Robie Macauley, noted author, editor, teacher and critic, died on November 20, 1995. At the time he was at work on his last book, a novel about the construction of a fortress under the Ortler Glacer in the alps during the First World War.
Melchior von Fuchsheim has survived twenty months in the trenches of the Western Front when he is abruptly and mysteriously transferred to a remote outpost high in the Austrian Alps. There the Austrians face the Italians in a world of mountaintops, crevasses and howling blizzards. Melchior is instructed to begin work on storage chambers to be hollowed out of the ice on the edge of the glacier. A crystallographer by training, Melchior decides that an entire fortress could be built under the ice, to protect the Austrian troops from the fierce weather as well as Italian snipers and artillery.
But building the Eisfestung, the ice fortress, involves great personal risks and frequent conflicts with his superiors, who have their own ideas about how to proceed. In the process, Melchior explores a world “in caves of pure crystal ice, some of them grander and more beautiful than any cathedral on earth. A war so strange that one never believed it; one lived it but could not prove it existed. Unearthly beauty, like the center of a diamond seen through a microscope, mingled with arctic death in every moment.”