ICEFIRE by Robert C. Wilson


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Long-drawn-out melodrama on a remote island in Lake Superior--where the inmates of an asylum for the criminally insane go berserk. . . while the good guys endure a wilderness ordeal. The Scales Psychiatric Facility is virtually the only thing on Scale Island; the inhabitants are a bunch of shrinks (all weak or weird), about 200 dangerous, zombie-drugged loonies, some guards and Medical Correction Aides (MCAs)--plus plucky old wilderness-lovers Philip and Emma, best friends of MCA Jack Cooke, whose wife Marion helps out in the asylum kitchen. So things are pretty creepy for Jack, Marion, and young son Ricky--especially when a rapist-inmate starts letching after Marion. But things are at least maintained at an uneasy status quo, for 200+pages, until ambitious Dr. Michael Huxley starts getting fancy, therapy-wise: he's determined to get to the bottom of mass-murderer Reuker Stiles' mental illness. So he reduces Stiles' medication and begins chat-sessions, unleashing a series of overdone flashbacks to Stiles' early childhood--abused by his mother and other relatives. (One crude irony: Huxley--drawn as an utter idiot--misinterprets everything Stiles tells him.) Then, of course, the therapy backfires--causing Stiles to get lethally violent. And ""when the men saw Reuker Stiles erupt in his frenzy, the individual cauldrons where anxieties had melded with anger breached their barriers and ran together. The collected hates and fears of all swirled into a common storm. . . . "" Result? Inmate mutiny, mayhem, murdered guards, the prisoners taking over the prison--while the shrinks and the MCAs flee, along with Philip and Emma. The loonies pursue the good guys, naturally; that Marion-hungry rapist leads the pack--on snowmobiles. The good guys wind up hiding outdoors in the freezing cold, threatened by man-eating wolves and a spreading peat fire. So there are deaths, showdowns, and lots of shrink cowardice--until the authorities on the mainland finally catch on to the fact that all is not right on Scale Island. Stereotype characters and a simplistic anti-psychiatry theme--with Wilson (Crooked Tree) heaping on the pulpy prose and a hard-working combo of serviceable mellerdrama formulas.

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 1983
Publisher: Putnam