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Literature / The Iron Dream

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What if Hitler were a sci-fi author?.

The Iron Dream is a 1972 Heroic Fantasy / Science Fiction novel by Norman Spinrad... sort of. The majority of the book is the full text of the brilliantly popular fantasy novel Lord of the Swastika, written by famed SF author Adolf Hitler; the rest of the book is a framing device setting up the world in which this alternate Hitler lives, and a concluding essay hammering the point home for those who didn't get it the first time through.

This book contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Self-Defense: The war Ferric wages against the Dominators hits most of the beats of World War II, except that the Soviet analogue invades Poland first.
  • Alternate History: A world in which Hitler moved to the US in 1919, got involved in Science Fiction Fandom, and died in 1954. Without his presence, the Nazi party fell apart in 1923, and eventually Germany fell to a Communist revolution in 1930, and by the time of the book's "afterword" the Greater Soviet Union dominates Eurasia and Africa and is moving into South America, leaving only the United States and Japan as the bastions of freedom on the Pacific.
  • Cosplay: It's mentioned that dressing up as the Sons of the Swastika is quite popular at sci-fi conventions.
  • Deconstruction: Of the Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction genres, intended to show the creepy fascist aspects at their core. A straight-jawed, hypermasculine chosen hero leading an uprising against an Always Chaotic Evil race is a very standard sci-fi plot, but when you add in the idea that it was written by Hitler, suddenly all those elements become very questionable.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: It's a book written by Hitler; what kind of values do you think it'll be espousing?
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?
    • Done both by Hitler and the actual writer.
    • Notable instances include a reference to a "holocaust of fire" and the protagonists warming themselves by a "heap of burning faggots."note 
    • The Dominators' symbol, prominently featured on their flag, is a yellow star.
  • Don't Explain the Joke: The Afterword outright explains every single subtlety and satirization in the book, which takes quite a bit of the fun out of writing entries for this page.
  • Framing Device: The novel framed with "nonfiction" materials.
  • Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act: Of the "something even worse takes his place" type, despite the lack of time travel. The framing story is set in a world where Hitler never went into politics and the Nazis never mattered much. The Cold War is going very badly, and Europe and a lot of the rest of the world are probably much worse off than in our world.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: Inverted, having Hitler become a popular American science-fantasy novelist.
  • New Wave Science Fiction: Like most of Spinrad's works of the time, this controversial and deconstructive work was very much a part of the New Wave.
  • Putting on the Reich: The alternate universe sci-fi fans do this with the uniforms described in the story.
  • Richard Nixon, the Used Car Salesman: Instead of joining the Nazi Party, becoming its supreme leader and installing himself as the dictatorial Fuhrer of Germany, Adolf Hitler moved to the USA and became a pulp sci-fi writer.
  • Stylistic Suck: Hitler's not a very good author. As anyone who's read even a few short passages of Mein Kampf can attest, he really wasn't. He's also very repetitive:
    • "racial will" appears 31 times
    • "leather" appears 69 times, with loving descriptions of uniforms and flags
    • "steel" appears 142 times
    • Additionally, much of the story comes across as a Cliché Storm, which is part of the point; the fact that a very standard story setup is also one that invokes a mess of Nazi imagery is meant as critique for pulp Heroic Fantasy.
  • Take That!: The book suggests that in the real world, the works of certain specific sf and fantasy writers, their Fandom, and the science fiction and fantasy genres as a whole at large are problematic.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Spinrad expected his readership to, in effect, get the joke. Of course, not everyone did.
  • Who Would Be Stupid Enough?: The author analyzing Hitler's story notes that while some fans may yearn for such a decisive and iron-willed leader to save them from Soviet domination, he concludes that no rational person would ever stand such a clearly delusional, bloodthirsty tyrant, and that they certainly wouldn't be swayed by snappy uniforms, precision marching, and gigantic displays of stirring imagery. He also rejects the idea that Doms are an anti-semitic metaphor, as given the Soviet Union's persecution of their own Jewish population, no-one would seriously believe that Communism was a Jewish conspiracy.
  • Word of God: In-universe, the framing commentator/literary agent says that Hitler in the alternative timeline died of syphilis, which slowly ate away at his brain.note  This accounts for (some of) the wild excesses of the later part of the novel.

