Monday, June 20, 2005

And now, from SF Hall-of-Famer Adolf Hitler . . .

The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad For me, Norman Spinrad is most memorable as the author of the Star Trek episode, "The Doomsday Machine", better known in my household as "Kirk Meets the Cosmic Blunt". (We have alternate names for all the classic episodes. Three guesses as to the identity of "Captain Kirk, Space Queen", or "Spock in Heat". That's my wife and I. So -- knockingonwood knockingonwood knockingonwood.) Yup, "Kirk Meets the Cosmic Blunt". Still saying, "Waaaaaah?" Here's an unloaded blunt:
Now do you remember? No? Imagine William Shatner and William Windom fighting over who can chew the most scenery. That episode. The Iron Dream and I only lasted one chapter together. By then, I had tired of the overly dense writing (me like dialog) and the core joke had grown old after ten pages. Karen, masochist that she is, finished it, and penned the fine review which you shall soon read. She thinks she might have gone a little over the top in her conclusions, but what the hey. I've taken a few editorial liberties. Karen says, "I don't want to be judged over something you've written." Okay: I'll put any major interpolations by me in blue.
We Need a Strong Leader, Now More Than Ever
Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream (1972) caused a mild stir at the time of its publication. This satiric science fiction novel features an alternate history where Adolf Hitler emigrated to the United States in 1919 and became a comic book illustrator and science fiction writer. The Iron Dream (the actual title is Lord of the Swastika. I suspect Spinrad's publisher chickened out and made him come up with a different title for the cover) is his supposed Hugo Award-winning novel of 1954, a story concerning the rise of Feric Jagger, a national hero who saves the nation of Held from the mutant hordes of inferior and corrupted humans. Written in the bombastic tones of Mein Kampf, the novel is a distorted version of Hitler's historic rise to power in Weimar Germany, and his subsequent actions in Europe and Africa. The story begins with Jagger returning from Borgravia (corresponding to Hitler's youth in Austria). He arrives in Held, the last pocket of genetically pure humanity in a world still suffering from the devastating effects of an ancient nuclear war. Held is surrounded by radiation-contaminated land which has produced grotesque mutants who must be euthanized -- for their own good, as well as for the sake of humanity. Unfortunately for the blond, blue-eyed Heldons, these mutants are commanded by the sinister forces of the mind-controlling Zind, the analogue to the USSR. Ridiculously quickly, Feric gains leadership of a small political party, which he soon parlays into control of the entire country. How does author Hitler account for this? Feric's amazingly powerful personal will and magnetism lead everyone to recognize his natural superiority. Under his magnificent leadership, the Heldon army finally confronts the vast armies of Zind in the book's climactic battle. Since Dream is written by alternate universe author Hitler, fascism is good, genocide justified, and everyone (everyone racially pure, that is) loves the good and wise hero who triumphs in the end. Spinrad's difficulty, though, lies in maintaining a readable story that's supposedly written by a psychopathic hack writer with no real insight into humanity. Thus, there is incredibly bad sentence structure and an obsession with the gory details of death and violence. Desperately needed comic relief is supplied by the homoerotic descriptions of missiles, bullets, and the "Great Truncheon of Held," Jagger's semi-magical club that he wields as the true heir to the former Kings of Held:
Stopa looked up at the great shining headpiece of the truncheon which Feric held before his face, a headball carved in the likeness of a hero's fist, with a swastika signet ring on the third finger. He started to obey Feric's command [to stand], hesitated, then touched his lips to the swastika on the head of the Great Truncheon.
Despite these attempts to shore up the narrative's deficiencies, Spinrad lets the novel drag in many spots, particularly in the repetitious battle scenes. After reading 20 or so descriptions of Feric's mighty blows decimating the mutant horde, I began to skip these passages. But there's more to this book than just the smug feeling that we are too clever to fall for fascistic propaganda. (In fact, I found a neo-Nazi review on the internet which didn't realize this was satire; supposedly, the American Nazi Party loves the book, too.) (That last link -- to -- is more interesting than you might think. According to Karen, the reviewer plagiarized the review from another she (Karen) had just read. Then he tacked on a few paragraphs at the end to the tune of "Great book! Warms the cockles of my pure Aryan heart!") Spinrad includes an afterword by a fictitious literary critic who discusses the popularity of similar stories in both science fiction and fantasy. Furthermore, the back cover quotes praise the novel as comparable to J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and G.K. Chesterton. For example: recall, from LOTR, the slaughter of the mutant orcs and the short, debased men from the south by the racially superior elves and the tall and noble Aragorn. I have read a good deal of science fiction and fantasy and I have no doubt that a tinge of fascism, racism, and sexism seeped into a great many of the so-called classics of the Golden Age. In their defense, these stories were written decades ago and one shouldn't necessarily apply today's standards. However, their undeniable influence on today's literature unconsciously leads some of us to separate different ethnic and religious groups into the 'debased' versus the 'noble', and the 'fanatically homicidal' versus the 'protectors of humanity'. That, in conjunction with the ubiquitous scenes of slaughter and battle in the science fiction and fantasy genres, may lead the desensitized reader to support warfare and death in the real world.
Thanks, Karen. Folks, her next book review will be: "Charlotte's Web: Beloved Children's Classic, or Vegan Propaganda?" D.


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