The Iron Dream
In The Iron Dream, Norman Spinrad indulges in a thought experiment. What if Adolf Hitler had never gotten into politics? What if he’d never joined the German Workers’ Party and re-invented it as the National Socialists? Maybe he’d have drifted into some other career. God knows, judging from the few Hitler canvases that are still extant, he’d never have hacked it as a fine artist.
Spinrad imagines Hitler travelling to New York, getting some casual work drawing illos for pulp magazines, and by gradual degrees becoming a science fiction writer – a very bad science fiction writer, despite the fact that his 1955 novel, Lords of the Swastika, won him a posthumous Hugo.
Spinrad proceeds to give us the full text of Lords of the Swastika, complete with a critical afterword and a list of the author’s other works (which clearly veer from generic space opera to political allegory). It’s awful. But it’s awful in some fascinating ways. Spinrad (as Hitler’s editor) finds homo-erotic nuance in the writer’s loving descriptions of his blond, leather-booted Aryan heroes, and in their choice of weapons. This is a post-apocalyptic future, so instead of guns or rifles they have maces and clubs – the biggest of which belongs to the protagonist, Feric Jaggar. It’s called “The shaft was a gleaming rod of … metal full four feet long and thick around as a man’s forearm … the oversize headball was a life-sized steel fist, and a hero’s fist at that.” And when Jaggar defeats an enemy, Stag Stopa, the Black Avenger, the bested warlord shows his submission to Jaggar by – and there’s no polite way of putting this – kissing the head of his weapon.
This is more than flirting with homophobia, but I don’t think that was the intention: it’s more about acknowledging an inherent fetishism in the fascist reverence for militaristic ritual. And you could argue, with some justice, that the Nazis are soft targets for sport like this – but they’re far from being Spinrad’s only quarry. He’s gleefully taking the piss out of a whole generation of space operas, many of which (step forward, E.E.Smith) were overtly fascistic both in their furniture and in their themes.
In the end, reading a bad novel for the sake of its badness wears a bit thin, but I still love the central conceit. And I think there might be a future for fictional fictions…