Reviewed in the United States on June 24, 2018
NOTE: The author graciously gave me a copy of this book and asked me to write a review.
"Do-overs" have become one of the most popular themes in time travel fiction and, especially, TV and movies over the last few years, as popular films like Bill Murray's "Groundhog Day" and Tom Cruise's "Edge of Tomorrow" have explored the concept of a hero being forced to endlessly relive a short portion of his life until he gets it "right." Author Aaron Frale has expanded on that concept by requiring his hero to relive a multitude of lives over the centuries in his engaging short novel, "Orion."
Frale’s narrator hero is actually named Orion, at least in his first life as a young Roman dragooned into military service and sent out with a lot of other similar poorly outfitted “volunteers” to engage the attacking barbarians in a short and quite futile battle. But upon meeting his demise, Orion finds himself alive again, this time in medieval England, where he winds up competing, none too successfully, in the king’s grand jousting tournament. That is followed by a stint in the Vietnam War and others that the author simply mentions in passing (this is a short novel, after all). Over the course of the book, Orion finds himself living dozens of lives and then reliving each one of them hundreds of times, in seemingly random order, as he (and the readers) gradually try to piece together the cause of his reincarnative fortune and, more importantly, how he can actually get to live past the very early doom that seemingly inevitably awaits him.
“Orion” is essentially a mystery, despite its fantasy and/or science fiction trappings, and I wouldn’t dream of revealing the explanation that Orion eventually discovers, only to say that it’s not the end of the story. Once Orion does figure out the exact rules, so to speak, he still has to figure out a way to avoid becoming a neverending battlefield casualty. And while I didn’t figure out more than a very rough idea of what was going on, I think that Frale’s eventual explanation will satisfy most readers of this type of book and, more important, the way he resolves the book will be even more enjoyable.
“Orion” is a highly imaginative work, and, even though it owes a good bit to influences like the ones I mentioned earlier in this review, it is still quite fresh, because the author has expanded his canvas so to speak. Orion no longer merely learns only from one lifetime endlessly repeated, but from a variety of different lives over the centuries, during which he acquires various skills and knowledge that he puts to good use. (One of my favorite bits involves his using the plot of “Star Wars,” which he turns into a tale Orion tells to entertain his fellow knights at the jousting tournament.) Further, the author’s judicious editing keeps the book from becoming too repetitive (readers only are privy to a half dozen or so of Orion’s thousands of lives in any detail). And Orion himself winds up being quite a likable hero, far more clever and inventive than his initial Roman upbringing would normally produce.
As you might guess, the eventual explanation of what’s causing Orion’s repeated lives probably wouldn’t hold up to intensive critical scrutiny, which is one reason the author keeps the book moving at a fast pace. I didn’t have a real problem with that, but the author also attempted to add a good bit of somewhat juvenile humor to the narration. Obviously, comic writing is to some extent a matter of the readers’ taste, but I felt this was a case where less would have been more.
Still, “Orion” is a fast fun read that puts an unusual twist on a theme that’s probably familiar to most readers of the genre. More important, it keeps them engaged in a guessing game with the author until the late stages of the book when all is finally revealed. There are far too many self-published books on Amazon that are vastly inferior clones or rip-offs of currently popular works. In “Orion,” Aaron Frale shows that it is possible to take a seemingly well-worn concept and use some imagination to put a fresh spin on it in a way that will keep readers curious and entertained. It’s well worth repeating: “Orion” is an enjoyable read.