Review: Patterns on Pages (CR Downing)

Patterns on Pages: Secrets of the Sequenced Symbols is a beautifully written full length novel following in the HOT L series by CR Downing with time travel integrated throughout.

Patterns on Pages: Secrets of the Sequenced Symbols follows in the footsteps of C. R. Downing’s Traveler’s HOT L series.

Patterns on Pages: Secrets of the Sequenced Symbols by CR Downing

Despite its consistency with the HOT L establishment for time travelers and the characters (namely Eternity, Chronos, Tempus and Epoch) in the first two volumes, it is a distinct piece of work since like Reverse Image: A Timeless Tale (Volume 3) it’s a full length novel rather than a series of inter-related tales.

I welcomed this as it gave me time to really get stuck into it!

You may recall from (or choose to (re)read) my review of Traveler’s HOT L (Volume 1) on Time Travel Nexus that my main misgiving was that several of the tales didn’t necessarily need time travel, or even covered genres which I wouldn’t normally have chosen to read.

Patterns on Pages is quite the opposite! It’s time travel through and through (although I should correct the term “time travel” and instead use “travel along the time fabric”) and it certainly sits comfortably enough within the scifi genre to capture and hold my interest all the way along the journey!

A cracking start!

Patterns on Pages starts with an almighty bang. Or to be more exact, a crack – the Earth shatters! Now what can possibly happen next?! I’m hooked!

Premise

After “The Day the Earth Shattered” the human population is in decline, although it doesn’t seem to know it. Amongst the debris humans struggle to survive. Technology and progress have taken a backward step.

It’s not like they’re able to help themselves – without the power of literacy, for example, books are viewed as a fuel source rather than a source of information and education. At best books are holders of “patterns on pages”. (This is somewhat ironic given that I had some formatting troubles with early versions of the manuscript on my ereader! 😉 )

With no means (or desire) for the ability to use products from the past – let alone fix broken items or develop new ones, human kind is in a mess. And then there’s the death rate which is starting to overtake the birth rate. Human kind is set for extinction.

The question of using (burning) books for short term benefit (keeping warm) instead of longer term survival (education) reminded me a little of the desire to choose plants over people in the movie Silent Running. An arguably agreeable attitude when you’re faced with villagers with pitchforks and scepticism when it comes to learning about the value of books. People can be too stupid to know how stupid their stupidity is.

Thankfully there are two characters, Marin and Lincoln, who are more open – and curious – about books. They’re able to wade through an old library and access some talking books (which reminded me of the 2002 movie remake of The Time Machine with Guy Pearce) running on electricity still generated from old solar panels.

The plan is to send Marin and Lincoln back in time so that they can see first hand how things used to be, and how literacy can be key to saving the human race – and then come back to their own time to share their knowledge and show their community that there’s a better and sustainable way to live.

Writing Style

Patterns on Pages has an original and brilliant angle when it comes to putting people from different times and cultures together. It’s executed perfectly and written with an incredible insight into human behaviour and society.

I was immediately taken with how a global catastrophe has a personal impact. I remember my aunt many years ago explaining that we can identify with the sorrow of an individual in, for example, a fatal car crash. But scaling that up to 200 passengers on a plummeting aircraft is much more difficult because our minds are less equipped to deal with that enormous amount of tragedy. It’s a fair point, and a little ashamedly I feel more sympathy for my daughter when she’s fallen and grazed her knee than hearing about a car crash on the motorway.

How author C.R. Downing (Chuck) manages to stir feelings of personal empathy within a worldwide event I’ve no idea, but it works! One Earth is kept separate from the impact that it has on many people. Be warned – it’s a powerful and emotional start!

There’s a similar display of personal versus many when Lincoln and Marin discover that tens of books have been burned. This is serious because it represents the loss of a lot of useful information which would help to not only improve the quality of life, but ultimately preserve the human race. Lincoln’s reaction is that instead of passing Marin a personal letter today as planned, he’d be better off giving it to her tomorrow when she’s not feeling so emotional. He’s not selfish; he’s bringing large problems to a personal impact level.

