Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Iron Dream!

The Iron Dream purports to be nothing less than a novel by the science fiction writer Adolph Hitler. Norman Spinrad's conceit in this brazen 1972 work is that in an alternative world Adolph Hitler did not rise to power to lead the Third Riech to evil ruin, but rather that he migrated to the United States and took up the career of a science fiction writer, finding some small success in the myriad sci-fi pulps of the day. The Iron Dream contains the final 1959 novel of Hitler known as Lord of the Swastika which proves to be his magnum opus, and it's a doozy. Within the meta-frame of the story the novel was reputedly a Hugo award winner and triggered a following of devoted acolytes. In our actual, real world The Iron Dream did actually win the Nebula. 

Norman Spinrad's novel was first published in 1972 and I first encountered it when I went to college in 1975 and chanced upon SF Rediscovery edition in the college bookstore. The cover art is fascinating, a clear image of Hitler astride a stylized motorcycle with the omnipresent swastika in the background. Even as callow college Freshman I got the joke, that this was a takedown of the attitudes and beliefs of Hitler and the cretins who believed as he did in the morbid notion of racial purity. 

The story is that of Feric Jaeger, a young pure-blooded Aryan who leaves the limits of his sordid little hamlet in a post-apocalyptic world and seeks to enter the center of "true humans". He is dismayed by the lack of rigor in thought and practice to maintain the purity of the race. Radiation from what is referred to as the "Great Fire of the Ancients" has mutated mankind. And he takes it upon himself with no hint of self-doubt to bring a violent revival to the land. To that end he takes command of the local political group and later still a gang of motorcycle toughs. These he blends into his "storm troop". The sign of his leadership is not just his might and powerful personality but a mythic powerful truncheon which responds to his unblemished genetic heritage, marking him in Arthurian fashion as the chosen leader. (It's just about as phallic as it gets as the story unfolds.)

As we follow Feric, he gains more and more power preaching his message of racial purity. Long passages describe the leather garb and resplendent decor of this racially ideal culture. Rarely if ever does Feric make a misstep as we see the repulsive characters around him somehow fail to see the true power of a true man fueled by his undaunted philosophy. It's "might makes right", but the "right" here is a reverse-engineered psychotic vision of a singular race stable and dominant in the world. Feric leads his assembled nation against the hated enemies in the East, sweeping the enemy away in a mighty swathe of pure will and military glory. Eventually we are treated to the sight of camps built and run for the express purpose of gleaning the preferred genetic models and disposing of the remainder either by exile or euthanasia. It's an orgy of battle, blood, metal, explosions and gory destruction of all that is less than the ideal of humanity which somehow dances in the heads of the psychopaths we are to see as the heroes of our tale. 

Spinrad even goes so far as to create a bogus critical essay by a fabricated professor who puts this blasphemous saga into a bogus literary context. Spinrad even goes so far as to create a bogus critical essay by a fabricated professor who puts this blasphemous saga into a bogus literary context. "Afterword to the Second Edition" is a little essay written by "Homer Whipple" which lays bare the neurotic and psychotic content of the novel suggesting even that the man Adolph Hitler who wrote Lord of the Swastika was at the end of his days and his sanity thanks to syphilis. He points out that there is not a single female character in the book and the homoeroticism is redolent page after page, though likely unknown to the author. With this essay Spinrad through the voice of Whipple gives us the point. In regard to the hero, it says "Of course, such a man could gain power only in the extravagant fancies of pathological science fiction novel. For Feric Jaggar is especially a monster: a narcissistic psychopath with paranoid obsessions. His total self-assurance and certainty is based on a total lack of introspective self-knowledge. In a sense, such a human being would be all surface and no interior." Sound like anyone we know. 

One way to view The Iron Dream is that it gives insight into the stunted mind of those who dream of something as inane as racial dominance. The fear and loathing of the other is first and foremost a theme in this book and I cannot read it today without hearing despicable echoes from the political discussion of my own land in my own time. Another way to see the book is an enormous prank played on racists and bigots of all kinds. But the biggest joke there is they are incapable of getting it. Most ironically of all is that Nazis hold this satire in high regard, proving how dim they are and how thoroughly they missed the entire point. Or course the dullards did. 

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