Nebador Archives presents an epic young-adult science fiction adventure - Questions

J. Z. Colby's NEBADOR takes place in the wide universe around us ...
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The author is most at home in the woods Questions

The author will attempt to answer any sincere question, but will be honest if he does not know. In that case, he will try to point to the source of a possible answer.

At this time, questions may be sent to this address:

(This email address is not a button. It must be READ and ENTERED into your email application. No attachments over 1MB, please.)

"I'm scratching my head wondering why the characters we've grown to love weren't in Book 10. It feels like maybe you had a reason for doing that ... and I think it has something to do with the spiritual messages of the books. Am I getting warm?"
-- Teresa in Arizona

JZC: Almost hot, like Arizona in the summertime! The Muses gave me the task of sharing with my readers not just a literal description of Nebador, but also a feel for it. Nebador is in many ways, as you have guessed, similar to the spiritual values we already know from our religions here on Earth. It is also, in some ways, different. The Muses made it clear to me that human beings are not the hot stuff, in the eyes of the universe, they like to think they are. That led to several themes in the NEBADOR stories, such as the fact that the star stations contained few of us. The same theme led me, at the end, to feel okay about Ilika, Kibi, and the rest, just fading away from our knowledge after completing the mission in Book Nine. I compromised by giving a glimpse of their next mission, just to reassure everyone that life went on for them.

"In your opinion, how might we be able to apply the "solution" at the end of Book Nine to our own similar predicament?"
-- Bob

JZC: That's one of those questions I was hoping no one would ask. But you did, so here goes.

I don't believe we can, for several reasons. First of all, it's too late. In Book 9, they got that cushion of time because of the Temporandek Teacher. We had our warnings from scientists and others, and squandered that time. Second, the "solution," which I won't try to define here as it would be a spoiler for potential readers, does not work by intentional design. Heather/Priscilla didn't plan or intend it, and the other members of her team certainly didn't. Neither did Ashley. The only ones who might have seen it coming, and might have even had a hand in making it come to pass, were Melorania, Shemutavia, and others who are pretty tight-lipped (at least to us) about their plans. I would speculate that it would not have been fully known even to them. But once it happened, they were smart and fast enough to make good use of it by tapping Alex, Susan, and Daphne.

In other words, when people make plans, the gods laugh. When angels make plans, the gods listen, but are well aware that there are even deeper levels of intention and purpose.

Sorry I couldn't give you anything that we can act on. We could have solved our predicaments, back a few decades ago. Now, I'm afraid, we're at the mercy of the physical and spiritual universes. The human social/political sphere is no longer effective, at this time, in our predicaments.

"Wow. Read book 9. Feeling fear. Ive read enough about global warming to know your not just making up the part about it happening way sooner than every one thinks. Got to read it again. are you SURE???"
-- Clarissa, Nebador citizen, 15

JZC: I share your fear, Clarissa. You are correct to notice that the timeline of the story is based on the scientific thinking that is emerging right now. Basically, for a couple of decades, scientists had been modeling climate change based on "linear" models, models that assumed the numbers would change along straight lines. They're discovering that most of it is happening "exponentially," or along curves that keep getting steeper and steeper.

Of course I'm not "sure." Looking into the future, or in my case writing stories that might be about it, is always tricky. Predictions, whether done as fiction or not, are always "wrong," but the question is "how wrong?" You and I, and everyone else with their eyes open, will find out soon if I, and many scientists, are even half-way right.

You know about my new Preparation page, right?

"why is book9 gonna be the last one except book 10 which isn't really one. i dont think i like that. got the screen play!!!"
-- Tabitha, Nebador citizen, 16

JZC: I share many of your feeling about the series ending, Tabitha. But you have to understand that I'm not writing (I can't write) whatever I want to. I am only writing because someone is sticking words in my little brain. I call it/them the Muses. You can call them anything you want.

Anyway, the Muses gave me the ending of the series concerning Ilika and his crew as part of Book Nine. I think I know why, and if I'm right, then I have to agree with them. The story in Book Nine is too important to be "just another story" in a long series. It has to stand out somehow. It has to draw people's attention to to it. You'll understand why when you read it, and at that time, I hope you will agreee with me and forgive me for ending the series.

But there's still Stories from Sonmatia (Book Ten), and who-knows-what else! I'll be listening for what the universe wants me to do, and I hope you will be doing that, also, Tabitha.