The Show Within a Show Lord of the Swastika contains examples of:

  • After the End: A nuclear apocalypse has tainted the human gene pool.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Dominators.
  • Astral Finale: When the Dominators pollute Earth with radiation all over again, Feric responds by colonizing the stars.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: The Dominators' Mooks are mind-controlled to keep on fighting even though the hero's forces are cutting them down by the score.
  • Author Appeal: The massive amount of Phallic Weapon and Homoerotic Subtext on display suit many theories about Hitler having had some issues with sexuality. There's also a scene involving mutant warriors crapping themselves that is described in unusual detail (as well as endless repetition)—in real life, one of the more persistent claims about Hitler is that he may have had a scat fetish.
  • Author Avatar: Feric Jaggar is an obvious avatar of Hitler.
  • Body Horror: The descriptions of some of the mutated wildlife in the radiation jungles are just nauseating.
  • Contrived Coincidence: No sooner does Jagger decide that the Black Avengers have Outlived Their Usefulness when one of his men rushes in to breathlessly reveal that the leader of the group is conspiring with the Doms to launch a coup. Of course this mirrors the real-life Night of the Long Knives where the SA leadership was executed on trumped-up conspiracy charges.
  • Diesel Punk: As Feric Jaggar ascends to power, the Held air force uses giant aircraft with ten gasoline engines each and just as big steam tanks. Both existed in Real Life in the period between World War I and 1933 and performed poorly, just as Jaggar himself admits. It's the reason for which our hero pushes the Helden industry to develop smaller, faster and more practical designs.
  • Drop the Hammer: The Steel Commander, aka the Great Truncheon of Held, is as light as a feather (to its rightful bearer) but strikes with the mass of a mountain.
  • Elite Mooks: As their last stand, the Dominators of Zind unleash special mutated warriors capable of fighting on independently.
  • Even Evil Has Standards
    • Feric Jaggar is horrified by the prospect of using nuclear weapons against Zind (because the fallout would taint the gene pool of the true humans). Truth in Television in that Hitler was known to be very negative toward the idea of WMDs - he had witnessed the horrific impact of gas as a weapon of war during his time in the trenches of the Great War; and he wasn't too keen on atomic bombs and conducted research into nuclear weaponry only because the Germans knew that the other Powers would do so.
  • Fantastic Racism: Unsurprisingly, the Dominators are held in very low regard.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Quite a few:
    • Heldon (Germany), with its capital Heldheim (Berlin) and the second most important city, Walder (Munich).
    • Zind (the Soviet Union, but also 'Zion') with its capital Bora (Moscow).
    • Borgravia is based on Austria-Hungary. However, the fact that this nation is overwhelmingly populated by mutants with Truemen only being a tiny minority is a deviation from that model.
    • Wolack is Poland.
    • The other countries surrounding Heldon (Husak, Feder, Vetonia, Cressia, Arbona, Karmak) are less clear - they seem to be more worldbuilding than anything else.
    • And then there are various groups and institutions that are knockoffs of their real life counterparts: Universalists are Communists, Dominators are Jews, the Knights of the Swastika is the SA and the Sons of the Swastika is the SS; and Classification Camps are reminiscent of concentration camps, though initially they're more for separating the wheat from the chaff - the whole genocide aspect happens later in the story.
  • Gang Initiation Fight: Feric has to fight the commander of the Black Avengers in order to gain entry, this goes on until the commander decides that Feric is worthy.
  • Gorn: In spades. Battle scenes are written like orgies, with splashing fluids flying everywhere while Jaggar thrusts his truncheon every which way.
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: Kill all mutants!
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: The tight black leather uniforms of Jaggar and his army are repeatedly described in loving detail.
  • Her Code Name Was "Mary Sue": Feric Jaggar is clearly meant to be the analogue to Hitler himself, so naturally, he's tall, blonde, attractive, muscular, a chosen hero, highly intelligent, and always in the right.
  • Invincible Hero: Jaggar's one of these. Every decision he makes is right, his army wins against forces which vastly outnumber him, and even a little thing like a second nuclear holocaust can't stop him from creating his master race.