I should clarify again that Lincoln and Marin are residents in our future, and part of a relatively simplistic culture. I recently watched the movie Arrival based on the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang (stand by for a post on that…). The point is made that linguistics can effect culture – and vice versa. And we see that here with Lincoln and Marin who clearly have a different way of speaking English to each other than people of our time. I was very interested to see that after their education and residency in the past [culture] Lincoln and Marin’s speech changed.

One of my pet peeves is when authors spell out accents. It’s the exception to the “show not tell” rule; I’d rather be told someone has an accent, and let my brain make the sound when I read. Having phonetic spelling is patronising and barely different to reading a book with pictures. All that said, phonetic spelling is used here in a couple of instances where it comes over as a powerful literary device used to show the diversity of humans and how accents are perceived by Lincoln and Marin. Brilliantly done!

Lincoln and Marin aren’t the only characters. There’s also Rulora. I’m not sure what she was, but she came over as some form of AI, for example, by providing her location co-ordinates with her name, or by prefixing her sentences with qualifiers such as “question”, “statement”, “observation” , etc..

Lincoln and Marin’s teachers, Courtney and Dawn, fairly quickly become people in their own right as opposed to background and secondary characters used only to bounce around dialogue and ideas. They have a crucial role to play in the plot line, and subsequently each have depth without cluttering up the novel.

My own experience of teachers is generally pretty bad. Naturally I’ve had some very good ones, but (maybe this is my pessimistic outlook) I tend to remember most clearly the cretinous nightmarey ones I suffered under who were not only a disgrace to teaching but to the human race.

When I read how Courtney and Dawn felt about teaching Lincoln and Marin and the techniques they used I was really impressed. Perhaps this should have come as no surprise given that Chuck (actually here I shall refer to him in full as Dr Downing) has received several awards for teaching including the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching. It’s wonderful how he’s able to bring his personal experiences into his writing!

On a similar note I was very happy to read about Lincoln and Marin’s introduction to Christianity. The subject is touched on very delicately which is all it needed to be acknowledged (its omission would have been a statement in itself…). Actually, for those interested, Chuck is working on a piece in Biblical fiction titled Who Leads the Shepherd).

There’s one final thing I want to mention about the writing style and that’s the thankful avoidance of blabbing on about historical crap. There’s a section where we’re taken back to 1816. Naturally there are some observations about the people and culture there, but it’s not full on, doesn’t go on for pages on end, and it’s not used as evidence that an author has carried out loads of research and finds it compulsory to bore us to tears with.

Like the religious segment, the 19th century view is treated softly and succinctly. (Phew!)

I think it’s clear that I’m very impressed with the quality of writing (and content) in Patterns on Pages! For the sake of balance, I do have only one very small negative comment: temperatures are given not in degrees Celsius / Centigrade but in fahrenheit – a measurement scale which doesn’t speak to me as a scientist.

Of course this is very subjective, but I’ll point out this – the fahrenheit scale was crafted with the aim of body temperature being set at 100 degrees fahrenheit. And they got it wrong (98.6)! (Certainly some of my school teachers made my blood run cold. Maybe Rulora has a body temperature of 100?

The Time Fabric

The Day the Earth Shattered caused a huge loss of human life. This means that the Fabric of Time was damaged and became unstable because it’s made from the summation of single life threads of sentient beings.

Epoch, Tempus and Pater become involved though I sense a little chicken-and-egg regarding their motivation. Is it to prevent the extinction of the human race; so that humans can occupy a longer length of Earth’s existence and get closer to their potential? Or it is that more human population threads are needed to support the failing fabric of time?

Moving from the the more ubiquitous time fabric to a more a local scale, we read that the Earthquake realigned the location of the HOT L establishment. (HOT L is the Harmonic Overlapping Time Location.) It’s another example of Chuck’s handle on scales of impact whilst keeping realism in check.

