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The power of parallels The Beautiful Land'

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Time travel tale an engaging read

Since 2008, Amazon.com has held a contest for aspiring writers called the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Winners are selected from amongst thousands of entries; they are awarded contracts and their books are published.

Alan Averill was the 2012 winner. His book, 'The Beautiful Land' (Ace Trade, $15), offers an interesting take on the concept of time travel. There's also a love story, plenty of horror and a liberal dose of humor thrown in for good measure.

Takahiro O'Leary is about to end it all. He has reached the end of his rope literally. He is standing on a chair in a cheap hotel room, a noose around his neck and Miles Davis on the stereo, looking to make his final exit.

And then the phone rings.

Tak's decision to answer that phone plunges him into a four-year period unlike anything he could have ever imagined. The former reality survival show host has become a different kind of explorer; an explorer of parallel dimensions.

The Axon Corporation, led by their shadowy board of directors, has commissioned the building of something they call simply 'The Machine.' The Machine is the brainchild of the mad genius Charles Yates, but they need someone with a unique set of skills to operate. Someone like Tak. 

You see, it turns out that time travel is possible kind of. While one cannot travel back in one's own timeline and change the past to alter the course of the present, the Machine allows access to the infinite breadth of the multiverse. Instead of trying to cause change in your own timeline, you simply find the timeline where that change has already taken place.

Tak's mission has always been to find the timeline in which Axon controls everything. However, there are some complicating factors. First, there's Samira, Tak's childhood sweetheart, a woman that he still loves and who will cease to be if Axon's plans come to pass. Secondly, and more dangerously, is the fact that Yates has his own plans for the device plans that could well result in the destruction of the universe as we know it.

'The Beautiful Land' could have been a fairly typical, albeit well-written, science-fiction novel. Time travel is a popular trope, particularly in recent years. However, Averill takes time travel in a promising and interesting direction. Instead of changing the past to change the present, it's all about finding a present where the past was already different. It's a wonderful take on the concept of parallel universes.

There's also a darkness here, particularly in the book's latter half (although it essentially starts with an attempted suicide, which is pretty dark in its own right). Those fearful and fearsome elements add a depth of flavor to the story that brings a remarkable tension to the proceedings; the reader almost needs to keep turning the pages in order to find the release of resolution.

And lest we forget, love is in the air as well. The sweet sadness of the relationship between Tak and Sam both of them broken in ways that are vastly different, yet equally comprehensive sits at the core of the story, central to the narrative's effectiveness.

What Averill does that is so impressive - particularly for a debut novelist - is tie these seemingly disparate elements together into a cohesive whole. It all fits together beautifully.

'The Beautiful Land' is an engaging story driven by compelling characters, gradually escalating tension and a fearless prose style. It's an outstanding effort and a great read.

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