Nebador Archives presents an epic young-adult science fiction adventure - Deep Learning 5

J. Z. Colby's NEBADOR takes place in the wide universe around us ...
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Book Five Deep Learning Notes

Chapter 1: Beauty Isn't Everything

There are three kinds of simple (equatorial) orbit. Stationary orbit is at that one exact altitude (different for every planet) at which the orbiting object moves at the same speed as the rotating surface of the planet, so it always stays above the same point on the planet. Lower orbits require the object to move faster than the rotation of the planet, and higher orbits require the object to move slower.

There are many kinds of non-equatorial orbit, and orbit can also be in the opposite direction from the rotation of the planet, but none of these allow an object to remain above one point on the surface. On Earth, a stationary orbit has an altitude of about 35 786 km (22 240 miles).

Why did Ilika wait until the last possible moment to rescue Rini?

Why do you think no one came down to the lower deck to comfort Rini as he got out of his space suit?

What value is Rini learning that is necessary to be on any team?

Chapter 2: Leaving Home

The speed of light (and all other frequencies of electro-magnetic energy) appears to be a universal constant. In a vacuum, it is about 300 000 km (186 000 miles) per second. Combining that with our standard units of time, we get units of distance that are well-suited for use in space.

The light-year is about 9 461 000 000 000 km (5 878 000 000 000 miles) and is handy for inter-stellar (between stars) distances. The nearest star to our sun (Proxima Centauri) is about 4.2 light-years away.

The light-hour is about 6 500 000 000 km (4 000 000 000 miles) and is useful for the long distances in a solar system, such as between the outer planets.

The light-minute is about 18 000 000 km (11 000 000 miles) and is handy for short inter-planetary (between planets) distances, such as between the inner planets. The orbits of Earth and Mars are about 4.35 light-minutes apart.

Since Nebador uses base eight, how many minutes are probably in their "hour" (instead of 60)?

Could any one of the crew members, working alone at his or her station, have analyzed the proposed flight plan?

"Escape velocity" is the relative speed an object needs to escape the gravity of any body in space without using additional thrust. On Earth, it is about 11 km/sec or 7 miles/sec.

Sometimes the illustrations show just what the characters are seeing, sometimes they are translated into the English language and Arabic numbers, and sometimes they are a mixture, depending on what is important in each illustration.

Speed (or velocity) is distance per time. Acceleration is CHANGE in speed per time, so its unit is distance per time per time, or distance per time squared. A constant speed does not cause any stress (gravitational force) upon our bodies. Only a CHANGE in speed (or direction).

"Speed" and "velocity" are not technically the same, but for most practical purposes, they are interchangeable.

The gravity we are used to on Earth is the same as an acceleration of about 10 meters (32 feet) per second squared. We call it one "g" or one "gravity." Amusement park rides let us experience 2 or 3 gravities. If our bodies are well-supported, we can tolerate 5-10 gravities for short times. If the acceleration is too much, or for too long, we will black out, and eventually be injured, then killed.

What was the shooting star shepherdess Noni saw? What is the most common type of shooting star?

Chapter 3: Solar System Primary

The basic explanation of thermonuclear fusion in the story is fairly complete. The process has been duplicated on Earth in small-scale experiments and in the hydrogen bomb, but has not proven useful as a power source, even though we have been trying for several decades.

Stars are the birthplaces of all the heavy elements that make life possible. Normal thermonuclear fusion creates many, but when a star explodes to form a supernova, an even greater variety of heavy elements are spread out for vast distances to someday become planets and everything on them. We are stardust.

The spectrum of solar radiation may not be completely accurate in the x-ray area because it is difficult for us to measure x-rays. Gamma rays and "cosmic rays," off the spectrum to the right, are even more difficult to detect and measure.

During the failure drill, the crew experienced negative gravity (downward acceleration), which is much more difficult for us, physically and mentally, than the same amount of upward or forward acceleration. They had practiced it a little in the desert in Book Four, but were still much less prepared than we would be since most of us have ridden amusement park rides.

Chapter 4: Orbital Velocity

Do you remember the base eight numerals from Book Four? The number that looks like the word "LIE" is actually the number 107, which would be 71 in base ten. What is the value of the number that looks like "EI" in base eight and base ten?

Instead of making a joke about doing the dishes, what other reaction to Mati's fuel use could Boro have had? How would that reaction have affected their working relationship?

What method of gathering information were Kibi and Rini using when they guessed that the ship was going too fast for orbit around Sonmatia One?

On Earth, we assume that all distances and speeds are relative to the surface of the planet. We just don't need to think about the possibility of cities or mountains moving (except tiny amounts during earthquakes). In space, many of our earthly assumptions are no longer valid.

