The Traveler’s HOT L by C. R. Downing is a collection of 8 independent short stories which are spread over a range of genres. Each story shares a common thread; an involvement (in varying degrees) with the Traveler’s HOT L – and this is where the time travel element comes in.
No, there’s no missing “E” to make “hotel” – the “HOT L” is the “Harmonious Overlap of Time Location” and is the backbone of the brilliant time travel mechanism which is described most fully in the first short story. The following stories refer back to this – and even build upon it in some cases.
Time is described as a fabric which consists of interweaving threads and which can fold over itself. Time can also be considered as a pool which suffers ripples. Such imagery is used fully and allows for some wonderful reasoning behind why (and how) characters travel in time. It’s one of the best descriptors of time that I’ve read and is definitely the high point of this collection!
Although each of the short stories share a common thread through the HOT L, they are otherwise very much stand-alone. They cover a range of genres which is probably both a good and a bad thing because it’s likely that there’s something for most people, but the corollary being that there’s increasing chance that there’s stuff there which doesn’t suit your taste.
Three of the eight stories really incorporated the time travel element well – the first with an explanation, another with a time travel tourist, and a third with its ‘discovery’ and development.
Time travel, or the link to the HOT L, in the other five stories seemed to me to be rather tenuous, or superfluous. For example, by casting a character back in time for a second shot at something which could just as easily have been covered in the first version of the time line in the narrative, or by tacking it onto the end of a story which would have been just fine without it.
These cases make this a difficult collection of stories to review on a time travel website because time travel is more of a running theme than a genre in itself. It’s a shame because the underlying time travel mechanics is really good and I think a brilliant opportunity to build on this has been lost. I’m sure “DNA” could be beefed up into a full novel – I certainly wished it was longer than it currently is.
The lack of focus on the HOT L itself throughout the collection reminded me of Andrew Clarke’s The Time Store which I (reviewed over on Time2timetravel.com).
In that novel, the focus is on the Time Store establishment and the characters who work there. It touches on a number of other characters who use the services, but the novel is primarily about how the Time Store deals with the (secondary) characters; the Time Store establishment is the primary focus.
Conversely, The Traveler’s HOT L sees its establishment from the other perspective – we read how the main characters in each story approach (or are approached by) staff from the HOT L. So the view of the HOT L is from the outside; from the viewpoint of the characters. But having the characters change between one story to the next, or indeed, having a loose (or unnecessary) involvement with the HOT L makes it difficult to find a running focus – other than to see these as completely independent short stories.
Perhaps I’m being overly harsh here, but I must admit that it’s probably because many of the short stories were on subjects I had no interest in. Murder mystery, for example. It’s not scifi – and I’m not sure why the time travel component was added.
A more positive view may be to compare it to “Mr Ben” – an old English children’s TV series where Mr Ben walks into a fancy dress shop. He tries on a fancy dress outfit and emerges from the changing room not back into the shop, but into another place commensurate with the article of clothing he was trying on. It’s a scene setter for an adventure.
On a similar footing, characters in these short stories enter a room in the HOT L, and emerge into (and return from) another era (and have their adventure). So our murder detective, for example, goes back in time to solve a crime. I don’t know why he didn’t just do it then the first time around, but to be honest I skim read that one so probably missed something.
The writing style itself varies as much as the subject material in each of the stories. The second story pulled me right into it (even though there was no scifi!); another could have been one of Roald Dahls’ children’s stories.
All in all I think the concept of The Traveler’s HOT L is interesting and the time travel mechanics behind it is superb – I just wish that it was a full novel in itself rather than a collection of short stories with a pot luck chance of finding the genre interesting.
Disclaimer: Chuck kindly provided me with a free copy of The Traveler’s HOT L in exchange for an honest opinion. This is it!