The HOT L series makes a point of neither approving or using the term “time travel” but travelling along the time fabric. This is a very physical approach, and could perhaps be seen as a move towards linking time and space – and back to time; time travelling walking along the fabric of time to 1816 took an hour! 😉 The idea of a physical approach to time travel is also enhanced when the travelers are advised to tread on each other’s footprints on the fabric to minimise damage to it. Love it!

I suspect that my electirical skills aren’t up to scratch, but something did strike me about the actual workings of the HOT L. The strength of current (voltage) harmonizes the vibrations of a person’s DNA to that of the HOT L. I’m not sure about this on two counts. Isn’t the strength of current the Ampere and not the Volt (potential difference – the amount of ‘push’)? And wouldn’t a change in frequency be required for harmonization?

Ending

There are several moments in the novel where it could have ended, or worse painfully peeled off to make a (perceived) marketable addition to a series. Thankfully this isn’t the case here and Patterns on Pages carries on taking us with it to a suitable conclusion (without it being long and drawn out!)

Rating * * * * *

Patterns on Pages is an easy full 5 stars! The time travel mechanism is well thought out and applied consistently throughout the novel. I really liked the story line which has an original approach on putting people from different times and cultures together – enhanced with a two-step learning process – from ‘older’ more advanced people to ‘younger’ less advanced – and back again.

There’s currently a KindleScout campaign on Amazon where you can nominate Patterns on Pages. I’ve already nominated this wondeful novel – you can do the same too! (Nominations close at midnight at 12AM EDT Sept 10.)

Author interview: CR Downing (Traveler’s HOT L)

Paul

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Author interview: CR Downing (Traveler’s HOT L)

CR Downing (Chuck) has a brilliant time travel mechanism in “The Traveler’s HOT L” where personal time lines are described as threads which are woven together to form a fabric of time. In this interview Chuck gives us more insights into his reasoning.

One of the great things about being a time travel fan is being asked to read time travel novels and to share my thoughts about them. One of the unexpected spin-offs from that is occasionally having contact with those authors and finding out more about their thoughts on time and time travel, and how they’ve been able to construct a novel around those thoughts.

Until now I’ve been posting my time travel author interviews over on Time Travel Nexus. Time is nigh for a time travel author interview here on Time2timetravel!

So let’s meet CR Downing (or “Chuck”) who is the creator behind Traveler’s HOT L (which I’ve reviewed on Time Travel Nexus).

CR Downing ("Chuck")
CR Downing (“Chuck”)

Traveler’s HOT L is a collection of 8 independent short stories which share a common thread; an involvement with the Traveler’s HOT L – the “Harmonious Overlap of Time Location” and is the backbone of Chuck’s brilliant time travel mechanism.

Traveler's HOT L
Book cover for Traveler’s HOT L

As well as a “teller of tales” Chuck is also a science teacher. Dr Downing (yes – there’s a PhD to his name!) has received several awards for his teaching – including the prestigious “Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching”. He’s also a frequent speaker at science conferences at the local, state and national levels.

With such a solid (and active) footing in science, it’s hardly surprising that Chuck’s time travel method comes over so well in Traveler’s HOT L!

Chuck – many thanks for giving us your time!

I love the time travel mechanism behind the HOT L – the “Harmonious Overlap of Time Location”, and it’s explained really well in the first short story. Did you need to undertake any kind of research when exploring the ideas that you encompass here?

Chuck: I didn’t do any “scientific” research. The mode of transport along the timeline is a combination of three ideas I’d used in stand-alone short stories over many years.

  • Traveler’s HOT L was originally the title of what expanded to become Caught in the Middle, the first story in this book. It had rippling walls and the electric shock. That story ended with the line, “But, it didn’t smell all that bad after all.”
  • The mist is from another story in the book, Michael Casey O’Brien.
  • The vibrating DNA and the requirement to only travel where some amount of common DNA exists were original in DNA Trek.
  • Merging the three variables provides a complex process that gives more credence to the need for the time synchronizers and the proprietors of the HOT L.

