The Beautiful Land by Alan Averill
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Takahiro O’Leary has a very special job working for the Axon Corporation as an explorer of parallel timelines—as many and as varied as anyone could imagine. A great gig—until information he brought back gave Axon the means to maximize profits by changing the past, present, and future of this world.
If Axon succeeds, Tak will lose Samira Moheb, the woman he has loved since high school—because her future will cease to exist. A veteran of the Iraq War suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Samira can barely function in her everyday life, much less deal with Tak’s ravings of multiple realities. The only way to save her is for Tak to use the time travel device he “borrowed” to transport them both to an alternate timeline.
But what neither Tak nor Axon knows is that the actual inventor of the device is searching for a timeline called the Beautiful Land—and he intends to destroy every other possible present and future to find it.
The switch is thrown, and reality begins to warp—horribly. And Tak realizes that to save Sam, he must save the entire world.”
The idea of alternate realities is, of course, nothing new. Science fiction writers have been tackling this trope for decades. This one is unique, though, in exploring the concept of what would happen if realities were eliminated, and how one might go about accomplishing such an end. There are some elements of horror embedded in this story, as the head of the Axon Corporation is willing to commit some truly heinous acts to get what he wants.
Despite some scenes with nasty things in them, there’s a surprising amount of humor in this novel. One of the early chapters showing what happens when Tak vanishes from an airplane mid-flight had me laughing out loud. The humor does become less pronounced as the story progresses and things degenerate from bad to worse. By the end, the humor is mostly of the grim variety, but it does help to underscore what’s going on.
What makes this book work so well, in my opinion, are the characters. Tak and Samira mesh together perfectly despite their differences, and you can really sense the connection between them. I was especially drawn to Samira, who is the victim of severe trauma due to her experiences in the Iraq war. The author creates a vivid portrait of a woman going through intense suffering and yet still managing to hang on, even if she teeters on the brink as often as not. Tak’s natural happy-go-lucky attitude is a good foil for her depression, and the two keep each other going as the world falls down around them.
There’s something about this novel that sucked me in, and I’m not sure I can put into words exactly what it is. I’m pretty sure the heart of it lies with the relationship between Tak and Samira, though. This story is beautiful and tragic at the same time, not in a smarmy way, but in a way that makes your breath catch in your throat. To read this book is to watch two good people go through hell and know that it’s not likely that things will end well, even if they manage to save the world. And if you’re like me, you’re going to want to reach into the book and find some way to help these two because you’ve come to like them and understand them so well.
I don’t often read a debut novel with such depth, or one that makes me feel so deeply for the characters. The Beautiful Land is a wonderful story, filled with both humor and pathos, and I hope that Averill continues writing and produces more books for me to devour.