"... this ebola thing is making all 3 of us feel pretty wierd. What do you thinks goning to happen?"
-- Sarah

JZC: I have to start by admitting that I'm not an expert on viruses or epidemics, so these are just my hunches, and they are subject to change as the situation unfolds.

I can imagine Europe, the USA, and other rich contries keeping Ebola out (and successfully dealing with the few cases that slip in) as long as it is only active in a small area of the world (currently, west Africa). However, I wonder if other poor countries will be able to keep it out. If they are not, and Ebola gets going in MANY poor countries and regions of the world, that's when it will become very hard to keep it out of the rich countries.

For example, it might pop up in lots of other places in Africa, then get into the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia. If it's killing people in all those places, Europe will have trouble keeping it out. The USA and Canada would still have a chance, UNTIL it gets a foothold in South America, Central America, and Mexico.

That's my fear. I hope I'm wrong. I keep a list of special people in my area that I will invite into my little sanctuary if it comes to MY town!

"I'm torn. Part of me would hate being alone in the world [like Jimox and Teina in Book Eight] even with a boyfriend, part of me would love it. Does that make me mental?"
-- Pamela, 15, Nebador citizen, Wales

JZC: Not at all, Pamela. We are social creatures, even the most introverted of us. We need many kinds of social interactions to be completely healthy, and not all of those can be provided by a boyfriend (or girlfriend).

We also need to feel in control of our environment, and one of the biggest obstacles to that is competition from other people. Jimox and Teina didn't have that competition, so they were able to achieve a greater degree of control than most of us ever do -- dozens of places they could call home, a nearly infinite food supply, and free admission to EVERYTHING.

Of course, power corrupts, and they could have let that situation "go to their heads." But they didn't, or they wouldn't have become Planetary Prince and Princess, and finally Planetary Sovereigns.

The ghosts helped greatly, I hope you can see, by providing Jimox and Teina with opportunities to be compassionate. The possibility of finding balance between your two reactions is one of the most important themes of Book Eight.

"Here's my stab at summarizing the cosmology in the Nebador books. Please tell me how I'm doing

1. God or Gods are in charge of the universe.
2. Some advanced mortals work for them directly in star stations and similar places (the Nebador "services"), and these can be any type of creature. But just because a spider, for example, might be sentient/sapient on one planet (and qualify for Nebador), does not imply it is on all planets, or on earth.
3. They sometimes help people in civilzations like ours, but not always, depending on the cause of the problem and the nature of the help needed.
4. When people die, they enter into a spirit life/education that is separate from the mortals who work in the "services."
-- Ambrose W.

JZC: Very good, Ambrose! I'm especially glad you noticed the second part of your #2. Some religions seem to have glimpsed the multi-species aspect of the mortal "services," and confuse that with the notion that someday all the animals on Earth will live in peace with each other.

I would like to add a #5 to your list: The solar system is our play pen, and no mortal civilization can "export" their immaturity outside it. This clashes with most scifi in which the bad guy du jour is out there in the stars, waiting for us. That's human projection, pure and simple.

"Soo... whats the connection between the 2 storys in book 7?"
-- Penny98

JZC: I wondered that myself for a while, Penny. Sometimes the Muses tell a writer WHAT to do, without explaining WHY. I eventually saw that they were 2 extremes, and the contrast between them said a lot about the local universe of Nebador. In one, we are way out on the edge, and it wasn't until the book was almost in print that I thought of the title for Part 1. The second part is, as you know, about a very advanced planet and the local universe capital. I finally saw the connection: you can't understand "civilization" without first going to the "wilderness."

"when are you gonna make them into moivies? theyd be so perfect."
-- Tabitha, Nebador citizen, 15

JZC: It's great to hear from you, Tabitha! Well, gosh, I personally don't know how to make movies. I wish I did. When are YOU going to make the NEABDOR stories into movies?

What's that? You're not a movie maker either? Where does that leave us? If you happen to be at a party with Peter Jackson or James Cameron, or someone else who makes movies, you can tell them about it, and I'll do the same. The dramatic audiobooks of Trilogy One are as close as I can come by myself, and actually that took the help of about 20 other people, but luckily they loved the stories so much that I was able to pay them in pizza (and half the royalties).

I hope to see you at opening night!

