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WesternSFA
The Beautiful Land
by Alan Averill
Ace, $16.00, 361pp
Release Date: June 4, 2013
I don’t know how Averill earned the right/ability to wield black humor – gallows humor, war humor, whatever you want to call it – but he has the knack of it. At first I was reminded of Generation X, then Snow Crash, with some Rudyard Kipling and World War I poets thrown in for good measure, then a dark variation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, even a little bit of The Magician’s Nephew, andThe Blues Brothers. If you have liked any of the above mentioned, you will seriously want to get your hands on this book.

The first section’s subtitle, ‘low-rent Suicide’ is followed by protagonist Takahiro O’Leary’s attempt to end his life because there are no boundaries left for him to push, no wildernesses left for him to measure his resourcefulness against, only to be interrupted (with ludicrous consequences) by a phone call and an offer to go right out of this world. Tak was hoping it was his one friend, Sam, calling instead, but this will do. Tak will spend the next four years charting alternate realities for the Axon Corporation. Meanwhile Sam, who thinks her friend committed seedy suicide, has been on three tours of duty in hot zones as an Army translator and is scheduled for a fourth. The scene with Samira talking to a VA psychiatrist? Spot on. Averill does a damn fine job of describing PTSD, and I wonder how he got to do that too.

After doing all the dangerous work for Axon Co., Tak proceeds to steal a mobile jumper device and sets out to find Sam before the scientist who invented the technology of alternate-world exploration destroys this one.

On page 28 I began snickering and chortling, and by page 33 I had to stop reading long enough to get my breath. On page 44, I was on the edge of tears.

The best Young Adult fiction is almost never marketed as YA fiction; which is probably just as well, because then adults would almost never find the good ones. The Beautiful Land qualifies as great Young Adult Fiction that isn’t, being just the sort of book your smart teenaged nephew, niece, or whatever, may or may not have the good manners to thank you for, but which he or she will devour. And from then on you will probably be the favorite relative, if you aren’t already.

The Beautiful Land was the winner of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and I would not be at all surprised if it went on to win more awards. I definitely recommend that you get a copy and find out why. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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