Media Review : Books"
Reviewed by Ruka of Amorpha 9.3.2000.
Cold Fire by Dean R. Koontz
Publisher: Putnam January 1991
Pap Ed: Berkley July 1996
Review by Ruka of Amorpha
The Nitty Gritty:
Jim Ironheart, the noble and (as per usual) blissfully ignorant
hero, a self-appointed vigilante with some sort of power to foretell unfortunate
accidents. Having at least an awareness of his unusual abilities,
we are told he buckets about the country randomly in response to his visions
of disaster, saving dear old ladies from train crashes before they happen
and the like.
The Friend, a suspiciously ISH-ian fellow who presents himself
as a formless alien upon a mission to 'help mankind,' and doles out plodding
doses of New Age pablum in between his prophecies.
The Enemy, brandishing his affirmative-action card of Token Killer.
Also manifesting as a formless force, he's evil, and possessed of all
the depth of a puddle.
A few weeks ago, we ran across a used copy of a book which a few people
in here recalled as ostensibly dealing with the subject of plurality.
Being apparently, by common consensus, the literary critic of our collective,
I was commissioned to take a few whacks at it (metaphorically, though
I would gladly have extended the whacking to literal had we not been in
the middle of a public store at the time). "Cold Fire" is, I
am told, better than the majority of popular literature featuring plurals,
which is not saying much.
Dean Koontz is one of those authors whose literary works frequent the
best-seller lists in spite of having leaden plotting and prose as dull
as dishwater. "Cold Fire" was published in 1991, during
those dark days when there were giants in the earth and multiples terrorized
the lands with their mighty hordes of flying toasters. It becomes
rather evident later in the book that Koontz and his editors have expended
little energy on research-- he refers at least once to 'multiple personality
syndrome'-- although, given the time-frame of the book's publication,
the reader should perhaps count himself grateful for that omission. Though
toasters fly left and right, the audience is at least spared the maudlin,
saccharine sentimentalising praise of 'highly creative survival techniques,'
and of cookie-cutter traumatic pasts as per the notion of a singular 'recipe'
But on to the plot, what there is of it. The grand revelation of
the story, after Ironheart and his unfortunately-named lover Holly Thorne
have been warned of The Enemy's evil machinations, courtesy of the Friend,
is that both the Friend and the Enemy are 'creations' of Jim's mind--
but being possessed of psychic abilities, Jim has unknowingly given them
physical forms. (Someone put me in touch with this fellow so he
can give me my own body.) Fair enough-- now they can all get to
know each other, and perhaps the Enemy can take up ikebana or something
and be less of a bother.
Koontz won't allow this, however; instead he insists first on dragging
the reader through a starkly unsuspenseful discovery of Jim's past. We
learn that young Jim could make things float with the power of his mind,
and his parents wanted to put him in a circus or something of the sort,
if I recall correctly. As is drearily standard for this sort of
book, the Friend and the Enemy were not, of course, born with Jim, nor
simply came to be as a result of the natural course of things. No,
we learn that when Jim was little he saw his parents shot to death in
a fast-food restaraunt by some randomly mad fellow, which I will grant
is a smidge more creative than baby-eating Satanists, but not by far.
So far as I am concerned, the chief tragedy of "Cold Fire"
has nothing to do with the traumas of the protagonist's past, but rather
that Koontz, intentionally or no, is at one point in possession of a genuinely
inventive plot twist, and thoroughly squanders the chance to do anything
remotely original with it. The Friend and the Enemy, as it comes
to pass, are revealed to be not strictly Jim's original creations, but
rather characters from a science-fiction book he read as a child. -Ah!-
Introjects, soulbonding-- whatever you prefer to call it! Far from mere
'voices in the head', they are realized people (though lacking in depth,
they are not much more strikingly so than the other characters in the
book) capable of independent thought and action. Can you use this
to say something, Mr. Koontz? Perhaps even draw some conclusion, in your
unsubtle way, regarding the indistinction of the line between fiction
No. No, he does not.
The characters of the book self-righteously echo a singular conclusion:
Jim's creation of the Friend and the Enemy was a 'retreat into fantasy,'
engendered by the fact that he couldn't cope with reality. Having
remembered that they were originally characters in a book, and ergo intrinsically
'fantasies,' Jim is mystically healed, remembers his entire past, and
the Friend and the Enemy fly off to Never-Never Land or something (well,
it's frankly a more plausible explanation than the author's insinuation
that they spontaneously ceased to exist). Quite a 'fiction,' wouldn't
you say, considering that his 'fantasies' were capable of -taking physical
form and killing people?- Yet instead of whacking Jim soundly upside the
head with a toaster for dismissing them so, they simply vanish when proclaimed
to be fictional. If only it were so easy in reality. I am
also tempted to say that, having penned a novel in which psychics, monsters
and aliens fly about with wild abandon, Koontz is not in the best of positions
to be scolding his characters for indulging in fantasy.
Whilst it's worth a few good laughs over the heavy-handed style, and
earns a scarce few residual points from me based solely upon the fact
that Koontz does not burden the reader with psychiatric gumbo and weepy
survivor-tales, "Cold Fire" does nothing whatsoever for the
public image of plurals-- especially those whose systems happen to include
characters of 'fiction.'