Chapter 5: Baked and Frozen

The first planet of our solar system, Mercury, also has no rotation independent of the sun, so one side is always "day," the other side "night," and a thin ring of "twilight" cusp encircles the planet.

Different elements (only one kind of atom) and compounds (more than one kind of atom) change states (solid, liquid, gas, or plasma) at different temperatures, but they all share one temperature point: at absolute zero (0°K = -273.15°C = -459.67°F) all electron activity stops for all of them. At that temperature, they are more than "solid," they are completely inert (unable to interact chemically with anything else).

"Situational awareness" is a term used by pilots, but it applies to anyone in control of anything. It requires regular "scanning" (with the mind, if not the eyes) of all factors that could cause a problem. Since most dangers take some time to develop (or get to you), this gives you the time needed to deal with them before they do damage. For example, when driving a car, situational awareness includes road conditions, other traffic, weather, light, and the conditions of all vehicle systems.

The effects of exposure to a large dose of x-radiation, as described in the story, are similar to a large dose of any high-frequency radiation, such as a person might receive near a leaking nuclear power plant. Smaller doses can also be dangerous if they are received for longer periods of time.

Why would Mati's knee not cause her pain while doing an orbital excursion?

As Rini started to say, we can't feel high-frequency radiation like x-rays and gamma rays. Therefore, we have to use instruments and our intelligence to avoid over-exposure. Once we feel something during radiation exposure, we are sick and probably dying. This warning even applies to a simple sunburn (ultra-violet radiation).

Most matter that absorbs energy only re-radiates it in the infra-red (radiant heat) frequencies. The darker an object is colored, the more infra-red it will re-radiate. That's why iron (black) makes a good cooking surface.

The scene with Rini and Kibi in the planet's twilight cusp was depicted by artist Rachael Hedges for the book's cover.

The "solar wind" is not made of air, but charged plasma particles (electrons and protons). It emerges from the sun's photosphere and corona.

Why would the solar wind be more dangerous on the first planet than on the third planet? There are three reasons.

Why would Kibi propose they stop and make a painting? Did she bring a canvas, brushes, and paints?

Life "as we know it" could not live in that environment because there is no water. We do not yet know about life with other types of chemistry, but to assume they don't exist would demonstrate several fallacies (logic errors). Can you think of them?

What circumstances caused Rini to have a temper tantrum (perhaps the first in his life)?

Were the stardust formations really blocking communications?

Some of the worst enemies of situational awareness are altered states of consciousness, such as being tired or sleepy, feeling strong emotions, or the effects of some drugs (including alcohol). Rini's altered state of consciousness might be called "mystical euphoria," but it could be just as dangerous as any other altered state when moving through a challenging environment, and he had to learn to keep it in its place.

Do you have any "states of consciousness" that could be dangerous in an unfamiliar environment?

Chapter 6: The Sad Tale of Sonmatia Two

The pressure difference, which kept the crew from successfully collecting a stardust formation, is also the reason we can't bring creatures from deep in the ocean, to the surface, without killing them. The same thing would happen to us if we were placed, without a protective ship or space suit, on the surface of Jupiter.

Ilika explained that every sapient race goes through the "test" of gaining the knowledge and power to change their climate. This is a theological concept. In the Judeo-Christian scriptures, for example, God commands the people to "subdue the Earth." God does not say exactly why, perhaps so that we wouldn't have any hints and would have to figure out why for ourselves. The most obvious reason would be to see if we could do so successfully (sustainably). The people of Sonmatia Two failed that test.

Another theological concept is the question of whether or not we, mortal human beings, will ever have the wisdom to "manage a universe." There is a strong human tendency to think the answer will someday be "yes." Most science fiction stories follow this assumption, and indeed place us Earthlings at or near the top socially and politically. On the other hand, most religions say "no" and that only "spiritual" beings (gods, angels, etc.) can manage a universe. What do you think?

Sata's opening communication with another Nebador ship is modeled exactly on what a pilot has to say to another aircraft or a control tower when making radio contact. Her tangled words under that pressure were probably about what the author said the first time he had to talk to a control tower.

Many creatures add a sound to their speech that does not hold any important meaning other than to identify the type of speaker, and sometimes his or her mood. For the sapient bird on the other ship, that sound was "bok." The human crew of the Manessa Kwi was using such a sound also. Can you spot it?

Chapter 7: Watch Your Back

A well-made communications satellite could remain in working order much longer than the civilization that built it, if not hit by an asteroid (space rock). Most of ours are solar powered and could continue to work during the day, even if the batteries failed and they could not work at night. Of course, if the planetary civilization failed, the communication satellite would have nothing to do.

Sonmatia Two was experiencing a pollution problem that we have never had to deal with. We have a working hydrological cycle (oceans, clouds, rain, rivers) that cleans our atmosphere almost constantly with rain and snow. If a planet gets too hot and loses its hydrological cycle, most pollution will simply stay in the air.

