Thursday, June 08, 2006

Book Review: Spinrad, Iron Dream

Norman Spinrad's 1972 novel The Iron Dream is a strange book. It purports to be the work of Adolf Hitler in an alternate timeline where the Austrian left Europe for New York in 1919 and became a writer and illustrator of science fiction. Among the fictitious works of fiction listed on one of the book's first pages are The Twilight of Terra and The Triumph of the Will.

As far as I can see, the book is a skilful and credible approximation of an sf novel written by this counterfactual Hitler in 1953. On an Earth twelve centuries after nuclear catastrophe, a country obsessed with racial purity goes to war against its mutated neighbours, including the mind-controlling Zind, a thinly veiled allegory of the Communist states. The Leader's career closely traces that of the real-world Hitler, minus the sticky end of the Third Reich. You hardly turn a page without tall blond men in black leather uniforms and dainty red capes making crisp straight-armed salutes and clicking their heels. The word "fanatical" is used frequently and with strongly positive connotations.

But this of course begs the question, who would ever want to read such a book? Spinrad's effort must be seen as one long and rather tedious joke at the expense of the Nazis and the more militaristic contributors to American 50s sf. The funny parts are even spelt out in an eleven-page "afterword to the 2nd edition" by another alter ego of Spinrad's who is critical of "Hitler's" book. But was it really worth writing a 240-page novel in a crazy militaristic style just to get to this little punchline? I can't really say it's worth reading those 240 pages.

I mean, what was Spinrad trying to say? That Nazism is bad? Gee, thanks for opening our eyes to that one. Michael Moorcock is funny and confrontative, though, in his jacket blurb: he compares "Hitler's" work to that of conservative Britons Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton and Sir Oswald Mosley! "It is bound to earn Hitler the credit he so richly deserves!"

Dear Reader, if you decide to write fiction in the voice of a historical person, I suggest you choose somebody likeable. Or at least someone sane.

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