Reviewer Denise Greene: Denise is a freelance writer/editor with her own agency, Artio Media & Information. Her background is in print publishing and teaching. She has a flare for the spiritual, paranormal, religion (esp. religious history), magical realism, literary and speculative. She lives in the Siskiyou Mountains of Northern California with her partner and her kitten, Bosquette.
Publisher: Amazon Digital
In The Oracle, author Frank Fiore’s desire is to return us to the golden age of sci-fi. Many of us teethed on the short stories of Bradbury and Asimov, et al, which pitched us into a fabulous world of awe in every sense of the word. Many of us grew up to be writers because we wanted to convey that same sense of awe to readers, to introduce the uninitiated to the same fright-tinged wonderment that left us with complete reverence for these authors. Yet, I don’t think any of us would fancy we could write like Bradbury or Asimov; no, we would forge a new way, leaving the works of the pioneers to their own hallowed universe.
That’s what Frank Fiore should have done—pay homage to his writer heroes without trying to imitate them. Fiore’s attempt reminds me of an article I read recently regarding the real provenance of a Pollock painting. The problem is, the article said, that imitators of Pollock don’t “get” Pollock, and their paintings absolutely do not have the soul of a Pollock. My assessment of Fiore’s book would be the same. He doesn’t really “get” Bradbury’s work, and Fiore’s work has little soul at all.
In the prologue to Bradbury’s Illustrated Man, it says the stories are all about “What if?” Fiore has used the same device in his stories, but without the power, beauty or the kind of endings that leave you somewhat disturbed yet completely spellbound. The endings to Fiore’s stories leave you thinking, “Are you kidding?”
Fiore can be imaginative, and comes up with excellent vehicles for some of his stories, but just as you’re waiting for those vehicles to “take off,” they instead end with a thud. Perhaps his endings would have been eyebrow-raising 30 years ago but not now. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he wrote them 30 years ago and just now decided to publish them, but failed to go back over them and ask himself, “Do these hold up now?”
One of the story’s titles even gives away the ending (I’ll spare you the spoiler). I was so expecting what was going to happen by the end that the only surprise to me was that the story’s protagonist hadn’t figured it out. And that was one of the best stories, really—too bad he gave it away from the get go. The other story that might have merit is “Fate,” but, again, the title… In between stories, he weaves another tale which serves as connective tissue for the stories themselves. It is perhaps the best tale of all. The sad part is, though, that by the time you’ve read the rest of them, and know the types of endings he comes up with, you’re bracing yourself, and you still groan.
There is a spark of possibility in these stories, and had Fiore submitted them to a real editor somewhere along the line, he might have gotten the kind of guidance he sorely needed. An editor would have likely pointed out that his plot “twists,” especially the ironic endings, were clichéd, heavy handed, and predictable, and that some of the details inside the stories don’t quite jibe with the endings.
At the very least, he should have submitted them to a proofreader. The typos are pretty glaring, and too many for my taste, but by the time you get to the end, the stories are so riddled with typos that they jar you out of the story.
In exchange for a review, I received a free copy of The Oracle in PDF, marked “Final.” I was hoping beyond hope that it was not actually the final, so I checked inside the book on Amazon, and the very first page I opened blasted me with a huge typo. Sigh.