The word "smog" was made by combining "smoke" and "fog." It was first used to describe the air in London during the 19th century. The primary cooking and heating fuel at that time was coal.

What was Mati's mistake?

Chapter 8: Out of a Trap

A net, a Chinese finger trap, a tangled ball of string ... none of these respond well to brute force because many of their parts are interconnected. A force that enlarges one part tends to shrink another part.

Why didn't Ilika or Kibi let people go off duty when they got sick?

Chapter 9: The Slow Way

All pilots and other flight crew members are trained to do their jobs under stress. The needs of the ship rarely wait for everyone to be rested with full bellies and empty bladders. Stressful situations usually pile up at certain times (take-off, navigation points, and landing) with long stretches of boredom in between. My airplane flight trainer liked to open all the doors and windows, and scream, during take-off.

Why was Mati pushing herself to be the best possible pilot she could be?

It is not literally true that there is no such thing as a straight line in space. However, the presence of gravity masses (stars, planets, etc.) cause space to act as if it is "warped" by those gravity masses. ("Warped" means misshapen, and has nothing to do with Star Trek's "warp drive.") Therefore, a straight line would be nearly useless, and a space navigator would most often deal with ellipses and parabolas.

Genuine laughter and other emotional expressions require self-reflection, and Manessa does not have that ability because she is not sapient. Most people have noticed how irritating computers are that are programmed to simulate some kind of emotion.

Why are the planets in a solar system always moving?

Planetary freeloading is also sometimes called "gravity assist," and has been used by our unmanned spacecraft several times. We barely made it to the Moon (1969-75) using thrust, and had to break the spacecrafts into six or seven parts to do it, leaving junk behind at every step. Thrust alone can get us no farther.

Why is "30" in base eight less than "30" in base ten?

Chapter 10: Presence of Mind and Memory

Why was Rini, in a space suit, able to hear the groan of twisting metal when he was out collecting souvenirs?

Rini is using a "personal checklist" that any pilot will recognize. One such checklist on my piloting knee board spells "ENROUTE" and lists Environment, Navigation, Radio, Obstacles, Up/down altitude, Time, and Eyes scanning. For a while during the 20th century, people dreamed of having a flying machine of some kind in every garage. We have let go of that dream, as it does not appear we can ever make piloting in a three-dimensional space easy and safe enough for most people.

While doing his orbit excursion, if Rini was falling, but not "straight down," what direction was he falling?

Why would it be natural for Rini to watch his fuel level in "eighths"?

How is the "relocation" that Drrrim-na talked about different from most "relocations" that have occurred in our history (such as when native Americans were "relocated" to reservations)?

By talking to another navigator who is a bird, and being offered to eat with that navigator at the star station, what prejudices might Sata be experiencing?

Chapter 11: Interplanetary Travel

Working with a non-sapient ship like the Manessa Kwi is similar to working with a simple animal or machine. I can "trust" a wasp to be a wasp, to sting me if I bother its nest, to watch me if I'm between 1 and 6 feet away, and to ignore me otherwise. (Don't forget that each kind of wasp is different.) I cannot "trust" a wasp to do what I think it should do, or what I sweetly ask it to do. Working near wasps requires ME to be the one who understands them and adjusts my behavior. In a similar way, some of my computer applications have "bugs," and I have to "work around" them. Those computer bugs won't "heal" themselves with time, nor go away if I pound on the keyboard. One of the tasks of all sapient (understanding, self-reflective, soul-growing, wisdom-capable) creatures is to be the ones who truly understand and take into account the limitations of every object, machine, and simple creature they encounter.

Our minds and bodies are very used to a daily cycle of sleep and activities. This is especially true for us because we are one of many creatures who cannot defend themselves very well at night, so we like to find a safe "cave," or climb a tree, and wait for morning light. Large grazing animals like cattle can't use caves or trees, so they rarely sleep, and can defend themselves almost as well at night as during the day.

Scientists have used caves to see if we naturally stick with a 24-hour day when we have no way of knowing if it is day or night. The people in the experiment shifted to a 25-hour day. This implies that a day may have been longer in the past.

What would happen if Kibi abused the power she had, as steward, to set the length of their ship-day?

The same priority rules apply in aviation on Earth. The most flexible aircraft, helicopters, have lowest priority because they can most easily move out of the way, wait, or land just about anywhere. Blimps and balloons have first priority because they are the least flexible.

Why do you think Kibi experienced "cabin fever" but Sata did not?

Chapter 12: Knowledge

Sea-going ships were our first attempt at traveling in a dangerous, 3-dimensional medium. Next came aircraft, with even more danger and 3-dimensional movement. All maritime and aviation traditions form the "roots" that space travelers will look back upon fondly, and learn from.

