Sunday, April 26, 2020

32. The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad

This was recommended to me by a colleague at work who said it was quite weird but interesting.  It took me quite a while to find, so long that I accepted paying $12 for this bagged and near pristine copy, which I believe is a reprint.  The book was written in 1972 and the cover copyright from 1986.  I am happy to say that I managed to read the entire book without adding any significant damage other than it not lying quite as flat as when I pulled it out of the bag. 

It is a weird book!  The concept is that almost the entire book is actually the book "Lord of the Swastika" written by Adolf Hitler.  The about the author just before the title page, reveals that you are in an alternate history where Adolf Hitler emigrated to the US in 1919, became a succesful illustrator of science fiction and fantasy literature as well as a sometime writer and move and shaker in the fandom scene, before writing this immensely popular novel that was published after his death in 1955.  You get this one, fascinating paragraph to tantalize you with this alternate history.  Then the bulk is this insane fascist fantasy novel that is horrifying and yet somehow really fun to read. Then at the very end, there is an afterword that is a critical analysis of the Lord of the Swastika and serves to fill in the broader strokes of the alternate reality where such a book would have been published. 

The novel is really bonkers and deeply disturbing, both because it is somehow so propelling that you find yourself caught up in its momentum while at the same being totally aware of how wrong it all is.  It is basically a simplified, Nazi wish-fulfilled narrative taking place in a science fantasy, post-nuclear world.  Feric Jaggar is a superior true human, raised in the mutant-filled capital of Borgravia because his parents were exiled from their homeland of Heldon.  At the opening of the book, he is finally coming home, filled with disgust at the genetic impurity of the mutants all around him and patriotic fervour at his return.  Things move very quickly and he soon becomes the new leader of Heldon, leading it to greater military glory and genetic purity.  It is basically an allegory of Hitler's own rise to power but with Jaggar as a 6 and a half foot aryan super hero wielding a gigantic phallic hereditary truncheon that only he can lift.  The book is obsessed with uniforms and massive spectacle, as well as constant language contrasting the rigid and fanatical purity of the Heldons versus the putrid, sickening (sometimes pitiable) corruption of the mutants and worse the psychic Zind who control the oil and much of the rest of the world.  Reading this book is kind of like reading Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will in a fantasy world.  It's really a trip.  Because so little is revealed about the world in which Lord of the Swastika is written, you really have no idea of how it will end.  This also keeps you turning the pages.

I won't reveal any of the afterward, beyond saying that it's import in the meaning of the overall book (The Iron Dream, I mean, not the book within the book) far outweighs its few pages.  Spinrad seems to be critiquing a lot here, he attacks the Lord of the Swastika for the simplistic fantasy it is, mocking its sexual pathologies, its obsession with uniforms and massive human spectacle.  Yet, the reader knowing that in the real world (or at least our world), these things led to a horrific conclusion and were actually extremely effective.  He seems to be both revealing the ludicrousness of it all while at the same time underlying how deadly serious it can become, a message all too relevant in today's world.  On a lesser and tangentially related note, he also goes after the fantasy and sci-fi genre, noting that many of the elements taken to the extreme in The Lord of the Swastika have their roots in the classic sci-fi and fantasy tales of lone heroes with phallic weapons imposing their will on the world.  This is another element that is all too relevant today, as the nerd logic and masculine adolescent asperger's culture  which 20 years ago was confined to message boards and convention newsletters has now erupted into one of the most powerful propaganda techniques bringing down western civilization in the age of social media. 

Really interesting book. I shall now go read what others have to say about it.

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