His bravura 1972 novel The Iron Dream is almost a textbook example of how the New Wave shook up speculative writing in the 1960's and early '70's. Mixing together alternate world SF, sword and sorcery and savage political satire, The Iron Dream is as much a comment on the nature of science fiction and fantasy as it is on the politics of the extreme.
Broadly speaking it is the story of Feric Jaggar – superhuman of intellect, body and spirit – a man destined to unite humanity and lead them to ultimate victory against the hordes of mutants who populate the earth centuries after a devastating nuclear war. Only he is capable of wielding the Great Truncheon of Held, a mystical weapon fit for a hero, and only he has the will to triumph over the loathsome Dominators of Zind and bring mankind into a new and glorious age that will last a thousand years.
Put in such bald terms, The Iron Dream is almost indistinguishable from a slew of other wish-fulfillment fantasies where good triumphs over evil through strength of arms and intent. The difference here is that The Iron Dream is merely an overmantle for the novel that lies within – a long neglected Hugo Award winning classic called The Lord of the Swastika written by an expatriate German author and artist named Adolf Hitler.
In the world that Spinrad presents here – or more accurately the world that he hints at in the afterword by 'Homer Whipple' (itself a hilariously accurate parody of academic criticism) – Hitler emigrated to the US in the 1920's, forged himself a career as a pulp SF writer and died in the early 50's with his final work honoured posthumously. With this central conceit in place, Spinrad is free to ride roughshod over some of the more cherished tropes of pulp fantasy to create a satire that not only delivers a tremendous broadside at the extreme political right but also those SF novels were alien races exists simply as fodder for the blaster and/or broadsword of the hero.
In a sense the whole book is one long bitter joke, set up with a list of Hitler's previous novels (Tomorrow The World, The Thousand Year Rule), spun out with The Lord of The Swastika itself and finished with beautifully delivered punchline in Whipple's afterword which dissects not only the failings of The Lord of the Swastika and Hitler as a writer, but also paints a picture of SF fandom that is somewhat less than flattering, whereby the various fetishistic uniforms and insignia lovingly described in Hitler's novel (black leather SS uniforms, abundant swastikas and lighting flashes) find their place in the 'real world' where America is the last bastion of democracy in a world almost totally dominated by the Greater USSR.
As a novel The Iron Dream is not without its failings – with so many targets to aim at Spinrad inevitably cannot hit them all squarely – its accurate recreation of the 'penny a word' style of certain pulp writers can be a little difficult to read and the mindset into which both author and reader must willingly place themselves in order to fully understand the satirical nature of the novel sometimes leaves a bitter aftertaste in the cortex. Nevertheless, The Iron Dream is an imaginative triumph and - unlike Adolf Hitler's alternate universe potboiler, The Lord of the Swastika - is itself a genuinely neglected classic.
They don't write them like this anymore. And that is a shame.