Every now and then in SF literature, an author throws you a googlie / curve ball (delete according to local cultural affinity to cricket or baseball; if you follow neither sport, we’re afraid you’re on your own). The Iron Dream is one of those occasions.
A metafictional 1972 alternate history novel, based around a nested narrative that tells a story within a story. on the surface, the novel presents a rather visceral science fiction action tale entitled Lord of the Swastika. But this is a pro-fascist narrative written by an alternate history version of Adolf Hitler, who in this timeline emigrated from Germany to America and used his modest artistic skills to become first a pulp-SF illustrator and later a science fiction writer in the L. Ron Hubbard mould (telling lurid, purple-prosed adventure stories under a thin SF-veneer).
Lord of the Swastika is gloriously over-the-top – a blatant piece of pro-Nazi propaganda masquerading as pulp SF adventure. But The Iron Dream, even though it comprises in large part of Lord of the Swastika is an altogether different beast, a prime example of Norman Sprinrad’s exquisite skill as a writer.
The nested narrative is followed by a faux scholarly analysis by a fictional literary critic, Homer Whipple, of New York University, which ruthlessly exposes the cliches, racism and homoerotic imagery that riddles pulp-writer-Hitler’s novel.
Purportedly written by a hack writer, Lords of the Swastika stays true to its propagandistic vision and showers us with page after page of jingoistic, eugenics-obsessed purple prose and phallus-centric power fantasies . . . We are told of the rise to power of “genetic true man” Feric Jaggar, who becomes head of the Human Renaissance Party, triumphs in a series of character-testing perils . . . and thereby discovers he is the rightful heir to the glorious weapon Great Truncheon of Held.
Zino-Amaro goes on to note the reactions of Ursula K. Le Guin and Thomas M. Disch to the novel and its further examination by other critics. The piece – focussing on five of Spinrad’s works – is quite long but well worth reading as an insight into one of SF’s most vibrant, original and, on occasion, controversial voices.