Saturday, January 23, 2016

Review of The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad

One of the things that has always bothered me about Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Princess of Mars is how easily John Carter was able to rally hordes of men in support of his pursuit of Dejah Thoris.  What damn does the ordinary man give whether Carter gets a kiss before he goes to sleep at night?  And yet there they were, dying for his ego.  Barsoom a contrived fiction, the sentiment of an obedient mass blindly following its megalomaniac leader nevertheless transcends the text.  Spinrad spinning this idea to the historical surreal, he penned The Iron Dream in 1972, and in doing so, put Hitler’s wildest dreams into Burroughs-esque, pulp form.  In the words of Joachim Boaz, it may even be possible after finishing the novel that the reader “will never read pulp SF/F in the same way…”

The Iron Dream is a fantastic, pulling-out-of-the-rug-from-beneath-the-feet of male power fantasy inherent to much science fiction and fantasy.  The deconstruction presented in a novel-within-a-novel, The Iron Dream opens with a brief pseudo-biography of the science fiction writer Adolph Hitler and is followed by his Hugo Award winning novel Lord of the Swastika.  The afterword, provided by one Homer Whipple (i.e. Spinrad in open disguise), psychoanalyzes the Fuhrer’s ideas for extra abstraction.

The psychoanalysis both frivolous and pinpoint, Whipple breaks down the story of Hitler’s mighty hero Feric Jaggar (great name!) with one eye on its wild absurdity and the other on its sad underpinning.  Jaggar is a man arriving in the country of Heldon, come to find other truebloods such as himself.  What he finds is a disgrace. Mutants and mongrels openly walk the streets, causing his bile to rise.  Fully believing "genetic purity is the politics of human survival," Jaggar, through a set of wild adventures, forms a group of similar believers to raze the land of the dire ideas of Universalism and set truebloods in the seat of power once again.

Spinrad cognizant of style, Lord of the Swastika is rendered as pulp fiction circa the early 20 th century.  The writing simple and straightforward, one man rises to take control and lead his forces to glorious victory against the seething hordes.  In this case, however, those forces are what we in the real world we know as Nazism, and the hordes are, in essence, the allied WWII powers—a questioning of the innocence of John Carter and other such stories.

But the fact the reader can so easily guess the development and outcome of Hitler’s fantasy/Jaggar’s tale that detracts from proceedings.  Occupying more than 200 pages, the novel-within-the-novel could have easily been rendered at half the length, and spared the reader much of the detail they can easily predict, as well as matched the length of the Golden Age stories it is commenting upon.  In this case, when the reader knows they are reading the wish fulfillment of one of history’s most infamous leaders, interest simply cannot be held for the same length as with works whose context is insular.

It’s thus in the afterword and in the unspoken, juxtaposed tone of criticism underlying Hitler’s novel that The Iron Dream finds its worth.  Capturing perfectly the misguidance of the male power fantasy, Spinrad uses Whipple’s words to (indirectly) chop off its inflated head, and in the process make some very strong insinuations about the writers of such texts, particularly how they wittingly or unwittingly inject political views into their fictions. 

In the end, The Iron Dream is satire to the point of blunt criticism.  It deconstructs pulp heroes piece by piece, all the while revisioning who the villains may actually be.  Irreverent, and by being intelligently rebellious (i.e. not rebellious simply for rebellion’s sake) challenges the reader’s conceptions of the innocent fiction of science fiction of old.  Hitler’s Lord of the Swastika rendered as pop art, it serves its role, but in the end is only a reaction to something rather than an original piece in itself.  It’s thus the final twenty or so pages pages of The Iron Dream that elevates the novel beyond. 

A side note: It is a humorous thing to me that Spinrad portrayed Hitler’s novel as a Hugo winner.  For certain he was not calling the award’s organizers or writers who win the award, fascist.  Rather, it seems he was paralleling the fandom associated with the award to the lemming-esque thinking that allowed Hitler to draw into his fold millions of normal people under the guise of good politic.  Despite having previously been nominated for a Hugo (in 1970 for Bug Jack Barron), it’s no surprise after the publishing of The Iron Dream Spinrad never was nominated again.  Seeming to validate Spinrad’s “award” to Hitler, the Sad Puppy Hugo takeover in 2014 and 2015 has a certain fascist knell to it, no?

1 comment:

  1. I am glad you enjoyed it!

    I think it is interesting that his editors wanted him to write the scholarly afterward in case readers were confused... And, yet it is easily the most scathing and brilliant part of the work!