For most of the history of the human race, we never moved faster than we could run, went higher than a nearby hill or mountain, or saw lights other than the sun, moon, stars, campfires, and candles. Today, children get used to cars, roller coasters, airplanes, flashing city lights, and other sights and sounds outside natural human experience, at a fairly young age. When they reach adulthood, those experiences are no longer frightening.

Kibi and her fellow crew member did not grow up with these same experiences. That's why the movement of the ship was so difficult for them to get used to in Book Four, and why sparkling lights caused Kibi to panic. Most children today, who have seen a firework display or two, would have just laughed.

The process Kibi went through in this chapter is called "de-sensitizing." It generally only works when the person is motivated and willing, and is best when they think of it themselves, as Kibi did. It involves taking the new experience in doses small enough to not trigger panic, and then slowly increasing the doses until the full experience can be tolerated, and the person can think and act freely.

Chapter 13: Planetary Approach

People argue all the time about whether the universe is a huge machine, or something less predictable. One theory is that if we knew the positions and motions of every bit of matter and energy in the universe, we could reconstruct all past history, and accurately predict all future events. This theory does not leave any room for randomness or free will. In any case, we humans on Earth cannot predict the future positions of planets with a high degree of accuracy, and the author proposes that the Manessa Kwi and her crew could not either. Course corrections, for us mere mortals, in any task, are necessary.

Chapter 14: Flying Blind

Kibi was a strongly intuitive person. Intuition isn't a perfect way of gathering information, but in this case, the usual methods were not available. Kibi also made important decisions with her heart, which is also far from perfect, but is sometimes necessary. Her mind, and her fellow crew members, were telling her one thing, and her "gut" was telling her something else. It was her nature to listen to her "gut."

Another important thing to notice is that the essential problem was physical: a small ship coming very close to a planet at high speed. Voting is a human social process. Even if everyone in the entire universe voted the same way, including Kibi and Ilika, the outcome of the vote could still be wrong.

Most of the planets and moons in our solar system (the only solar system we know much about) travel in orbits very close to a single flat "plane" called the "ecliptic." This causes our moon to sometimes come between us and the sun (an "eclipse"). The equator of the sun (which rotates just as most planets do) is also on the ecliptic.

A light-minute, you may recall, is about 18 million km or 11 million miles.

Why was Sata (but not the other crew members) sad after the freeloading pass?

Chapter 15: Slowing Down

Is something wrong with Sata for having sexual feelings at age 11? The fact is, the average age of puberty, for girls, in our world today, is 11-12. If that's the average, then some individuals enter puberty at 10, 9, 8, even 7, just as some do at 13, 14, 15, even 16.

What do we learn about the Nebador Transport Service when we see that the relationship between Sata and Boro is not being supervised or chaperoned by anyone?

An illustration summarizes the crew's trigonometry review.

Using atmospheric friction to slow a spacecraft creates a lot of heat, and the spacecraft looks about like a fireball. We've learned to use replaceable ceramic tiles, but our spacecraft require months of work after each use. A durable hull that can handle repeated atmospheric braking or re-entry is not yet within our ability.

Chapter 16: The Monuments of Zolko

In most organizations, it is not considered desirable for the "workers" to function without their "bosses." One reason is that most "workers" do not have the wisdom and experience to do so. What do we learn about Nebador when we see that the crew members are being trained to operate the ship without their usual commanders?

It may seem strange to us that everything was assumed, by King Zolko and his people, to be the will of the god(s). Today, even most religious people believe that weather and climate events are natural. We have to remember that before science began to unravel the mysteries of nature (starting in about the year 1400), almost everything that didn't have a clear human cause was assumed to be caused by divine intervention.

The story problem about Poki and his cows was in Book Two, chapter 35.

The number eight is sacred in one of our major religions, Buddhism. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the numbers three and seven are sacred. The numbers four, five, and nine can also be found as sacred numbers in other religions.

In your opinion, was it okay for the Manessa Kwi to park on the stone foundation of the palace that was intended to be a resting-place for the gods?

Chapter 17: The City of Memna

The City of Memna was run under an economic system we call "communism," which advocates "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need." It is an economic system, and should not be confused with the political systems attempted by the Soviet Union and China in the 20th century. Most recent experiments with communism were in the USA during the 19th century. It is most often attempted in a religious community setting, as it requires a level of discipline greater than people usually have on their own.

What "wrong reason" (in the motivations of the ancient people) did Mati spot when the crew was learning about the City of Memna?

Which is more comfortable for you: the social harmony of the "hive," or the dis-harmony of "artists and free-thinkers"? Which did Nosta the apprentice prefer?