"So lets pretend Nebador is real. How do you get in?"
-- Pamela, 15, Nebador citizen, Wales

JZC: I had a hunch you'd get around to asking me that, Pamela, considering your other questions. I'll start by admitting that I don't know with any absolute knowledge, but if I did, I'd be doing it and packing my bags!

Well, that's not actually true, because I've made a committment to finish the series at least through Book Nine, which our world needs right now, so even if I was offered a ride to Satamia Star Station RIGHT NOW, I'd have to say I'd go in a couple of years, but not right now.

So that certainly brings up the question: Are the powers of the universe, that most people call gods and such, the same ones who are giving me this story to write? Are they the same ones I've made the promise to that I will finish Book Nine, even if I have to crawl from my bed to the keyboard?

I believe the answer is YES, but I have to add that I don't believe it's possible for me, or anyone, to get their mental picture of what's out there exactly right, even if they are receiving a very accurate inspiration. There are just too many psychological processes that go on in the human mind for the vision to remain undistorted as it moves from the original inspiration to words in a human language.

But I'm rambling, aren't I? I have not yet answered your question. In a sense I believe I can, and in a sense I'm sure I cannot. It's so easy to say all the things that religions say about how to "get into Heaven." Some of them are obviously crap, of course, like sending them money. But many of those suggestions are very good. Pick a religion, any religion. They are all saying about the same thing. One of my favorite ways of keeping it very simple is to say: Build your life around goodness, truth, and beauty. That's easy to say, but what does it MEAN?

Each of us has to work out for ourselves what those values, and other you might add to the list, mean. Another issue is that I, and you, may have already been accepted by the powers of the universe, but they want us to finish the work we have been given to do. For me, that's writing NEBADOR. For you, only you can figure that out. Also, do they actually need helpers who are still mortal, or must we die first? I don't know. The inspirations I have been given, and the stories I am writing, assume that there is universe work for a few mature, highly-trained mortals. But I can't say I "know" that.

I hope some of this helps, Pamela, and I look forward to struggling with your next question. I think you'll enjoy Book Eight this summer.

"Ok so the music was more important than all the cloak and dagger stuff [in Book Seven]. Care to speculate what's important today on Earth that we aren't paying attn. to?"
-- William

JZC: First let me point out that the music, in Book Seven, was more important to the universe than the politics of the planet (secular and religious). That doesn't mean the politics isn't important to, and necesary for, the prople on the planet.

Readers of my Youth Futures essays (which I have a hunch you're about to become) know that I am very concerned about (and the Muses are constantly reinforcing this to me, especially Clio, the Muse of History) the interactions of our tightening energy supplies and anthropogenic (man-made) climate change. As you may know, we recently (in the last decade) transitioned from cheap and plentiful energy to much-more-expensive energy. I'm sure you're aware of climate change, William. I won't try to summerize here my free book on the subject and all the Youth Futures essays, but the energy and climate problems are not yet being talked about with any adult-style seriousness by our leaders.

"I read your books, have them all on my Nook, very good stories. Love the new Gifted youth page, thanks for making it so complete. You said there are 3 colleges that accept 11 and up. Can you tell me which colleges those are? I have a 12-y-o."
-- Jeremy K.

JZC: Sure, Jeremy. They are Cal State L.A. in Los Angeles, U.W. in Seattle, and Mary Baldwin College (girls) in Staunton, Virginia. Remember, other possibilities exist, but don't advertise the fact, so the potential student would have to greatly impress them in the admissions process (GED+SAT scores, interview ability, writing samples, etc.), and then you'd have to provide all necessary support for the student yourselves, whereas these 3 have a support system all set up. Mary Baldwin is a boarding school, so is probably the most self-contained (and most expensive).

"I noticed you seem to be knowledgeable about the paranormal activity on the Queen Mary. Can you point me to the most informed sources of information?"
-- bgt1972

JZC: The most informed was probably Peter James, who passed away in 2007. Unfortunately, he only whote one chapter on the Queen Mary, and didn't go into great depth or detail, in his book Heaven Can You Hear Me?, prepared for publication post-humously by Gian Temperilli. Peter's video Ghost Encounters: The Queen Mary adds much more information.

Next-most informed is probably Erika Frost, who has been the resident paranormal guide and investigator for several years now, but has not published anything to my knowledge. If you're in that area, taking her tours, even arranging a private interview, would be well worth the expense.

