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the-iron-dream

I’ve just finished Norman Spinrad’s 1972 book The Iron Dream, which answers the question “What if Hitler had become a science-fiction writer instead of a dictator?”

Most of the book is Hitler’s allegedly Hugo-winning 1954 novel Lord of the Swastika, plus blurbs from Spinrad’s peers (Michael Moorcock: “It is bound to earn Hitler the credit he so richly deserves!”), a short bio of Hitler (who “dabbled briefly in radical politics in Munich before finally emigrating to New York in 1919”), a list of Hitler’s other SF books (e.g., The Master Race) and an afterword by a New York University professor who attacks Hitler’s literary flaws.

Of which there are many. The book’s a heavily romanticized, post-apocalypse version of Hitler’s real-world career. Blonde, muscular, genetically perfect Feric Jaggar (same scansion as “Adolf Hitler”) accumulates dark-eyed, intense propagandist Seph Bogel (an analog of Joseph Goebbels), worshipful aide Ludolf Best (Rudolf Hess), portly war minister Waffing (Goering), and SS leader Remler (Himmler) as lieutenants in his crusade to eliminate inferior “mongrel races” and the evil Dominators, whose subversive influence weakens the spirit of pure, true humanity.

After Jaggar rises to rule the noble land of Heldon (in German, “Held” means “hero”), he leads his men — the story has no women, except in very brief passing — to war against the Dominators and their slaves. At this point, the book loses dramatic tension, because Jaggar is so superior to non-Helders that they rarely offer him a challenge — just opportunities for him to inflict orgiastic violence, which Hitler/Spinrad describes in the pulpiest prose. True to Hitler’s roots as an artist, the book packs its scenes with vivid and often grotesque visual detail.

The book parodies space operas in which a manly, all-American champion destroys an entire (predatory and physically ugly) alien race, and sword-and-sorcery epics pitting a beefy, undauntable conqueror against corrupt, decadent schemers. If you’ve ever cheered for such protagonists, Spinrad gives you an extreme version and then says, in effect, “You enjoy stuff like this? Well, it’s the kind of thing Hitler would write!”

Spinrad deliberately wrote a bad story to make you feel bad about enjoying other bad stories. This is high satire.

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