Why did travelers find the physical conditions (air, rain, etc.) no better at the City of Memna than at the Monuments of Zolko?

How was Nosta's god-concept different from Memna's?

Instead of Rini becoming defensive when Mati figured out something he had not, what did he do?

The sky was "yellowing" because a planet losing its atmosphere is also losing its hydrological cycle. Without rain or snow, the land becomes arid. Dust, therefore, becomes a major factor in whatever atmosphere is left, as it is today on Mars.

Chapter 18: The Fabled Arch of Glimpa

"The act belongs to me, the consequence, pleasing or not, belongs to the gods." This is a theological idea found in most religions. What do you think of it?

Many plants are not actually poison, but they are "emetic," which means they make us vomit. When this happens, we lose not only what we just ate, but also anything else in our stomachs. This is what Nosta meant when she said, "... make me lose more than they give me." The same thing happens if we are thirsty and drink sea water. We will vomit, and actually be more dehydrated than before we drank the sea water.

Is there a person you know, or have heard of, who has given their life for something they believed?

How did Nosta die?

Chapter 19: The Sonmatia Four Puzzle

Reciprocal (opposite) compass directions, in our system, are calculated by adding or subtracting 180 (it doesn't matter which), then applying modulus 360. 70 + 180 = 250, modulus 360 = 250. 300 + 180 = 480, modulus 360 = 120.

In our compass system, what would be the reciprocal of 8 degrees?

Why was Boro especially interested in the City of Memna?

What qualities did Nosta have that caused Rini to relate to her?

Why was Sata so determined to find a trigonometry function that would allow her to solve the problem?

Chapter 20: The Mines of Sarto

The solution to Sata's navigation problem (using the locations of Boro's, Rini's, and Ilika's tracer molecules) would be similar to one method of radio navigation we use today called ADF/NDB (Automatic Direction Finder/Non-Directional Beacon). When the instrument is tuned to the proper radio frequency in our aircraft, a needle points to the radio source beacon, allowing the pilot to "home" to the beacon, or calculate the angle between the beacon and another heading or bearing.

The methods Rini taught Boro to extend his air supply all involve slowing the body's metabolism. What dangers might arise if Rini or Boro did this too much?

Why was Mati able to let go of her jealousy when she learned that Nosta wasn't human?

People argue endlessly whether our god(s) are just made up in our heads from wishful thinking, or really exist separate from our expectations. In the story of the ancient people of Sonmatia Four, which appears to be the case, and how do you know?

An illustration shows the boulder as it might have looked with the crystal cluster still on top.

Chapter 21: Picking Up the Puzzle Pieces

As Boro learned and shared with Sata, breathing through the nose slows our metabolism. It also conserves body moisture. Breathing through the mouth is only useful during extreme exertion, like running.

Why would gods, aliens, or the Nebador Transport Service, prefer to rescue children, instead of wise old adults, when a species was threatened with extinction?

There is little or no twilight on a planet with a thin atmosphere because twilight is caused by the air scattering the light that is still moving through it but otherwise destined to miss the planet.

In your opinion, is it cheating to override a previous commander's order, or a necessary part of ship operations?

Chapter 22: Farewell to Sonmatia Four

Ilika was able to cook eggs for himself and Kibi in the emergency shelter because eggs are very easy to dehydrate, powder, and store. You can buy them in many good camping supply stores. After adding a little water, they make reasonably good scrambled eggs. Mushrooms and onions, of course, can also be dried or freeze-dried. You will only have trouble if you insist on eggs over-easy.

What, in your opinion, is the purpose of money?

Can you think of a culture that used metal coins for money? Sea shells? Numbers stored in a machine?

In addition to overriding a previous commander's orders, any piloting situation (as we first noted in Book Four) could require the crew to bend, even break, the rules. FAR (Federal Aviation Regulations in the USA) 91.3(b) states "In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule ... to the extent required to meet that emergency." Breaking the rules "well" is one of the things that clearly separates adults from children.

"Ursine" is the adjective that refers to the entire bear family of Ursidae. "Ursine" rhymes with "equine" (the horse family).

Chapter 23: Lots of Rocks

The navigation diagram is a cross-section of the asteroid belt Sonmatia Five. Where would this solar system's sun be in relation to this diagram?

We have theories about how the asteroid belt in our solar system formed, but no proof. Interference from the gravity of Jupiter is our main suspect. Whether Jupiter tore apart an existing planet, or just kept one from forming in the first place, is not known.

An asteroid field would be an extreme challenge for any pilot. A brilliantly-lit white rock could be blinding, and a dark rock in the shadow of another could be nearly invisible. That's why Mati used an image generated by the ship, with useful color codes, instead of a visual display.

