While I’m on vacation, I’m going to cheat by porting over posts from my old blogspot site. Today, a reading list of historical books that I wrote in October, 2016, which is, unfortunately, even more relevant now. These are warnings from history. Spoiler alert! Nazis = Bad!

When I was growing up, one of my favourite miniseries ever was V (the original). I think I liked the sequel even better, because in that one, we finally win! Humans beating the evil aliens was pretty much the main message I got out of it. I was too young to catch any subtext to the story, namely its Nazism/Holocaust allegory. It seemed blindingly obvious when I was older. I mean hey, c’mon:

V, Aliens, Nazi Allegory

But to little kid version of me, once I saw lizard faces, motherships and cool blasters, what more was there to see? It was only when I rewatched the shows in my adolescence that I picked up on the message hiding (just barely) under the surface. Suddenly, adolescent me thought this was the most profound thing ever put on television. At that age, I still wasn’t exactly deep.

As I grew older, not only did V‘s central allegory seem way too on the nose, it also seemed to lack relevance. Ethnic cleansing and genocide were certainly out there in the public consciousness, but here in the Western World, the idea that people could so easily allow an insidious movement to subvert the basic human decency of people well aware of what happened in World War II seemed painfully quaint. Overdone.

And yet here we are. I’m not even going to bother listing all the things going on in the world, because if you don’t even know, this blog probably isn’t for you. Writing that might have seemed dated a few decades ago is now totally of the moment.

Allegories written to warn us of the dangerous seductiveness of fascism have been around pretty much as long as the movement has been around. Here are a few that that fit the bill, some more on the nose than others:


It Can’t Happen Here

It Can't Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis, Fascism, Resistance, Alternate History

by Sinclair Lewis (1935)

What’s it about?
A demagogic US Senator, Buzz Windrip, wins the U.S. Presidency on a populist platform vowing to make the country great again. Once in power, he uses the levers of government and paramilitary supporters to exploit the passivity of the people and eliminate opposition, taking the country down a dark path.

What’s it really about?
Lewis was deeply concerned about the populist presidential bid of Louisiana Senator Huey Long and hoped to derail his campaign.

How prescient was it?
Well Long got assassinated by the son of a political opponent shortly after launching his bid, so we’ll never know. Some of the criticisms of the book are that it posits a fascist outcome out of the American political process, rather than as the product of an outside movement, but it sure seems a big part of American politics today.

How relevant is it today?
… hmm, did you read the first paragraph? Still, until these guys get their act together maybe not yet. It can’t happen here, right?


Alamut

by Vladimir Bartol (1938)

What’s it about?
Hassan ibn Sabbah founds the famous order of Assassins, ostensibly as defenders of a minority sect of Islam. But Hassan himself believes “nothing is true, everything is permitted” and uses the Assassins not so much to fight against persecution but as an experiment to see how far he can push true believers.Alamut, Vladimir Bartol, Assassins, Mussolini, Fascism

What’s it really about?
Bartol put an ironic dedication to Mussolini at the beginning of his book. He was a member of the Slovenian underground, fighting for independence against Italian fascist overlords. This was written in 1938, so the actions of Nazi Germany were no doubt on his mind as well. Bartol sought to illustrate the moral bankruptcy at the core of fascist ideologies, driven by strongmen and the followers they duped.

How prescient was it?
It was not so much prescient, since Bartol was trying to pull the curtain from the seductive trappings of fascism that was in the ascendant at the time. But it was also a warning of the dangers that blindly following fascist strongmen would bring to others and to their own followers. Considering this came out a year before World War II, this novel proved somewhat prophetic.

How relevant is it today?
A leader who believes in nothing, tells people what they want to hear and his followers just blindly believe whatever he says… again hmm….


The Iron Dream

The Iron Dream, Norman Spinrad, Alternate History, Science Fiction

by Norman Spinrad

What’s it about?
In a post-apocalyptic world where most of humanity are mutants, a hero with pure genetics takes leadership of his nation of pureblood humans to defeat the threat posed by mutants… but actually, this is just the plot of the novel within the novel, written by an alternate reality Hitler, who moved to America in 1919 and put his artistic skills to work illustrating sci-fi stories before turning his hand to writing.

What’s it really about?
Well if Hitler is in the book, then it’s a bit obvious right? But Spinrad was actually making a point about the themes of hypermasculinity, supermen heroes and simplistic morality that run through much popular fantasy and science-fiction. Sometimes those values eerily mirror the values of Nazism.

How prescient was it?
I don’t think Spinrad was really trying to predict anything so much as point out a disturbing trend and maybe prompt some more thought the next time you sit down to enjoy some good pulpy fun.

How relevant is it today?
With the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies movement, there’s an impetus out there to idealize the space opera / heroic fantasy works of the past. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying those genres, in doing so, we shouldn’t ignore that many of these works possess undercurrents of fascism and racism. It’s like wishing for the gold old days of the 1950’s and conveniently forgetting segregation, routine workplace sexual harassment and blacklisting. So sadly, these concerns are ongoing.

These are just a few examples and I’m sure given the current climate there’s a lot of other books that should be getting dusted off too.