    My favourite story in the collection is “DNA” where time travel plays a leading role through the HOT L, but also with the life of the main character who’s seeking to discover / develop time travel. In comparison, the time travel aspect in some of the other short stories is not key. How did you go about assigning the degree of integration of time travel into your stories?

    Chuck: The three of the stories mentioned in my first answer could not exist without the time travel component, although the amount of time travel that is described in Michael Casey O’Brien is minimal. Battle for a Far Planet was the longest of the short stories massaged into this anthology. In the complete Battle story, finished in Traveler’s HOT L Vol. 2, time travel is integral to the resolution of the storyline. Million-Dollar Mistake originally ended with a “storm” sending the counterfeiters back in time as a form of unexpected justice. I added the time travel element to the other stories in what I felt was an adequate amount. I know you did not agree with my assessment in some cases, but the majority of those commenting on the book like how time travel is woven into different genres. Most notable are the non-scifi fans that liked the book because of the stories.

    One of my fears of time travel becoming a reality is that it would be misused, so I really like your custodians of time who ensure that things go smoothly, or at least take measures to correct mistakes. Do you have any reservations about time travel?

    Chuck: My main reservation is like yours—misuse of time travel for personal/political gain. To limit that, my rules in brief are:

    1. The time you are gone from “your time” is time you lose in your real-time life. For example, two weeks in the past or future costs you two weeks in the year you live in.
    2. No objects forward or backward along the timeline—one photograph is allowed. No advanced weapons, drugs, or devices arrive from the future. All influence in the new time by the traveler is personal.
    3. There are penalties for missing your return window. Long-term existence—from weeks to years—in the time traveled to is consequence for missing the harmonic overlap.

    I feel that the combination of those and the existence of the time synchronizers provides a reasonable safeguard.

    I read on your website that you’re a collector of science fiction anthologies. What is it about these that hold your captivation?

    Chuck: My first in-depth experience with science fiction was Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series. I next discovered anthologies of short stories: Nebula Awards, Nova, Orbit, Annual Best SciFi Stories, collections by theme, etc. The short stories intrigued me. They still do—I’m writing two as I answer these questions. Getting a point across through a satisfying plotline in a few hundred to a few thousand words is more difficult than writing longer pieces. I admire those authors honored by their inclusion in the anthologies.

    The short stories in Traveler’s HOT L cover many genres. You’ve also written full length novels in science fiction, murder mystery, Biblical fiction as well as non fiction titles. Do you set out to write in a particular genre, or do you tend to write and see what happens?

    Chuck: I always have an idea of the genre of the story before I complete more than a rough outline. The idea for the plot doesn’t always remain intact. When that happens, the genre might change. That doesn’t happen often.

    Right now, I have books in some stage of production in the following genres.

  • MysteryThe 5th Page, a Phil Mamba novel. This is out for prepublication review.
  • Science Fiction – working title is The Drunk Gene. The plot is based on genetic engineering in the early 1990’s.
  • Science FictionFreedom’s Just a Word is a short story to be submitted to magazines for publication.
  • Science FictionSecrets of the Sequenced Symbols is another Traveler’s HOT L story. In this case, the protagonists travel back to our present to learn the importance of the books they cannot read.
  • Science Fiction – working title is Interval. A rare recessive trait endows individuals with the ability to observe past events as though watching a video. Some might consider these observations to be digital time travel.
  • Biblical FictionWho Leads the Shepherd follows a shepherd’s life, including his search for the Messiah. The shepherd’s story begins outside Bethlehem as a boy on the night Jesus was born. It ends after he witnesses Christ’s crucifixion.
  • Real Life as Fiction – no working title yet. This will be a novella—a series of vignettes—about a grandpa on his deathbed and his wayward granddaughter as she travels to his hospital room.
  • As of this moment, none of the stories that are not already time-travel linked look like they will morph to include time travel.

    As a Christian, would you go back in time to see Jesus?

    Chuck: Interestingly, I’d never given much thought to that idea. “Let’s Go to Golgotha” by Brian Aldiss is a great short-short story involving time travel. If you haven’t read it, look it up online. Now, back to the answer to the question.