Chapter 24: Hard Landing

The concepts of pitch, roll, and yaw are important to anyone who moves in a three-dimensional environment, including dancers and gymnasts. A car normally only does one of these (when turning a corner). Can you guess which one?

"The Meat Grinder" is a term of endearment used by spelunkers (cave explorers) to describe several caves the author has explored.

The landing they did on a tumbling asteroid is another example of a situation in which normal visual displays would work against a pilot. Rini's gravity analysis tools, Sata's sophisticated graphics, and Mati's two flight controls, are all things that would probably never be found on any craft built on Earth, but are not beyond our understanding.

Why was the landing, during which Kibi had command, still a challenge for her stomach?

Why was the landing very slow and smooth, even though Mati was not using any engines?

Chapter 25: The Meat Grinder

An asteroid would have "micro-gravity," much less than the one-sixth gravity our astronauts experienced on the moon (1969-1975). "Micro" is the Greek word for "small" and does not imply any exact amount, unless it is used with metric system units where it means one-millionth.

"Escape velocity" is the relative speed an object needs to escape the gravity of any body in space without using thrust. On Earth, it is about 11 km/sec or 7 miles/sec. If an asteroid had 1/5000 the gravity of the Earth, a person could literally walk (8 kph, 5 mph) into escape velocity. Luckily, the Meat Grinder had about 1/1000 the Earth's gravity, so it wasn't quite so dangerous.

The ethics of souvenir collecting is always relative to the number of visitor and the supply of souvenirs, and usually attempts to achieve sustainability. Which is more sustainable, and why: taking pine cones in a forest, or taking crystals in a cave?

Chapter 26: Gas Giants

Gas giants seem to be about the same as the inner planets, with a small rocky core, but are cold enough to capture the vast amounts of hydrogen that are present during solar system formation. This bring up the question: why isn't Pluto a gas giant? It's irregular orbit may mean it has a very different, and much more recent, origin.

In our solar system, only Saturn was known to have rings until very recently. Now, with better telescopes and unmanned probes, it appears that all four of our gas giants have rings.

Mati's habit of keeping her eyes moving "from chart to visual to console" is an essential piloting skill. If you look at any one of those for too long, things might change in one of the others (but hopefully the chart stays the same). This is actually more critical when driving a car, as obstacles and other vehicles are much closer than when flying.

Sonar maps the external environment by using sound waves. It is used by submarines on Earth because light does not travel very far underwater. Radar, which maps using radio waves, also does not work underwater.

Chapter 27: Darkness

Although our bodies would be severely weakened and possibly suffer permanent harm, healthy people can live 2-4 weeks without food. But if we have no water, one week is about the limit.

Solid hydrogen ice is about 14°K (-259°C, -434°F) or colder. Water ice on Earth is quite hot by comparison (193°K or higher).

Chapter 28: Cold

All the early steps of the grieving process (denial, anger, bargaining, depression) can be seen in different crew members at different times, in different ways, and in a different order for each person. This is typical of real people. We do not all grieve in the same way, or on the same schedule.

What are they grieving about? Would this be possible for a creature who was not self-aware?

For each crew member, which step in the grieving process was most pronounced?

Chapter 29: Emptiness

The final step in the grieving process is acceptance. Every person arrives at it on a different path, if they don't get stuck in one of the earlier steps. Luckily, no one on the ship stayed stuck.

In your culture, is "willing to die" part of being a "real man"?

If they are doomed to soon die, is there any value in Mati and Rini marrying?

Since emotions are, by definition, things that motivate us, what are we motivated to do when we feel the emotions caused by approaching death?

Chapter 30: Simulation

The crew's preparations for death marked the end of one phase of their lives, and the beginning of another. How can this be seen in their behavior in this chapter?

Chapter 31: The Passenger

Why did Melorania only rescue Kibi from the fire, not Neti and Miko?

Kibi and Melorania had different perspectives on Kibi's "emptiness." How would you describe each perspective?

Rini wanted to finish his video before he died. If you had only a year, what would you want to do before dying? A month? A week? A day? An hour? A minute?

Why was Melorania a little tougher on Sata than the others?

What title of respect might Boro have been considering, from his own language, that wouldn't translate into the language of Nebador?

What was it about Boro's personality that made Melorania emphasize the "letting go" aspect of dying?

How would Mati's experience as a "crippled slave" prepare her to pilot a starship?

How would Mati have probably died if she had not passed Ilika's tests?

Chapter 32: Melorania's Gift

Why didn't Melorania tell the crew, before she left, that she was going to free them?

Just a reminder: the ship's "atmospheric engines" are what we would call "turbo thrust" or "jet" engines. They need something, like air, to work with, and so don't work in space.

Why, in your opinion, was Kibi's mind clear when she helped Rini?

Why was Kibi so deeply touched by a powerful person accepting her and her fellow crew members?

