As someone who spends a whole lot of my life obsessing over the lives of fictitious superheroes, it stands to reason that I tend to grow attached to the people who write the stories of their adventures. I find the creators of comics to be very interesting, especially in the way that they’re able to tell serialized narratives in a fun and engaging way that manages to have over-arching plots told in easily-digestible chunks. It’s a real skill, and in a way unlike any other medium. So, it also becomes interesting to see people who have had a lot of success in the world of comics try their hand at telling stories in a different way. Comic authors occasionally take stabs at writing novels, and it can sometimes be a rough transition, but I feel like more often than not I’ve been impressed with the shift in style. Which brings us to Charles Soule, a current writer of several big-deal Marvel comics, along with some indie books, and author of a new novel named the Oracle Year. I’ve largely been a fan of Soule’s comics work, even though his take on Daredevil hasn’t exactly been what I was hoping form him. But, hey, I’m incredibly picky when it comes to my takes on Daredevil. He’s a talented writer, and when he announced he was going to write a novel I became very interested. I feel like it’s always going to be assumed that a comics writer will attempt to write a novel about a superhero, but I feel like that’s just an assumption that they’re unable to write about anything else, and aren’t actual storytellers. And, thankfully, Soule didn’t fall into that trap. Instead he wrote a fascinating little bit of speculative fiction that ended up exploring something that I find incredibly interesting about this style of story.
The Oracle Year tells the story of a man named Will Dando, and the massive impact his life has on the entire world. Dando is a twenty-something guy living in New York as a struggling musician until the day that he received a mysterious set of predictions in a dream. Dando awoke with a head full of incredibly specific events that will happen over the coming years, and eventually decides to share these predictions with the world. In a way. With the help of a childhood friend of his named Hamza, the two design an incredibly fortified website that eventually becomes known solely as the Site, where he lists a series of predictions. And, when they start coming true, the Oracle and his Site become one of the most important things in the world. Dando works hard to remain anonymous while working with Hamza to gain literal billions of dollars by selling off some of the predictions, blissfully unaware of the affects his predictions will have on the world.
Because at first it seems like there’s nothing really to the predictions. Some of them save some lives, but they mostly seem pretty trivial. And yet, the ability to predict the future is a truly awesome thing, and it begins having serious ramifications on the world. Various people begin hunting the Oracle, including the United States government and a powerful preacher of a megachurch. Conflicts begin breaking out all around the world, a global blackout occurs while trying to hack into the Site, and people’s sense of reality are shattered, all because of Dando. And, to make matters worse, Dando begins to realize that the predictions may not be random after all. Strange patterns begin to emerge, and he eventually realizes that the ripples that his predictions are causing seem to be pushing the world to the brink of global catastrophe. The economy is crashing, wars are breaking out, and it seems like the end of the world is nigh. Will ends up encountering a journalist named Leigh, and the two get involved in a massive chase, trying to stay one step ahead of whatever force seems to be pulling the strings of the Site, to the point where it seems like Will Dando is the only person who can save the world from nuclear annihilation.
This novel is a whole lot of fun. Soule has a real flair for writing engaging thrillers, and at juggling numerous narrative plates. The novel is able to switch between many intertwined plots, all centralized on Will Dando, but showing the effects of his predictions and how people are dealing with them. Will himself occasionally comes off as a little poorly fleshed-out, but he ends up becoming an audience surrogate, letting us be swept up in the conspiratorial weirdness that the plot eventually becomes. Really, the only problem I had with the novel was the fact that there was never any sort of closure on where the predictions came from, and what the endgame was. Normally I’d say that such things aren’t important to a story like this, since it’s far more interesting to examine the effects of the Oracle, not necessarily the backstory, but since the novel eventually became such a conspiracy thriller it did seem odd. The story didn’t necessarily need to beg the question of where the predictions were coming from, but since it did it feels a little strange.
And yet, that quibble isn’t enough to distract from the feature of this novel that I enjoyed the most. I love the idea of speculative fiction, which can really take the form of numerous genres, where we’re given a world very similar to ours but with one small change. The world of the Oracle Year is our world, just with the single addition of mysterious Site that seems to be able to predict the future. The novel does tell us quite a bit about the Oracle himself, and the specific things that he does in his life, but where I found the novel most fascinating was the way that Soule was able to hypothesize what the rest of the world would be like with this addition to it. Because this isn’t just Will Dando’s story. It’s the story of an entire world that’s changed because of the Oracle and his Site. We get to see how politics, religion, economics, and even just typical day to day life would change if the world suddenly had a prophet who was accurately predicting the future. I love this kind of narrative, which almost becomes a sort of thought experiment, and I think that Soule did an amazing job building this hypothetical world while also making it a thoroughly enjoyable story.
The Oracle Year was written by Charles Soule and published by Harper Perennial, 2018.
Categories: Page Turners