It is a detailed fictional exploration of the effects of the Malayan Emergency and of Britain's final pull-out from its Southeast Asian territories. The title refers to the Victorian era saying, "The sun never sets on the British Empire." It is taken from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Ulysses: "The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:/The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep/Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,/'Tis not too late to seek a newer world./Push off, and sitting well in order smite/The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds/To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths/Of all the western stars, until I die."
The three volumes are:
Time for a Tiger (1956)
The Enemy in the Blanket (1958)
Beds in the East (1959)
With the trilogy, his first published venture into the art of fiction, Burgess staked a claim to have written the definitive Malayan novel (i.e. novel of expatriate colonial experience of Malaya) to set alongside Orwell's novel (Burmese Days), Forster's on India (A Passage to India) and Greene's on Vietnam (The Quiet American).