  • Keystone Army: The Warriors of Zind are all brutish mutants, but lack the brains to coordinate their own activities and rely on Dominator direction. Once Feric's forces kill the mutant masterminds, the Warriors begin attacking each other (and lose control of their bladders and bowels in their frenzy, and yes, this is usually described each time they do it).
  • Meaningful Name
    • Feric (or "ferric," for iron) Jaggar (or Jaeger, German for "hunter"). Other characters, usually ones loyal to Feric, have vaguely Germanic names. Ernst Rohm becomes Stag Stopa.
    • The higher-ups in Jaggar's party also have names similar to those of their real-life Nazi counterparts: Joseph Goebbels becomes Seph Bogel, Rudolf Hess becomes Ludolf Best,and so on (which interestingly makes this alternate Hitler sort of a medium - for some reason he models Feric Jaggar's paladins after the guys who were the inner circle of the historica Hitler).
    • The name of the country that is clearly meant to be Germany, Heldon, comes from the German Helden for "heroes". The capital Heldhime suggests "home of heroes."
    • The Dominators' country is called Zind, which could be meant to recall "Zion".
  • Mind Control: How the Dominators dominate. Jaggar is the only one able to resist them. This and the constant references to Jaggar's psychic communion with his troops and the way they recklessly plunge into battle just like the Dominators' forces suggests more than a little that Jaggar, too, is a Dominator, which could easily be seen as a further Take That! considering Hitler himself didn't exactly match the image of the Aryan ‹bermensch, either.
  • Mutants: Quite a few distinct species exist (at least before the purge), such as Parrotfaces, Pinheads, and Toadmen.
  • One-Gender Race: Humanity, at the end. Since the Dominators' spiteful radiation bomb has ruined mankind's genome, cloning is used to create the next generation of ‹bermensch, who are all tall, blue-eyed, blond males.
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: Only Jaggar can wield the Truncheon of Held. Also subverted in that it is stated that the bloodline assumed to be required to wield the truncheon has become widely disseminated by this point, so if the truncheon hadn't been hidden many other individuals could have stepped up and wielded it as well.
  • Phallic Weapon: The Great Truncheon of Held is described in unambiguously phallic terms. And then Feric Jaggar forces his new underling to kneel and kiss it.
  • Rule of Cool: It's not clear why truncheons and motorcycles play such a big role in modern warfare, except that Hitler thinks that truncheons and motorcycles are cool.
  • Schizo Tech: The book starts in a post-apocalyptic world where steam-powered buses are common transportation, but swiftly moves through World War II-level weaponry before ending with cloning and interstellar spaceships. Justified in that it is explicitly stated that these technologies used to exist but were lost after a previous nuclear war and are being rediscovered rather than being invented for the first time, so a lot of the work is actually finding old equipment and textbooks.
  • The Smurfette Principle
    • There is not a single line of dialogue in Lord of the Swastika spoken by a woman. The words 'she' and 'her' simply do not appear at any point in the book.
    • Truelady Garth, a hostess on the Emerald Zephyr, is the only named woman.
    • There is in fact an appearance by the fairer sex later:
      "a dozen or more naked females shrieking and moaning; these were not true humans but pleasure sluts of the sort the Dominators bred for themselves in Zind—mindless creatures with oversized hips and breasts motivated solely by a boundless need for copulation."
    • A while after the last example, it is reported to Jaggar that nearly forty thousand pure human females have been found suitable for breeding with the SS (meanwhile, seventy thousand suitable SS recruits have been found). invoked
    • All of this is, of course, intentional, reflecting as it does both Hitler's general lack of interest in women and Nazism's simultaneous encouragement of traditional female roles and tendencies towards posturing, overbearing masculinity. It also reflects a general tendency within many works of Heroic Fantasy to basically reduce women to scenery.
  • Space Jews: The Dominators of Zind, intentionally.
  • We Have Reserves: Millions and millions of them, in the Dominators' case.
  • You Cloned Hitler!: Well, Feric Jaggar.
  • Zerg Rush: Army of mind-controlled, disposable creatures, few of them...