What if Hitler had written sci-fi? - The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad

Posted on May 27, 2023
tl;dr: Weird yet winful satire of Nazism from the 20th for the 21st century.

In 1972 Nebula Award nominee ‘The Iron Dream’, Norman Spinrad asks the question: What if Hitler had written a science fiction novel? The Iron Dream thus forms a novel within a novel, as beside an introduction and afterword, the reader is thrust into ‘The Lord of the Swastika’, Hitler’s most famous science fiction work. The Lord of the Swastika presents a homoerotic tale of world domination where the true human genotype is restored to primacy in a post-apocalyptic Europe. In this, the reader will follow Feric Jagger, a narcissitic psychopath who seeks to rid the irradiated Earth of ‘mutations’ human and otherwise by wielding his great phallic truncheon to lead his leather-clad SS bikie-gang to victory. His plans are challenged by the ‘dominators’, otherwise genotypically normal human beings with the capacity for mind control.

The Iron Dream is a satire of Nazism, and while this isn’t the kind of ‘ha-ha’ satire that would always be immediately obvious, it is made clear from the get go by the introduction of Hitler as the author. The inconsistencies or at least irrationalities of Feric’s ideology are demonstrated throughout the book. The ideal of blue eyes, blonde hair, and enormous height is espoused and declared with no recognition by Feric or his followers of the fact that all of these attributes are themselves historic mutations of the human genome. Feric chooses his second-in-command after noting that he would always vie for control, then proceeding to be shocked at betrayal. Feric himself, through the failings of ‘Hitler’ as a good author, exhibited the abilities of a dominator. His speeches never failed to rouse commitment and support, he was always able to sense and fight off dominators. To Feric, however, these abilities reflected only his own greatness and not symptoms of himself acting in the way of his greatest enemies. The ‘dominators’ are indeed no less ‘racist’ (for lack of a better term) against the more obvious mutants themselves, seeking only for their use and abuse in low-level roles they deem beneath their status. In contrast to Feric’s permadigust at the sight of mutants, this is called ‘universalism’, but is equally discriminatory. According to Nazism’s own dehumanisation of the other, the visibly mutated inhabitants of Earth are ‘dealt with’ by efficiency over kindness, while the proximally-human are offered castration. This appearance-based hierarchy is as nonsensical in the book as in real life.

Interestingly enough, my own interpretation of The Iron Dream as satire differed to that intended by Spinrad. In the afterword, The Lord of the Swastika is broken down as being representative of the Cold War, with the Zind representing the USSR and Helder and its surrounds representing Germany and other nations of Europe. Reading this book in 2023, however, I began to see the U.S. as Zind. Admitted in the afterword, the inclusion of the dominators as representations of Jews in the USSR made little sense and sprung from Hitler’s delusions. Thus, the over-representation of Jews in elevated positions in the modern United States held a better fit alongside the general attitude to the role of immigrants, or in this case mutants, as filling undesirable roles. To me, Zind and the dominators represented internal contradictions of the Allies during and post-WW2 that saw Nazism condemned while racism otherwise thrived. Rather than a weakness of either the novel or my own failure to put myself in a Cold War mindset, I believe the continued relevance and plurality of possible interpretations of Spinrad’s satire demonstrates its continued significance.

The Iron Dream fully embeds the reader in the mindset of its Hitler such that you are almost rooting for Feric’s success. The visible mutants of the world are given no real agency. Indeed, they are not even shown to be bad beyond Feric’s consistent disgust at their mutations and poverty. In all interpersonal interactions, they are shown to be polite, using the ’trueman’ honorific. In contrast, the dominators are consistently shown to be conniving, their powers used for ill. While the destruction of Feric is reprehensible, no others in the novel are presented as worth rooting for, or are constantly denigrated with affronting imagery of defecation, of phlegm, and of rot. This works to recreate the mysticism and fantasy of Nazi campaigns that contrasted the fantastical heroism of the Aryan people with the equally fantastical debauchery of others.

The Lord of the Swastika ends with humanity preserved through the destruction of anything resembling natural reproduction or community. Following Feric, the people voluntarily castrate themselves in favour of cloning all-male, idealised versions of the SS so as to ensure the genetic purity of the human race. This ‘final solution’ to the problem of genomic impurity in the irradiated world is a deeply inhuman one. Feric’s clone-fueled future erases women entirely following the absence of a single named female character throughout the book. And, according to Feric’s self-conception of perfection, the final scene involves the launching of his seed, his genetic material, to space to populate the stars. The pursuit of genetic purity is thus shown to be both a narcissistic and inherently misanthropic aim.

Highly recommend picking this up if you’re looking for a unique classic science/weird fiction novel.