The Queen Mary operators themselves, while generally great people doing the not-very-profitable job of keeping the Queen Mary open, tend to change the names of historical personalities for P.R. purposes. John Pedder is now "Half-Hatch Henry" and Jackie is now "Scary Mary" for example.

If you're not nearby (and even if you are), you should turn to Robert and Anne Wlodarski, who have been publishing A Guide to the Haunted Queen Mary since 1995, with an update in 2010 by the title Queen Mary Ghosts: History and Hauntings Aboard the Most Haunted Ship in the World.

Although the subject is mentioned in many other books on both the Queen Mary and the paranormal, you'll always just find a brief mention of the 4-6 most famous sightings. Please let me know if you find any other resources of substance.

"In your recent personal power workshop you said you didn't need to go to school to have knowledge and good thinking skills. Are you sure?"
-- Harmony85

JZC: Yes, and the key word is "need." Young people have been gaining knowledge and thinking skills all through history without school, when they are sufficiently motivated. Also, young people just do NOT want to hear that they "have to" go to school. They know that. To say it identifies the speaker as a "cop" of some sort, and causes most ears to close. School can be useful for gaining knowledge and good thinking skills, WHEN young people have chosen that path. Schools can also fail completely in their task. Therefore, the decisions of the individual to learn and grow are the important thing, not the exact resources he or she finds to help accomplish that.

"I just finshed book2. How can we go on journey to grow up when my mum wont even let me get the post in front of the house???"
-- Ginny in Devon

JZC: That's a serious problem, Ginny. Most people have less freedom than we want, and less freedom than the characters in Book 2 have. So I'll brainstorm with you. There might be some areas of life where you DO have some freedom. Are there any places where your mum DOES let you "journey"? Maybe there's something about your neighborhood that scares her. Are there any groups you can "journey" with that would make your mum feel comfortable with it, like a hiking club? Of course, like all people who have lived through some kind of lack of freedom, you are completely free to "journey" in your mind and imagination, far more free there than you will ever be in real life. Finally, keep in mind that your mum's authority ends at a certain point in your life (18?) if not sooner because she decides to trust you. And to carry on that thought, is there anything you might be doing to make her NOT trust you? Can you change that about yourself?

Feel free to keep in touch, share what you've tried, and maybe I'll be able to think of more ideas. In the meantime, you have CHOSEN to aim your life at the "journey" of growth, hopefully far beyond the fear that rules most people. THAT'S what's important, even if you can't put on your walking shoes today.

"could the stuff from the sun that makes the aurora be dangerous?"
-- Belinda, 13

JZC: I'm glad you got curious about that in your reading of Book Three, Belinda. The stuff from the sun is called the Solar Wind, and big bursts of it, called Coronal Mass Ejections, can be very dangerous to our electrical systems. The worst that ever happened to us, that we know of, was in 1859 when a Coronal Mass Ejection disrupted our telegraph system. If another one of a similar size or larger happened today, it could do much more damage because we use electricity for many more things, and power failures can bring most of our daily activities to a halt. We do not know if a Coronal Mass Ejection could be so large that it would be directly harmful to people. I hope not.

"I just reread book 3, but I've read all of them thru 6. Seems the medieval youth were better able to relate to their living ship than we would be because they were used to seeing things alive everywhere, esp. religious things. Did you do that on purpose?"
-- Amanda T.

JZC: There were many reasons I started the story in a medieval setting, but that was one of them. When times are "dark" and difficult, like Europe from about 400 to about 1400, people find living and spiritual forces under every rock to help them explain their world.

When times are good, it's because people have found a source of power. In ancient Rome, it was slaves and imported food. For us today, it's coal, oil, gas, uranium, and the machines they run. Having power requires us to see most things and many people as objects, to be used as we wish. Therefore, it would be much harder for modern youth to relate to a living ship, and to accept all the "people" on Satamia Star Station as people.

"Sorry I havent been reading for awhile but i'm caught up now. Had to read some stuff friends were readiong and it wasnt half as good. Some of its exciting but then I got done and felt sort of cheated. Why does your books not do that?"
-- Clarissa, Nebador citizen, 14

JZC: Well, thank you, Clarissa. I'll try to remain humble as I throw out some possibilities.

