Joshua David Bellin’s MYRIAD is one of those books that feels like several different things, but that defies being placed into any one box. It’s a near future science fiction novel. It’s a thriller. It’s a mystery. It’s a time travel story. It’s an introspection on trauma, coping mechanisms, and PTSD. It’s all of these things. What this book is also is *entertaining*, even if I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what it was I took from this book. It opens in a jarring, gripping, horrifying way.
If you are squeamish about one of America’s great national shames (spoiler: school shootings) then perhaps this is not the story for you. But after the formative moment in the life of our protagonist, Miriam, she finds herself ultimately as an agent of LifeTime, a private police force of time traveling operatives who jump back in time to prevent murders. The book is punchy and fast-paced, and almost immediately she has a case go horribly wrong. When it does, Myriam finds herself at the center of a conspiracy that reaches to the top of LifeTime, back to the roots of her trauma and forward to the very end of her life (and kinda back again in an ever-tightening braid).
I recently read another forthcoming book that shall remain unidentified that aimed for a similar voice–the cynical, first person, gritty narrator. Humphrey Bogart, Harry Dresden, a protagonist carved from stone left behind by Dashiel Hammett. The other book failed, the voice felt forced and strained and unnatural. This is quite the opposite. The voice of this book owes much to the voices that have come before it, but it’s compelling, fluid, natural…
… except for at least some portion of the narrator’s fixation on her sexual relationship (or, perhaps lackthereof). There’s a long and storied tradition of men writing women and doing so poorly. I’m not quite sure MYRIAD fits into that tradition, but somewhere in the middle of the book, the female narrator’s processing of her relationship began to grate on me. It wasn’t enough to put down the book by any stretch of the imagination, and it is all roughly in line with the narrator’s voice, but it was a thing that I noticed that nudged me out of the narrative.
Ultimately, MYRIAD stands on its plot, and the (ugh) myriad plot threads that keep getting woven tighter and tighter until the third act is a series of very satisfying revelations about the characters we knew (or thought we did) and how they relate to one another. Time travel stories demand tight, satisfying explanations, and this book delivers.
The other thing that time travel stories require is a resolution to the inherent complications and paradoxes that time travel by its very nature tend to create. Scientific (or SF/pseudo-scientific) explanations, philosophical explanations, internal and external resolutions to the conflict need to be tethered to the central premise of time travel, and again this book provides that payoff.
At its core, MYRIAD is about trauma. It’s about how trauma can bleed through to stain every aspect of a victim’s life and how they experience it, their relationships, their past, and their future. It’s about coping, mourning, and moving on. It’s about failing to do those things. And, in its final pages, it’s about asking the reader what, if anything, of the story truly happened.
After all, when the entire premise is based on empowering someone to travel back in time to change the past to prevent trauma and then dealing with the fallout of those change, it’s easy to look at the final pages and wonder what exactly real is. It’s the spinning top at the end of INCEPTION, and in my opinion, the answer is up to you.
MYRIAD releases on May 23, 2023. Preorder it from your local independent bookstore, Bookshop.org, or Seattle if you must.