Like any good mystery — suspense novel, Charles Soule’s “The Oracle Year” is filled with thrills and chills, twists and surprises. But Soule’s work here takes us far beyond those classic characteristics. Its science-fiction elements raise, once again, the “big questions” that have fascinated and frustrated many of us virtually since the birth of our species. Is my destiny pre-decided or do I truly have free will? What would I do and how would I act if I could accurately predict the future? Are human beings fundamentally good or evil? How and why might we eventually cause our own extinction? Are there gods or is there a God or have beings from other worlds created and formed us?
Soule’s protagonist, Will Dando, receives 108 predictions in a dream. He knows not whence they came. But he quickly determines that they are 100% accurate. Some are apparently (though not ultimately) inconsequential: a certain man will put pepper on his steak on August 23rd. A certain actor will receive a standing ovation after a performance on a predicted date. Some, though, are much bigger and much scarier: there will be a major deadly explosion at a particular restaurant on an exactly predicted date. Some are potential money-makers: There will be a drought in Florida next winter that will cause severe damage to orange production.
Will’s first important reaction to the accuracy of the predictions is to make them public on-line. The website quickly becomes known as The Site, and Will, though nobody knows who he actually is, becomes known — for good reason — as The Oracle. Segments of the general public begin to love him, adore him, worship him. Other segments — governments, corporations, clergymen, and lay religionists — despise him and search desperately for the means to destroy him. His power is, indeed, frightening.
As the results of the correct predictions accumulate, spread, and often lead to disasters, Will becomes wealthy and guilty. If only he hadn’t made those predictions public! And who or what is the real source of the predictions — who or what is The Site?
Will’s character itself is fascinating. He’s confused, proud, ashamed, and in a constant and uncomfortable state of wonderment. And best of all, we wonder right along with him. But those big questions will probably never be answered, for Will or for us. Like Will, we are all only human, after all. (JK)
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Harper Perennial, the publisher, and Wunderkind PR for review purposes.