Editorial Note: Norman Spinrad’s postmodern sci-fi novel The Iron Dream (1972, Avon Books) is perhaps one of the more mature, literate books published in the past 50 years about American culture and the ways it feeds into fascistic impulses. Spinrad imagines an alternative history where Adolf Hitler became an expatriate fiction author living in the United States rather than entering Weimar politics after World War I. This fictional Hitler writes a number of pulp fiction bestsellers and becomes a hero of sci-fi’s Golden Age before dying in the 1950s. Using the medium of one of these Hitler-authored novels, Spinrad explores how sci-fi as a genre and fan subculture incubates racism, misogyny, and militarism. Le Guin’s review is a very powerful on worth reading.
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From the literary journal Science Fiction Studies, Spring 1973
Adolf Hitler’s Hugo-winning novel of 1954, Lord of the Swastika, presented by Norman Spinrad as The Iron Dream (Avon 1972), is an extraordinary book. Perhaps it deserves the 1973 Hugo, as well.
On the back cover Michael Moorcock compares the book with “the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and Sir Oswald Mosley…. It is the very quintessence of sword and sorcery.” None of the authors mentioned is relevant, except Mosley, but the reference to sword and sorcery is exact. The Iron Dream can be read as a tremendous parody of the subgenre represented by Moorcock’s own Runestaff saga, and by Conan the Barbarian, and Brak the Barbarian, and those Gor books, and so on–“heroic fantasy” on the sub-basement level, the writing of which seems to be motivated by a mixture of simple-minded escapism and money-minded cynicism…
We are forced, in so far as we can continue to read the book seriously, to think, not about Adolf Hitler and his historic crimes–Hitler is simply the distancing medium–but to think about ourselves: our moral assumptions, our ideas of heroism, our desires to, lead or to be led, our righteous wars. What Spinrad is trying to tell us is that it is happening here.
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