly tells how Howard Hughes and Jack Kerouac barnstormed across the USSA in the Spruce Goose, here a homemade biplane (""`I'll tell you what music was in those days,"" says Holly, here spared from untimely death, ""Mario fucking Lanza singing about agricultural machinery""). Despite such bursts of high spirits, Newman's (Bloody Red Baron) and Byrne's disheveled goose has a hard time getting off the ground, and the cartoonish country it surveys offers little food for thought. (Nov.)