I know you love to learn, since you bought the Deep Learning Notes (not many people do). I decided, when I started writing the NEBADOR series, to put in any learning situation that the Muses told me too. Most authors avoid doing that, because most readers want pure entertainment.

There are a bunch of "cheap tricks" that are often used to make stories exciting. For example, the bomb is always defused at 2 or 3 seconds before exploding, not at 4 minutes and 35 seconds. Although I have not succeeded completely, I try to avoid using those "cheap tricks," and instead just tell real stories.

Most people, including most writers, avoid talking about religion and politics. I decided not to avoid them. In fact, considering what the Muses want me to write, there's no way I could avoid them!

If you think of another way in which my books give you something that other books don't, please share it with me! Also, please tell me if there's something my books can give you that they DON'T.

"Nebador is kinda military but not quite. Whats it closest to that we have?"
-- Brandy

JZC: I'm glad it's not clear what kind of organization Nebador is, as there's no way that I, a mere mortal Earthling, could understand it, much less tell you. I get hints from the Muses, and put them into the stories, but can only hope they weave together into something that makes sense.

The military is one of the few attempts we've made to create a part of our civilization that serves the whole. Most organizations we create are explicitly just to serve themselves. Of course, there are many ways in which our military fails to be a true service organization.

Some people have drawn a parallel with religious orders and monasteries. In some ways Nebador is like them, but again the similarities fail quickly, even though many of the goals seem the same.

I wish I could think of a human organization that comes closer, Brandy, but the one big difference keep popping up: human organizations are run by humans, so they always contain human weaknesses and corruption. We can't imagine working in a true service organization in which we could ALWAYS trust the leadership. We can only dream of it.

"This story is going somewhere important, and I have some ideas but wondered if you will help."
-- Pamela, 14, Nebador citizen, Wales

JZC: I'll help a little, without giving away too much. By Book Six, for anyone (like you) paying close attention, it is becoming obvious what Nebador is, who runs it, and what part the crew of the Manessa Kwi (and many others like them) play in the larger scheme of things. Beyond Book Six, the main characters are involved in harder and harder missions, each of which teaches them (and the observant reader) more and more about being in charge of a universe (instead of just being one of the countless little creatures of a universe). This is, I'm sure you're smart enough to know, very different than being a "top dog" of some kind in the culture of a planet. It's like a scientist looking into a cage of insects, seeing the workers and queens and all the other types, learning from them, maybe helping them a little if they need it, but not trying to hurt them or rule them just because the scientist can.

Religion is obviously a touchy subject, and must be handled carefully.

Consider examining the link between religions and their goals with an omnipotent/omniscient god that they all believe:
A. God is good/holy etc., the opposite of evil.
B. Because of A, doing what God wants is the right thing to do. Going against God on purpose is wrong.
C. Religion is our attempt to learn/teach the specifics of A+B by defining Good and Evil.
Example: Jesus said "God is love" and simplified the 10 commandments into "Love God, love your neighbor." Therefore, God=Love+Good and not-God=Hate=Bad, which answers C.
This does not apply to ALL religions, but at least many of the major (especially monotheistic) ones.
Most fighting between religions seems to me to be that nobody likes to admit they are wrong/could be wrong.
-- Alex, young-adult critiquer of NEBADOR Book Seven: The Local Universe (coming Summer 2013)

JZC: You are wrestling with a dilemma philosophers have struggled with for thousands of years: do we obey god(s) because they are good or because they are god(s)? In other words, did goodness come first, or did god(s) come first (who then defined goodness)?

I couldn't agree more with your last comment: when human pride enters into a process that is supposed to be all about goodness, suddenly there is fighting. Sigh.

ok I see bad stuff coming around all over the world and i've learned a lot from you books but want know what YOU think we should be gettign that will help us get thru it all please.
-- Ryn, 15, California, Nebador citizen

JZC: I have bad news, Ryn. You won't get through (as in get to the other side) of the changes going on in the world, because those changes will last for centuries. And even after those centuries pass, the world on the other side won't look like this one. We're living in a one-time event right now, a grand party that we'll never be able to afford again.

The timing is almost impossible to predict, but there might be a more stable time a few decades along. If so, you can get there, and help your children, or other people's children, get comfortable there.

Learn everything you can from my Deep Learning Notes (free on the web site, or you can buy them) and my free book Standing on Your Own Two Feet. Learn everything you can in school IN SPITE OF what anyone else is doing, including your teachers. Find other books that call to you.

