My OCD hates the fact this cover's image has been reversed; although it's common to depict Nazi armbands on whatever arm is closest to the viewer on covers, you can tell the swastikas are backwards as well. Oh well.
A novel that parodies Nazism as a pathetic angry little boys' science fiction fantasy.
Our "hero" Feric Jaggar is an utter marvel to behold with his sheer sadism and mercilessness. Other characters are clearly pastiches of real-life Nazi figureheads. The plot is set in an alternate universe where World War II never happened. It's the post-apocalyptic future and humanity, except for the citizens of the country of Helder, has devolved into mutations and inbred "mongrels." Genetically pure Helder people are known as "Truemen," and their mortal enemy is the eastern nation of Zind, which is ruled by highly advanced psychic humans known as Dominators or "Doms." They have the power to use mind control over ordinary humans and other living creatures to bend them to their will.
Manly man's man Feric Jaggar has been wandering the wastelands before returning to his homeland of Helder, whose borders are ostensibly closed to all but Truemen. But Jaggar is upset to discover that the genetic screenings are lax because one of the border guards, Lance Corporal Mork, is a Dominator. Due to his experience wandering the scoured Earth, Jaggar recognizes Mork for what he is, but Mork's superiors, under the sinister Dom's mental control, don't believe Jaggar. Nevertheless, they allow Jaggar entry into Helder.
At a pub called the Wolf's Lair, Jaggar befriends a man named Seph Bogel, a propaganda man for one of Helder's more radical political parties, the Human Renaissance Party. According to Bogel, the biggest threat to Helder (and thus genetically pure humans) are the Universalists, a political party who wants open borders to use mutants as slave laborers. Bogel is positive that one or more of the leading members of the Universalists is a Dominator. Jaggar takes care of the lax border problem by whipping everyone in the Wolf's Lair into a frenzy of mob violence, whereupon they go and murder Lance Corporal Mork, the aforementioned Dominator masquerading as an ordinary human border guard. This frees the other guards from Mork's mental control.
But the Dom problem runs deeper than just the border patrol and Jaggar aims to take the fight all the way to the top. He and Bogel find themselves captives of the Black Avengers, one of those biker gangs that plague the post-apocalyptic world, even within the borders of the supposedly idyllic Helder. Using an ancient scepter shaped like a fist called the Steel Commander to persuade, by right of combat, the Avengers' leader Stag Stopa, to aid him, Jaggar forcibly takes control of the Human Renaissance Party, storming the capitol and executing all the leading Helder politicians as traitors, including the Universalist party leader Lorst Gelbart, who it turns out is a Dominator. Noteworthy is the fact Jaggar kills him first, thus freeing the other politicians from his mind control... but unlike the border guards earlier, he has them killed anyway even though the entire point is that anyone under a Dominator's mental control isn't responsible for their own actions. As we'll see, consistency and Feric Jaggar aren't well acquainted.
Army officers Field Marshall (sic) Lar Waffing and General Heermark Forman soon throw their lot in with Jaggar and the Renaissance Party, now rechristened as the Sons of the Swastika (none too subtly abbreviated as "SS"); the swastika being an ancient symbol of racial purity (according to Jaggar, anyway). Under the direction of Bors Remler, the SS establishes a series of "Classification Camps" to ensure which citizens of Helder and the surrounding provinces are fit to continue contributing to the gene pool; Truemen who fail to meet the criteria are exiled or sterilized; mutants are euthanized; Dominator spies who've infiltrated Helder are brutally murdered, for although the Truemen of Helder hate all "impure" people, the psychic Dominators they despise most of all, for the Doms of Zind wish to control the entire world.
After some early trouble where it's revealed that Stopa and his men have betrayed the cause and taken up with the Dominators, forcing the SS to kill almost all of them, with Jaggar personally machine-gunning Stopa, the armies of Helder march forth into the wasteland on a campaign of ethnic cleansing with the end goal of destroying Zind and every last Dominator on Earth before they can rediscover the "fire of the ancients" (nuclear weapons).
The Iron Dream's story-within-a-story, "Lord of the Swastika," plays out like a grotesque Nazi fanfiction (complete with a completely different outcome in which there are no Allied powers opposing them and they win in the end), and Feric Jaggar and friends are the worst "heroes" in literary history, outdoing even Dyke Mellis in Pierce Nace's equally grotesque Eat Them Alive. Dyke at least was a lone madman (albeit one with an army of giant praying mantises), whereas Jaggar has an entire country at his beck and call with which to wreak havoc upon an unsuspecting post-apocalyptic world. The Dominators aside, most of the story's non-human inhabitants are just ordinary mutant families trying to get by, but the Truemen alternate between pitying and despising them, ultimately eradicating them just the same. Though unlike in Nace's book, Jaggar's megalomania is entirely Spinrad's point; this is a post-apocalyptic thriller told from the villain's point of view and it works excellently, even if the Nazi allegories are are a little too on-the-nose.
Saying which, as there's no female characters in the book (beyond some genetically engineered sex slaves provided to Stopa's crew by the Dominators), and all the focus on the SS' tight leather uniforms, especially the jodhpurs, there's a lot of both intended and unintended homoeroticism between Jaggar and various other male characters, particularly his aide Ludolf Best as well as Stag Stopa before Stopa's betrayal. Jaggar and Best's interactions during the latter portions of the book read like two gay serial killers on a homicidal rampage (and speaking of Eat Them Alive, there was homoerotic stuff in that as well, particularly between Dyke and Ryan when Dyke has Slayer eat Ryan's dick off). But no actual homosexual love, or, God forbid, homosexual sex; they've got to contribute to the gene pool, after all (all the talk of breeding makes the lack of female characters besides the aforementioned sex slaves, who our "heroes" of course kill because they're inferior Zind stock, all the stranger).
What's especially interesting is the afterward by a historian named Homer Whipple. The entire book is presented as a real novel written not by Norman Spinrad but by Adolf Hitler himself, who in another, very meta alternate timeline outside of the book's own, immigrated to the US after World War I, never became dictator of Germany (meaning World War II and the Holocaust never happened), and became a successful writer of trashy pulp fiction. Whipple is critical of Hitler's book, dismissing Feric Jaggar as a "monster," a product of a vivid but and disturbing but ultimately harmless, overactive imagination, concluding that it's a good thing the kind of fascism Mr. Hitler drew inspiration for his book from never actually caught on. If only, Mr. Whipple. If only. Although he, uh, "ironically" sees no harm in fans of the book cosplay in the SS' outfits and follow its core tenets like fascist Trekkies. After all, what harm could ever come of that?
As an standard post-apocalyptic adventure yarn, ignoring all the allegory, The Iron Dream/Lord of the Swastika is passable, with lots of violence, invincible heroes, big battles, and monsters like blobs, multi-headed snakes, toadmen, lizardmen and various genetically engineered super soldiers created by the Zind Dominators. Nevertheless, I'd only recommend reading it if you're in on the gag about Adolf Hitler being a trashy pulp writer instead of a genocidal dictator.