Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad

Let Adolf Hitler transport you to a far-future Earth, where only FERIC JAGGAR and his mighty weapon, the Steel Commander, stand between the remnants of true humanity and annihilation at the hands of the totally evil Dominators and the mindless mutant hordes they completely control.

I decided to read this book based on the description, which is the kind of self-referential stuff I enjoy: Instead of becoming dictator of Germany in the 1930's, Hitler immigrates to the United States and becomes a science fiction author. His last work is called The Lord of the Swastika--which is actually what you're reading; the rest is all setup to introduce the false author. The story itself is of Feric Jaggar, a genetically pure "Trueman" intent on freeing his native country of Heldon from the scourge of hideous unpure mutants and especially the evil, mind-manipulating Dominators who are based in the faroff country of Zind.

The point is that the book Hitler would write--a narcissistic, sexually aggressive and racist fasco-fantasy where genetically pure people destroy thinly veiled mutants--resembles much of the science fiction literature that characterized the middle part of the century. By substituting Hitler as the author of the book, Spinrad means not for us to think about Hitler per se, but what we appreciate in fiction and what it says about us.

That's all well and good, but the fact is that Hitler is a terrible writer. Now, I realize, that is somewhat of the point, but that doesn't make Lord of the Swastika, or The Iron Dream, as it's published in real life, any better. It's still full of clodded, awkward writing and nauseating battle fantasies. What concept, no matter how clever, necessitates a full-length book that is necessarily awful? It's enjoyable in a superficial way, I suppose, but not in the way literature ought to be.

I did enjoy, however, the afterword by the fictional Harold Whipple of NYU, which points out the phallic symbolism of the book and relates it to the circumstances of the times, in which the Greater Soviet Union controls all of Eurasia and the United States yearns for a brave leader like Feric Jaggar, which Whipple says accounts for the book's popularity. The best part: "Of wider significance is the book's popularity and the adoption of the swastika motif and colors created in it among as diverse a spectrum of social groups and organizations as the Christian Anti-Communist League, various 'outlaw motorcycle gangs,' and the American Knights of the Bushido."

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