Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Iron Dream (book)

 By Norman Spinrad

The Iron Dream I'm a big fan of metafiction -- fiction about fiction.  I'm also like a good alternate history novel. The Iron Dream is one of my favorites in that genre because it's a novel written in an alternate world.

When you pick up the book, the title page does indeed say The Iron Dream.  Then you turn the page and discover it's a completely different novel: The Hugo Award winning Lord of the Swastika, written by Adolph Hitler.

The biography in the front tells the tale:  after dabbling in radical politics, Hitler emigrated to the United States, got employment as an illustrator of science fiction books, and eventually started writing novels.  The Lord of the Swastika is considered his masterpiece.

The concept is breathtaking. When you read it, you realize that the book parallels the rise of the Nazis, only as the sort of wish fulfillment fantasy. In it, Ferec Jaggar becomes the leader of a movement to rid the country of Helder from mutant traitors and evil mind controllers so that the pure humans can regain their birthright.

The book is poorly written -- deliberately so, since Hitler learned English late in life -- and shows how Jaggar ultimately triumphs. If you know German history of the period, it's fun to see the parallels, and also the bizarre way that Nazism is translated into the science fiction (and Sword and Sorcery) genre).

The kicker is the "Afterward to the Second Edition," where Professor Homer Whipple of NYU discusses the book and its influence.  It's partly there so that even the dimmest of people will catch on to what Spinrad is trying to do, but it also shows a vision of a world without Nazism -- which has its own set of problems.  The book also disturbingly shows how close this sort of heroic adventure comes to the tenants of the Nazis.

Norman Spinrad has always been one of the bad boys of science fiction, writing about subjects that other writers won't touch and in The Iron Dream he certainly does that in spades.  The book did get critical raves when it came out* and even ended up winning the Prix Tour-Apollo Award for best SF novel in France, but has faded from the list of great SF novels.  It has been reprinted fairly consistently, but I suspect a lot of people might look at it and not understand what's going on.

Once you get used to the purple prose, it's a lot of fun to read, and it makes some very good philosophical points to ponder.


*Not counting the hilarious fake raves from Michael Moorcock ("...bound to earn Hitler the credit he so richly deserves"), Philip Jose Farmer , Harlan Ellison ("The stunned reader can only gasp in wonder"), and Harry Harrison on the back cover.

1 comment:

DSB said...

The hilarious part is that if you accept the world he lives in, all his actions are reasonable. None of these mutants are likely to be viable over hundreds of years; humans need to protect themselves etc.