    Visiting Christ’s time with the knowledge of how His life ends would difficult for me. I’m not sure I’d want to experience any of that part of the story first-hand. I also suspect that what I heard might prove to be very convicting in a way beyond what even I can imagine.

    You’re justifiably a very proud grandfather. Have you taken any precautions to avoid becoming the leading role in a practical test of the grandfather paradox?

    Proud grandfather!
    Proud grandfather!

    I have not. In the current situation, the son providing half the DNA of my granddaughters is adopted, so the point is moot. Assuming my other son has children…

    Realistically, any change to the past has ramifications far beyond anything ever written. No one knows the total impact any life has on people and events. I doubt that even the most vivid imagination would fall far short of what impact a single life has on this world. Who knows the long-term impact of a kind word said to a student, an employee, or a stranger? Each of those contacts produces a unique set of ripples.

    What of events spawned by those contacts in the lives of those contacted? I don’t think there’s enough mathematics in the universe to track the path of the influence of even a single event of a single life through history.

    You’ve been a teacher for 39 years in high school and college / university. My view on teaching is that it would be one of the most frustrating jobs there is; a class mixed with kids who don’t want to learn with some who do want to learn but can’t, and hopefully at least a few who can take in what you teach. And yet you’ve achieved the “Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching”! How is this possible?!

    Chuck: An answer to this question must contain many layers.

  • Superficial Layer. I have an inherent ability to recognize when I’m losing an audience. Long ago, in my early teenage years, I developed techniques to “bring the audience back to me” when I was regaling cousins with Bill Cosby routines. I often refer to my 31 years of high school teaching as “being able to do five shows a day.” Bottom line here: I didn’t have a lot of trouble with classroom discipline.
  • Next layer in. I think I had excellent teachers throughout my schooling. I remember recording scripts for puppet shows and measuring wasted milk in 6th grade. I wrote short stories in 7th and 8th grade. I gave a speech as Fidel Castro—complete with fake beard—in 9th grade. As a senior in high school, one of my good friends and I did the last scene of Hamlet—just the two of use—swapping props as we changed roles.
  • Layer 3. My memories of school are those of challenging assignments and being expected to think through to a solution to a problem. I carried that into my teaching. I found out early in my career that most teachers didn’t teach the way I did. I was surprised. Many of my students remark about how grateful they are for making them figure things out. “I never had another class in high school or college where I had to think more than I did in your class,” is a not an uncommon remark.
  • The Core. I believe that students can do what they are asked to do if they are supported properly. By support, I’m not talking about leading questions or providing dozens of hints. There must be a balance of support and challenge. Lev Vygotsky named this the Zone of Proximal Development. It is the situation where students feel safe enough to risk thinking outside their comfort zones. I co-authored a very fine book for parents, teachers, and administrators Tune Up Your Teaching & Turn On Student Learning is a detailed look at what a classroom can be in terms of thinking and learning. The quote that follows ends the Preface.

    Betty Crocker ® is not the author of this book. It is not a recipe you can follow step by step and get a perfect award winning “cake” at the end. This is a map of the change process with “GPS coordinates” included. (p xvii)

    I believe that every teacher should make thinking—critically, creatively, coherently, and in community—the prime objective in his or her classroom.

  • Have you ever been told to “Stand in the corner until you learn to behave” by a teacher, but actually spent most of the time standing there plotting revenge (or writing graffiti on the wall)?

    Chuck: I was a model student. I remember being disciplined only twice in school. Neither was for an offense of consequence.

    What would you like the future to hold for you?

    Chuck:

  • I will develop a deeper love of my wife.
  • I would like to be more help to more people.
  • I would like to visit my grandchildren more and model for them what the life of a Christian is.
  • Oh, and, of course, in my “perfect future,” I’m also a best-selling author.
  • You can read more about Chuck and his novels on his website, and follow him on Twitter (@CRDowningAuthor) and on Facebook.

    Read my review of Travelers HOT L over on Time Tavel Nexus!

    Paul

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