Another great indie SF novel. Released just last month, Pilot X tells the story of a Doctor Who-like character who works for a time travel service that monitors and protects the timeline. This short novel offers a strong combination of humor and adventure, and it makes for a terrific read.
One of the things I loved about Douglas Adams was his rare ability to provide dramatic context to stories that were intended as comedy. Adams had a gift for it, as can be seen in the later Hitchhiker’s Guide novels, which are as much about telling a “serious” story as they are about making the reader laugh.
Tom Merritt is usually described as a “tech columnist”. He hosts various podcasts and Internet shows that focus on “geek” fandom and technology. He shows that pedigree here, with much of the humor of Pilot X clearly derived from other SF&F sources. This is, I believe, his second novel, and was published via crowdfunding.
The Doctor Who influence is a bit overwhelming. A tardis-like ship, aliens that are very similar to Daleks and Cybermen, and situations that are similar to those that our favorite Time Lord frequently has to deal with. I make this sound like a bad thing, but it’s not — it’s really just providing a starting point. Where Merritt goes with his “doctor” is to a very different place.
Pilot X (that’s the characters name — naming is a whole comedic sideshow in this story, and a hillarious one) has a very different approach to time travel. Unlike the doctor, he uses is casually, and he doesn’t have to worry about rules like not being able to visit the same point in time again. By way of example, during his training a teacher has him building a hut on a primitive world — with himself! He simply goes back and repeats that span of time several times, generating more “copies” of himself to work on the hut.
That’s just one example of some of the creative ways that Merritt explores time travel in this story. The story itself involves a universe-wide war between three time-traveling civilizations. X has to stop the war, but the constant use of time travel makes that difficult, with efforts being regularly unraveled by further time travel. Some of these efforts are quite funny.
On the whole this was a solid read, and I look forward to Merritt’s future works. It’s great to see indie authors putting out first-tier work like this. If you’re looking for a short work that won’t tie you down to an entire series and is generally light and humorous, check it out.
The audio version was acceptable. Kevin Collins, who’s also worked on novels by David Weber, James Patterson, Isaac Asimov, Bruce Catton and Kami Garcia, provides an interesting interpretation of the tone of the novel, but it felt a bit off to me. Still, it was clear and easy to follow, and it’s a short novel, so it works well enough.