Which crew members got which orders when Ilika said, "Give me a planetary cross-section with ship's position. Continue monitoring sonar for obstacles. Pitch down to twenty degrees. Ion drive power level one. Recalculate time to boundary."?

Visualization is an important step in piloting. It allows the pilot to "practice" even before he or she is in the craft. It applies to difficult maneuvers, like Mati was about to do, and entire flight plans.

Mati's task, to quickly bring the ship parallel to the liquid surface, is similar to what an airplane pilot has to do in a "soft field take-off" in tall or wet grass, mud, or snow.

Which crew members got which orders when Ilika said, "Full inertia canceling. Real-time topographic of the liquid-gaseous boundary. Pre-select hydrogen atmosphere filters for the forward view, maximum contrast. Ship's lights."? How much longed would these commands have taken to give if Ilika had to think about, then say, who got each command?

What do you think of Kibi's guess that getting ready to die allowed her to be calm in that otherwise-tense situation?

Why would it be difficult to achieve a high speed in a thick atmosphere?

Chapter 33: Manessa's Secret

What was it about getting ready to die that made Boro feel like he didn't have two feet under him?

The layers in the illustration, from the center outward, are: rocky core, hydrogen ice mantle, liquid hydrogen ocean, and thick mostly-hydrogen atmosphere. These layers may be typical for a gas giant. The only part we have ever seen is the surface of the atmosphere. All the rest are educated guesses.

In the middle of the illustration, what does the symbol "E" mean?

Chapter 34: Space At Last

When Manessa said she had no more secrets, was her logic correct?

Living through difficult experiences together is one way that people form bonds. Knowing that someone lived through difficult experiences, even though you were not together, is another, although the bonds may not be as strong. What other ways of forming bonds can you think of?

What change do we see in Mati after getting away from Sonmatia Seven?

Why would Kibi have mixed feeling about her desire to be like Melorania?

Most of us have never seen the night sky without the "light pollution" of a nearby town or city. A clear sky, thick with stars, is a glorious sight when seen from deep in the wilderness. The view Sata and Kibi had was probably far better.

Why was it necessary for Sata to turn off other lights in order to see the stars well? Hint: what happens when you are in a dark room, or outside at night, and someone shines a flashlight in your eyes?

Talking about the walls and ceiling, Kibi says, "They no longer have any power over me." How is this like Sata's journey to "stand on her own two feet"? How is it different?

Chapter 35: A Strange Landing

A planet far out in a solar system (like our Pluto), or in deep space, would receive too little sunlight to keep anything in liquid or gaseous form. Also, a small planet would have little internal heat (caused by internal pressure). Even the lightest element, hydrogen, would therefore be in a solid state, existing only as ice. Deep space is 3°K, and hydrogen freezes at 14°K.

In any equation of the form A = B / C, A varies directly with B, and inversely with C. In other words, as B goes up or down, so does A in the same direction, but as C goes up or down, A goes in the opposite direction. Notice the place in the orbit velocity equation of R, the orbital radius. Does V vary directly with R, or inversely?

If the "you-know-what" was the slave market, what was the "you-know-where"?

What combination of circumstances caused Kibi and Sata to both feel brave enough to do a different, more challenging, job?

Why did Boro run lots of diagnostics on the inertia canceling system?

A 3-degree glide slope is what most airplanes use. Helicopters use a 10-degree glide slope for a normal landing, but can use almost any angle.

What do you think of Kibi's command technique during the landing? How was it different from her previous attempts at command?

Sata's landing was very similar to what happens to inexperienced pilots: a tendency to lose altitude too soon, and then a fear of contacting the ground.

Chapter 36: The Littlest Planet

What experience had four of the crew members had that allowed them to relate to the ship (rolling to a stop with no control of any kind)?

Why would hydrogen ice explode if brought into the ship?

What makes Sata's kingdom less safe than a frozen, airless planet?

Beyond the planets, but still part of the solar system (because they orbit the sun) are many smaller object of rock or ice, collectively known as the Oort Cloud. Some comets have long elliptical orbits that penetrate deep into this region.

We have visited, with the Pioneer and Voyager unmanned probes, all four of our gas giants, but not little Pluto. The probes are slowly leaving the solar system. The Voyager probes are still sending back some data, and are expected to do so until about 2025.

Whose responsibility was it to know the comet was coming?

A comet is a dirty snowball, constantly shedding material, and showing a long, glowing tail when it interacts with the charged particles of the solar wind. The tail always points away from the sun, regardless of which way the comet is moving.

Chapter 37: Final Departure

Pre-visualizing the flight is even more important for a beginning pilot than an experienced one. Take-offs and landings are always "high workload" times for any pilot. This take-off, with one of their engines still not being used, was especially complicated.