The key points are: be ready to take care of yourself at any moment, start imagining how to live without the cheap and plentiful energy (electricity, gasoline, etc.) that we have today, and practice making real connections (old-fashioned friendships) with the people around you.

"[On the new Nebador & You page] I laughed about the pizza (Wall-E!) but I have to ask why you think the narrow path is all about power and status?"
-- Artemis Girl, 16, Nebador citizen

JZC: Yes, I got that bit of inspiration from Wall-E.

Your question is a deep one, Artemis. The narrow paths CAN be useful to people wanting to learn and grow, at least for a while, as I mentioned in the text. But ultimately the paths can't help mixing in politics and other human struggles for power and status because they were DESIGNED by humans. It's just an ever-present part of our nature. It's not, in itself, bad, but it puts a limit on how far down those paths we can go without getting "stuck in a rut" because eventually power and status-seeking blinds us to many of the realities of the universe.

A good example is the climate change debate going on right now. Most human power-seeking goes on with other humans, because we have little power anywhere else. So many people, on both sides of the climate change issue, think we can ARGUE our way out of the problem. If only we can argue better or louder than the other side, the problem will go away, or be solved. The REALITY in the situation is that words, arguments, and opinions are completely irrelevant, and only physics and chemistry matter. But most people don't want to learn about (or even hear about) physics and chemistry, because they have no control over those aspects of reality.

"Did you know that Books Tell Stories person was a fundy who was going to give you a bad review if your book was ANYTHING but soap? If anything, your characters are WAY too good. I think one of them says one slightly dirty word in Book 1. The rest of us think something like... Please, give us more 'language' and more 'questionable topics'! Your books are more religious than those small minded people will ever understand."
-- William, Nebador citizen

JZC: Thanks, William. Yes, I guessed beforehand, but decided to have the review and post it anyway, partly because her brief bio reveals her point of view. Efforts to ban books, or keep them away from young people, usually result in the opposite. She declined to review Book Two, and perhaps that's best, as she probably wouldn't get past Shepherdess Noni. There will always be "societal gatekeepers" who try to make their own discomforts with the universe into rules that everyone must follow. They usually try to gain political power, and when they do, can be dangerous. At other times, it's best just to smile and go on with the important work of the universe.

"After getting a review that thought Sata was written too mature in Book 6, do you wish you had written it differently? I don't agree with the reviewer, just wanted to know what you think."
-- Patti, Nebador citizen

JZC: No, I think Sata was just right in Book Six. I set out, from the very beginning of the series, to have the main characters possess as wide a variety of traits as possible (within the logic of the story), and Sata was precocious even in Book One.

The reviewer, even though she gave me a mediocre rating because of her opinions about how I wrote Sata, also gave enough information to see where she was coming from. It's a sad fact that many people do not remember the thoughts and feelings of early adolescence, or will not accept that even if they, personally, did not have those thoughts and feelings until later, that most people do at Sata's age, and even younger.

As I talk about at length in my essay Young Adult?, the average age of puberty for girls is 12 and falling for reasons we can only guess. As a mental health therapist, I have seen clearly the changes in thinking that take place at puberty. The reviewer compared Sata to a boy in her family, and boys are typically two years behind girls, so that accounts for much of the basis for her opinion right there.

The other factor in this issue is that I have chosen to present Nebador as a working civilization, analogous to a corporation. Although we see a few "children" in Book Six, there are clearly no procedures for protecting them from the dangers of life (and we even see one of them die). Sata came to the star station as a response-ship navigator-in-training. Given the nature of Nebador, the wide variety of creatures in it, and the criteria for citizenship (not yet completely revealed), I believe it is appropriate for it to separate "children" from "adults" (if at all) based on abilities and behaviors, not arbitrarily by age. In my work with gifted kids, I can attest to the fact that any arbitrary division by age becomes completely useless when dealing with such a highly-select group, which is also the case in Nebador.

"You included math and other boring subjects on purpose, didn't you?"
-- Pamela, 13, Nebador citizen, Wales

JZC: Well ... I didn't decide to bore my readers on purpose, but I DID want the NEBADOR stories to be especially for a certain kind of reader, not just anyone. And, following the leads of the Muses, I accomplished that by giving the reader a taste of what the characters had to learn on their journey from the gutter to the stars. I few people have given NEBADOR poor reviews, but they are not the people it was written for. Most people who can't stomach a little learning seem to just drop it, and never write a review.

