The Beautiful Land by Alan Averill

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter

The Beautiful Land

Alan Averill’s debut novel The Beautiful Land (Ace Books/Penguin Group, 2013) was the winner of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in 2012.

The Beautiful Land grabbed me from the get-go with its very first line:

Tak can’t answer the phone because the noose is too tight.

Being the empathetic reader that I am, I was concerned for this character and beginning to like him as he stood there on a wooden chair in a shabby urban hotel about to exit the world in a “low-rent suicide.” I got to know Tak in his final moments. His character is revealed incrementally by an omniscient narrator and Tak’s edgy stream-of-consciousness point-of-view:

Okay, now you’re being a pussy.
Just jump off the chair and be done with it already.
… Fine. Goddammit, just… fine.

I was only a page or two involved, but I needed to know what had brought this bright and funny young character in the Donkey Kong T-shirt to such desperation. Who is Tak? Why does he have a noose around his neck? Even though his suicide was well thought out, I still wasn’t convinced that this character really wanted to die. It seemed there were a lot of leftover things that Tak wanted or needed to do. I was curious, seduced. So I read a little more and a little more after that and found myself completely absorbed in Tak and the meaning of the creepy black dripping feathers on the novel’s cover and, of course, the sinister “machine.” By then, there was no turning back. I could not close the book. I knew too much. I was a captive audience.

It turns out that Tak—short for Takahiro O’Leary—is an explorer. He is the younger, millennial version of the 1980s TV survivalist character MacGyver who could be dropped from a helicopter onto an ice shelf in the Arctic Circle in the dark with string and a package of gum in his pocket and not only survive but thrive—catching the bad guy, too. Tak, like MacGyver, has exceptional survival reflexes and can think on his feet; a plan is always forming or in execution. He is also part Harry Houdini.

Tak is a star in a TV reality adventure show when he is contacted by the Axon Corporation which hires him to do some specialized errand running—time jumping across parallel timelines. This is where the Houdini part comes in. Tak betrays his employers and escapes off a jet plane mid-flight with a very important briefcase in tow. Because of this, he is chased through time and the pages of The Beautiful Land while he rushes to save the one person who means the most to him and while he’s at it, the world.

There is some really cool science fiction writing as well as a percolating romance spiced with lots of character-driven black humor. Tak never loses his senses of humor and irony even in his darkest moments. The same can be said of the supporting characters. They are thoughtful and very human.

The writing itself is well-crafted. Tak’s story is written in third person shifting between the points of view of the main characters. Present tense accelerates the plot and creates added tension. Averill is adept at showing. Character backstory revealed by the time-traveling mechanics serves dual roles: we learn about Tak’s family and his sense of purpose from the memories that run like a movie reel each time he time jumps. The plot moves at an exhilarating clip, taking fast corners but no short cuts. It is easy to see why The Beautiful Land won the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award—riveting storytelling, science fiction/fantasy in great form.


Alan Averill began writing at five years old when he penned an epic tome about Bigfoot killing him with a log. He is the author of the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award winner, The Beautiful Land, and has also done writing and localization work for dozens of video games. His short story “Things Difficult to Say” appeared in the December 2008 issue of Toasted Cheese—a fact he’s proud of to no end. You can keep up with Alan’s ramblings at his blog or follow him on Twitter: @frodomojo.


Shelley Carpenter is Toasted Cheese‘s reviews editor. Email: harpspeed[at]

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