Reposting to include Jana’s new review.
The Oracle Year by Charles Soule
OCTOBER 8: FOURTEEN BABIES WILL BE BORN AT NORTHSIDE GENERAL HOSPITAL IN HOUSTON. SIX MALE, EIGHT FEMALE.
One morning at about 5:00 am, Will Dando, a struggling young New York musician, abruptly awakes from a vivid dream. In his dream, a voice told Will 108 oddly specific and rather random predictions about the future, which he remembers verbatim when he wakes up. Some are potentially life-changing: warnings of the collapse of a major bridge and other disasters. Others may have a huge financial effect: a football game that will be won by the Jets by four points; a caution about a late freeze of crops in the southeastern United States. Still others are apparently mundane:
APRIL 24 – MRS. LUISA ALVAREZ OF EL PASO, TEXAS, PURCHASES A QUART OF CHOCOLATE MILK, SOMETHING SHE HAS NOT HAD IN TWENTY YEARS, TO SEE IF SHE STILL ENJOYS THE TASTE AS MUCH AS SHE DID WHEN SHE WAS A CHILD.
When Will realizes these predictions are coming true, one by one, Will confides in his good friend Hamza Sheikh. Hamza gives up his job as an extremely well-paid Wall Street investment advisor to advise Will. They use dark web consultants to set up a website with massive security protections in order to protect their anonymity. Then Will and Hamsa post a few of the predictions from the “Oracle” on this website.
PACIFIC AIRLINES FLIGHT 256 LOSES CABIN PRESSURE ON ITS DESCENT FOR LANDING IN KUALA LUMPUR. ALTHOUGH THE PLANE LANDS SAFELY, SEVENTEEN PEOPLE ARE INJURED. THERE ARE NO DEATHS.
THIS IS NOT ALL I KNOW.
Once the Oracle website captures the attention of the world, Will and Hamsa then offer to sell other predictions. For a fee of ten million dollars, they will allow ten minutes worth of questions via an anonymous chat program, with no guarantee that any question will be able to be answered. But their infallible record speaks for itself, and many companies are willing to take a chance. Meanwhile, Will and Hamsa periodically make more predictions public on the Oracle website.
AUGUST 23: REVEREND HOSIAH BRANSON WILL PUT PEPPER ON HIS STEAK.
Reverend Branson is not amused … and is determined to prove the Oracle wrong. Easy, right?
The Oracle Year (2018) follows the enormous fallout from these predictions and Will’s decisions on how to make use of them. It’s a fascinating premise, and Charles Soule turns this idea into an exciting, fast-paced science fiction thriller. It’s one of those novels I love, where various minor events and plot threads are tied back into the main story line in extremely intriguing ways. A seemingly minor, commonplace prediction can end up becoming surprising relevant.
The main characters in The Oracle Year are well-drawn, with some uncommon nuances to their characters. Will struggles with the feeling of being swept along in events that are no longer within his control and with the guilt that accompanies some predictions backfiring on both him and the world generally. His career as a musician with real talent (just not quite enough to make it in the big city) impacts his worldview and his ability to see subtle connections in events. The villains, though still interesting, are not as well-rounded. One of them makes a particular choice that leads to such widespread death and chaos that it didn’t seem like a logical choice to make. It suggested to me that Soule’s background in comics and graphic novels got the better of him in just a few instances.
I also thought there was a fundamental theoretical inconsistency in the novel’s premise. The Oracle Year posits an immutable past ― Will’s predictions invariably come true, no matter how far-fetched they initially seem ― but that seems to me to be fundamentally at odds with the ultimate reason for Will receiving the predictions in his dream. That reason is revealed late in the novel, so I won’t delve into it further here. But it’s also just a strong supposition of the characters, so some mystery remains.
Be that as it may, The Oracle Year is overall a well-plotted tale with some fascinating technical and social details. I can forgive some inconsistencies if the story pulls me in completely, and this one definitely did. It’s a wild, gripping tale that I’d unreservedly recommend to those who enjoy SF thrillers.
Tadiana encapsulated the salient points of The Oracle Year’s plot, so I’ll simply focus on my thoughts regarding this fast-paced, compulsively readable, slightly confounding book.
I am firmly a fan of comics and graphic novels as a storytelling medium, and I definitely agree with Tadiana’s assessment that Soule’s comic-book background sometimes got the better of him: the over-the-top bombast of the various villains (including the televangelist, an unscrupulous White House chief of staff, and a warlord from Niger who figures prominently in The Oracle Year’s climax), the inconsistencies with regard to the ratio of free will to predeterminism when it comes to how certain predictions come to pass, a slight over-reliance on pure coincidence, and the lingering unresolved questions of how and why these predictions were given to Will Dando. I didn’t expect completely cut-and-dry answers to those questions, but I did hope for more than some supposition, since Soule made a specific point of introducing the theory that someone, or something, has a guiding hand on the delivery and implementation of the predictions. A stronger explanation of the philosophy driving the plot’s metaphysics would have been greatly appreciated.
But there’s also a lot to enjoy and which will keep readers turning pages as quickly as they can in order to get to the next big event, the next prediction, the next tense conversation. Soule’s protagonists are complicated people, caught up in a whirlwind that they don’t understand and can barely stay upright in. Will’s training as a musician is key to his interpretation of the predictions, while his immaturity leads him to take petty revenge which, in turn, paves the way to his potential downfall. Hamza and Miko Sheikh are equally strong and complex, and I would have liked to see more of their interactions with each other and with Will amid the Oracle’s growing notoriety grows and the increasing pressure of maintaining this secret. A journalist, Leigh Shore, adds a necessary outsider’s perspective, though her voice and contributions are the weakest of the four. And I liked the ways in which Soule brought seemingly inconsequential predictions back into the mix to reveal their true significance.
The Oracle Year was a lot of fun to read, and I breezed through it in two sittings because I was so intent upon getting to the end and finding out how it all came together. Soule is a writer with really interesting ideas, even if the execution isn’t always satisfying, so I’ll make a point of keeping an eye out for his work in the future.
Oh, I want to read this one!
I’d recommend it for when you want a roller coaster ride of a novel. I’d love to see your opinion on this one!
I enjoyed it as well and have read it’s been optioned to become a film.