"What is a PRC file and what does it have to do with the Kindle?"
-- G. H.

JZC: Updated answer after more research: PRC is a container file that holds metadata (title, description, etc.) and a MOBI (the actual Kindle ebook content). It is one of several file formats that the Kindle reader can read directly, without any conversion. Others are: MOBI (pure content), AZW (a copy-protected MOBI), TXT, and PDF (poorly). A few other file types have come and gone over the years for the Kindle, or are still "experimental" at this time.

Amazon bought the MOBI format from a smaller company when they started making the Kindle. A few Mobipocket ebook readers are still around.

"Why does Mati always freakout just when she has some thing wonderful right in her hands? ... I'm about halfway thru 6."
-- Ryn, 14, California, Nebador citizen

JZC: It's good to hear from you again, Ryn. I knew you'd be one of those to jump on Book Six. I imagine it's because she got so used to failure as a slave, which was almost all her life that she could remember. The same thing happened in Book Two, I'm sure you remember, when she met the handicapped goatherd, and in Book Three when Ilika was assigning jobs on the ship. It can be very hard to accept success when we haven't had any practice. Now she's clinging fiercely to her success as a pilot, but has a major challenge that you're about to read (which luckily doesn't affect her piloting). What do you think will happen when she gets reassigned to another position in the middle of Book Seven?

"You really like gifted people, don't you? What happens to the rest of us?"
-- Beth

JZC: Yes, I really like gifted people, but in a broad sense, not just "high IQ" people. Mati and Boro are gifted in a kinesthetic sense. Boro, Kibi, and Sata all have gifts of leadership qualities, but differently. Rini and Kibi have perceptual abilities that go beyond most people.

As the characters come to understand, Nebador is a working civilization. It is like a corporation or government agency, with jobs to do, and positions for a variety of skilled and dedicated workers, but not places for everyone. The "rest of us" live in a general civilization that has a place for everyone. Although I can (sometimes barely) keep my computer running, IBM and Microsoft have no places on their payrolls for me. I'm happy with that. Those corporations would have no purpose without customers like me. Nebador would have no purpose without a universe full of planets, and the people on them, to watch over.

"I love these books! But I wonder why they are not published by one of the big publishing houses."
-- Suzanne, Florida

JZC: I can only guess, Suzanne. Writers seldom get reasons when they are rejected -- publishers are just too busy and get too many submissions. I did get two that I remember. One was that the story moved too slowly. I looked at what that publisher put out, and realized it was all "Transformers"-style constant, hectic action. I had no intention of writing such a story. The other was that it crossed genres, which I already knew was a serious crime in writing. Thank you for your vote of confidence!

"I have some ideas but want to know what you think is important about getting ready to die. A boy in my school died last year and it made us all think. btw I'm 13 now."
-- Tabitha, Nebador citizen, 13

JZC: Well, Tabitha, your ideas on the subject are just as good as mine. And I can't say too much because, like in the story, it's a different process, with different lessons, for everyone. I know you know about the Deep Learning Notes, so I'll try not to duplicate stuff I remember saying in those.

One value it has is allowing us to get a perspective on human life. We get a good sense of how long it is, how far through it we are, what we've done, what we still want to do, and whether we have time for what we want to do. If we don't, then we can start setting some priorities.

It also lets us deal (as much as we can before it's actually in our faces) with the big FEAR of death that seems to be part of human life. The more we can "practice" dying by thinking about it beforehand, the less that FEAR will consume us when the event is close.

Also, it pushes us to ponder what we believe about "life after death." The NEBADOR stories include my belief about that, as you know, but hopefully also a deeper idea: the way we live, and treat each other, seems to have a lot to do with what we believe about death and what lies beyond.

But beware of a trap: there are many religions that preach "life after death," but do so in a manner that includes lots of fear and guilt. The result is people who say they believe in it, but continue to go through life as if they don't, and it really shows in the ways they treat other people (like making war whenever possible).

