The Iron Dream / Lord of the Swastika
"Lord of the Swastika" is a fast-paced,
read. Heroic leader Feric Jagger returns to find
the kingdom of Held menaced by mutants without,
and sinister mind-controlling Dominators from within.
Jagger retrieves the mighty "Truncheon of Held",
takes over Held in a manner rather like that of
the real Hitler,
out the Dominators and wages a war on the mutants.
Feric lowered the Great Truncheon to waist level;
holding the great gleaming steel shaft in front of him,
he approached the kneeling Stag Stopa. "Arise," he said.
and Freudianism is rather more exaggerated than a typical
SF or Fantasy novel. But rather worryingly for a fan,
the ideas and the plot are extremely familiar.
Stopa looked up at the great shining headpiece of the
truncheon which Feric held before his face, a headball
carved in the likeness of a hero's fist... then touched
his lips to the swastika on the head of the Great Truncheon.
"Lord of the Swastika" is satire, of course. Norman Spinrad
wrote the book in 1974 with two purposes. Firstly, it is
a satire on the
rather unpleasant ideas buried in the SF and Fantasy genre.
Secondly, it is a warning on the seductiveness of these
ideas when separated
from the symbols that warn us against them. Remove the
swastikas, replace the Great Truncheon with a more
traditional Great Sword, and the book would be
routine rather than shocking.
The SF and Fantasy genres have come to incorporate
certain ideas that are rarely examined. Races all share
the same characteristics: it's no harder to accept the
evil of the Dominators as the greed of the Ferengi
or the violence of the Klingons. Evil deserves to be
exterminated. The Iron Dream is fascinating in that
it brings the subconscious unpleasantness of much SF and
Fantasy to the surface.
Even more disturbingly, the satire of the book has been
rather missed by the modern far right. The American Nazi
party put the book on its recommended reading list. The
book reviewer describes it as having "pretty shrewd ideas".
Perhaps they, too, yearn to kiss the Great Truncheon.
This misreading may explain why the book is
of print in the US,
in the UK.
What Lies Beneath
True originality is rare. Most SF and Fantasy books borrow
their backdrops from a kind of collective unconscious of
the genre. Repetition can foster blindness
to these clichés: despite utter implausibility, the reader begins
to take them for granted. Galaxy-spanning empires are run
on the feudal system, packed with Emperors, Kings, Queens
and Princesses. Occasionally, there's a attempted
explanation for this. For instance in
shield technology has caused
military technology tactics to regress to a pre-gunpowder
state, so that once again a tiny but highly-trained
army can defeat a vast uprising. More often there's
no explanation at all. It's also surprising how often
civilizations are ruled by the champions in single
Familiar ideas are rarely questioned. In 1950's SF, a
familiar sight was the bored future housewife, sitting
at home with nothing to do but press the clean-the-house
button at noon, and the make-the-dinner button at five.
To a 1950's mind, it didn't seem odd that she would
choose to sit at home rather than go out and do something
useful. Doubtless in another fifty years, current ideas will
seem equally ludicrous.
What is interesting is the way that these ideas somehow
make their way even into books by authors whose overt
beliefs are the direct opposite. Ursula Le Guin is now
known as a prominent feminist, but in her
"woman's magic" is always weak or wicked:
something addressed in the
Going further back, technological optimist H.G. Wells
found himself using the familiar mad scientist stereotype
Island of Dr Moreau
before consciously using a more realistic depiction of
Food of the Gods.
Only occasionally, as in the
books by Iain M. Banks, does an author consciously
think through the entire backdrop to his books.
The Federation and the Republic
The actual effect of all this is debatable.
It does not seem that the effect of reading SF and Fantasy
is to brainwash the minds of its readers into supporting
fascism. Although conscious attempts have been made to
promote particular ideologies, aside from a few teenagers
converted to libertarianism through Heinlein, there's
little evidence of much effect.
It is also impractical to distinguish between correlation
and cause. Even if it could be established that SF-influenced groups tend to see the complicated conflicts
of the real world in terms of
notions of "goodies" and "baddies", it would be impossible
to prove that this is because they have watched too much
It should also be noted that there are a variety of
different ideologies competing.
The Federation of Star Trek was designed almost as
an early type of political correctness, intended to
show a better society, free of racism and hatred.
This was partly vitiated by internal evidence:
without elections or internal politics, and with
foreign policy apparently decided by Starfleet;
the Federation looks suspiciously like a military
What is interesting is that even on screen, in
recent years the political backdrop is being taken
more seriously. In the movie
Troopers, director Paul Verhoeven brought the
authoritarian elements of the background to the
fore; deliberately subverting them, to the fury
of some fans.
Even George Lucas is backtracking on some of the
elements of Star Wars. In
of the Clones it is revealed that Queens,
and presumably Princesses, are actually elected
officials. Although again the internal evidence
is that democracies are corrupt and inefficient,
this is partly counteracted by ponderous speeches
in defence of the democratic ideal.
This may be a response to criticism of the Star Wars
universe as anti-democratic; for instance in
Brin's notorious Salon article.
It's also notable that Brin's article itself displays
a rather savage morality: Brin appears to find
the very idea that an evil person can be redeemed rather
than destroyed to be
In written SF and Fantasy, the same trends can
In George R.R. Martin's fantasy series
Song of Ice and Fire,
brutal and cynical political manoeuvring is a
main feature of the plot. It would be difficult
to come away from this series with an idealistic
view of the feudal system. SF authors like
M. Banks and
also take their
Some contemporary hard SF authors like
Egan are also reluctant to take backgrounds
for granted, preferring to think things through
rather than adopt standard scenarios.
Who knows: if these trends continue, we might even
hope that in the future, "Lord of the Swastika" might
become obsolete as a satire. Which of course, really is
a science-fiction scenario.