What mistake did Rini make during take-off? (No one said anything about it in the story.)

What effect would it have on the crew if they thought Melorania was "watching their backs" all the time?

Chapter 38: The Star Drive

The situation Ilika described when people on a planet discover "deposits of concentrated energy deep in the ground" is, of course, taken directly from the situation on Earth right now. It started in about the year 1700 with coal, increased greatly in about 1900 with crude oil, and was supplemented by uranium in about 1950. Today, we are just passing the peak of usage of all three because of dwindling reserves, pollution, or both.

Since any creature, animal or plant, always maximizes its population within the resources it has, it tends to "overshoot" the carrying capacity of its environment. The population soon crashes back to a point lower than it began, because the process tends to damage the environment. Before we discovered coal, oil, and uranium, the human population of the Earth was fairly stable at about 500 million (one half billion). Today it is passing 7 billion.

Our fantasy of exploring the universe at will is expressed most clearly, of course, in the Science Fiction genre, but glimpses of it can be seen in every other genre, and in every aspect of life.

The idea that the universe is purposefully designed, so that mortal races can only explore their home solar systems, is a theological concept, not a scientific concept. From this follows the notion that whoever decided this (deity, by whatever title or name) can also make exceptions. A thread of evidence and opinion, subtle and rarely talked-about, runs through our stories and histories that very occasionally an individual is chosen for direct service to deity. They tend to mysteriously "disappear" from human society, and so become lost in the statistics about people who are abducted and presumably murdered, but no remains are ever found.

The idea that a deeply-trusted servant of deity can exercise fantastic powers, seeming at will, but can only do so as long as they carefully follow certain rules (and never use the powers selfishly), is another theme that pops up all through history and literature.

What qualities of "space dimensions" are we used to that cause us to be disoriented in space when they are absent? Hint: we know many of these visually, some by touch/feel, and even some by sound.

What qualities of "time dimensions" are we used to that cause us to be disoriented in time when they are absent? Hint: we usually know these through rhythm, such as the timing of syllables in a spoken sentence, or the wing-beats of a bird.

What are the usual physiological (health) effects of disorientation in space or time?

Why would Ilika speculate that the high priest (in the capital city of the little kingdom on Sonmatia Three) would not do well in star transit?

Chapter 39: Star Transit

A light-hour, you might recall, is about 6.5 billion km (4 billion miles).

All ship system must be shut down during star transit because they are physical systems, and so would not work in a spaceless and/or timeless reality state. Even the simplest device, such as a liquid flowing through a tube, can only function if space and time are as we know them. The idea of "flow" has no meaning without a "here" to start from, a "there" to go to, and some "time" to allow it to happen.

Each of the crew members, including Ilika, had emotional events or situations in their pasts that could have kept them from relaxing during star transit, thinking clearly when on duty, or otherwise doing their jobs and living their lives. Every time we are hurt physically or emotionally, we can heal, regain our strength, and become wiser, or we can fail to heal, and move closer to death or insanity. Will-power is certainly necessary, but there may also be an element of luck involved. That element of luck may or may not be divine intervention.

Book by Book

the narrow streets of a medieval walled city
Book One:
The Test
Spring 2010




Letter to Readers

Dramatic Audiobook

Audiobook Chapter 1 (6MB)



Deep Learning

Where to Get It

Screenplay 1

a lonely beach along a wild seashore
Book Two:
Summer 2010


Letter to Readers

Dramatic Audiobook

Audiobook Chapter 13 (8MB)



Deep Learning

Where to Get It

Screenplay 1

the colorful aurora above majestic mountains
Book Three:
Fall 2010


Letter to Readers

Dramatic Audiobook

Audiobook Chapter 5 (13MB)



Deep Learning

Where to Get It

Screenplay 1

stranded on a frigid ice continent
Book Four:
Flight Training
Spring 2011


Letter to Readers



Deep Learning

Where to Get It

fascinating planets with strange life forms
Book Five:
Back to the Stars
Fall 2011


Letter to Readers



Deep Learning

Where to Get It

a shining jewel floating in the blackness of space
Book Six:
Star Station
Summer 2012


Letter to Readers



Deep Learning

Where to Get It

unseen guests at an event of universe importance
Book Seven:
The Local Universe
Summer 2013


Letter to Readers



Where to Get It

stillness and silence where movement and sound should be
Book Eight:
Summer 2014


Letter to Readers



Where to Get It

Heather's meeting circle at a top-secret military facility
Book Nine:
A Cry for Help
Summer 2015


Letter to Readers



Where to Get It

a strange eco-system deep underground
Book Ten:
Stories from Sonmatia
Summer 2016


Letter to Readers


Where to Get It

Nebador Archives

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by J. Z. Colby
unless otherwise attributed