Saturday, 1 September 2001

Norman Spinrad: The Iron Dream (1972)

Edition: Panther, 1977
Review number: 933

Most alternate histories are simply narratives set in a world which differs from our own because an event in the past is supposed to have had a different outcome. The Iron Dream is, so far as I know, unique in science fiction because it purports to be a novel written in an alternate universe.

For The Iron Dream is supposed to present a posthumously published novel by an Adolf Hitler who emigrated to the States in the twenties to make a living as an artist for science fiction magazines before writing himself. Published in 1953, Sons of the Swastika (under which title no publisher would have touched Spinrad's novel) won the Hugo award for 1954, when in reality no award was made. The Iron Dream is a reprint, complete with scholarly commentary.

As a fantasy written by Hitler, Sons of the Swastika is pretty much what you might expect, displaying obsessions with racial purity and uniforms, and hatred for Communism thinly disguised as the Dominators who enslave millions telepathically. It manages to be exciting and readable, despite misgivings about its politics which are initially raised by the name of its author.

And this is surely the point that Spinrad wanted to make with The Iron Dream. It is not particularly about Hitler, revealing nothing about its supposed author other than what is part of the popular consciousness. Instead, it is a commentary on the appearance of right wing politics and disturbing psychological obsessions in the science fiction of the period. Sons of the Swastika may be more exaggerated than what has survived, but that is of course how satire makes its point.

There is a great deal of ironic parallel between the career of Feric Jaggar, hero of Sons of the Swastika, and the real Adolf Hitler, which is brought out by the commentary (even though this is supposed to be a product of the same alternate world). It refers several times to the unlikelihood of Jaggar's rise to power and the impossibility that Jaggar's demagoguery could unite a nation behind him in the way that it does. This is not very subtle, but it is quite effectively disturbing.

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