"You have presented a very interesting theological theory at the end of Book 5. It is not without roots in some modern religious thinking, but certainly has never appeared in popular culture, or scientific thinking, to the best of my knowledge. I find it humbling, but appealing. Can you share where you got it?"
-- Simon, UK

JZC: No, Simon, I cannot, as it's just a synthesis of some ideas I've read in odd places, and it makes sense to me. The important thing for the NEBADOR stories (as I'm sure you know by now), is, like you said, that it's humbling. Anyone who has gotten to Book Five knows that NEBADOR is not a collection of stories about human pride, hubris, and superiority (unlike most scifi).

"When are we going to find out what happened to Buna and Toli and Risan Gor? And why RG was important?"
-- Clarissa, Nebador citizen, 12

JZC: One the the important jobs of any story-teller, Clarissa, is knowing what NOT to tell. The NEBADOR story is seen through the eyes of Ilika and his crew. There are things they will never know, SHOULD never know. The lives of Buna, Toli, Neti, Misa, and don't forget Tera, might become important to the crew of the Manessa Kwi, and they might not. I don't know at this point. Same with Risan Gor, and why she was important enough to rescue. Remember, she is very young, and her importance may not become known, even to her, for many years.

The fact that Ilika and his crew don't find out everything also is an important theme in the story, that you will probably understand better after reading Books Five and Six, so I can't give it away right now. Book Five is almost out, and I know you'll be one of the first to get one. Look for Melorania, and think about who and what she is.

"How would Ilika's home, Nebador or whatever, handle the things you talk about in the blog like energy crisis?"
-- Nancy, South Dakota

JZC: You'll understand Nebador better when Book Six is published next year, Nancy, but right now we'll have to work with the hints Ilika has given us. Nebador, it appears, is a civilization that's advanced enough to actually deal with any imbalance in it, or between it and its environment. An energy crisis is an imbalance between energy supply and energy demand. In our world, we usually take the attitude that whatever we want, we get, if we have enough money. That attitude only works in social things, give and take between people. When you bring in physical reality, it doesn't work so well. So Nebador must be advanced ("grown up") enough to know the difference, and when something is limited by physical reality, they don't whine like we do, they just deal with it. In the case of energy, that might mean riding a bicycle or wearing warmer clothes.

"... generally speaking nebador has a bit of wealth? enough to build and repair ships and keep tons of people busy.. and for all that high tech and expensive and technological stuff in the manesa.. they put in a cheap lock for the mission bracelets that can be easily pried open? think some one on nebador had a brain and i think ilika needs to install some knock out gas in his ship in case someone decides to take it ... any who.. cant wait for the next book since i am now hooked. now you need to throw in some space monsters or pirates or something..lmao."
-- Carl, Oregon

JZC: Yes, I wasn't completely comfortable with that mission bracelet cabinet issue, but I had already established that the ship can, once in a while, break down, it isn't designed as a "prison transport," and his knife was BIG, so I let that stay.  But generally I agree with you, Carl, and that bordered on a "cheap plot device."

As you will see in future books, Manessa is quite capable of defending herself, but needs guidance, and in this case received it from Ilika (to do nothing, not even speak) because he feared for Mati's safety. And part of the theme here is that Ilika is inexperienced as a captain. Although not as much as his crew, he's still learning.

I'll think about the space monsters and pirates, Carl, but even if that happens, don't expect it to be like most space monster and pirate stories!

[concerning the crowded city in Book Four, chapter 18]
-- Lubna, India

Lubna: Do you believe Euthanasia is beneficial? Will this not lead to its own set of problems - including murder? I mean lives are getting prolonged because we have artificial stuff such as respirators to keep the ailing alive.

JZC: I don't claim to know how a civilization should "manage" death. That's a huge question that will take centuries, perhaps thousands of year, for us to work out, if we ever do.

The city in Book Four, chapter 18, simply presents the reality that if we don't control our population through the birth or death rates, nature will do so through the death rate, and often in a manner that can do great damage (a highly-unstable civilization tends to lose it sciences, arts, and technology, including large-scale agriculture).

I don't have any particular knowledge about euthanasia, other than to point out that most people today find it unacceptable, just as they do all other methods of population control, save one...

Lubna: You mentioned that wars can help keep the population down. But isn't war best avoidable? Wars arise out of greed rather than anything else.

JZC: I personally dislike wars, but they are generally very popular, and are the only socially-acceptable method of population control that the human race has ever come up with. Conservatives dislike contraception and abortion (as in the USA), and liberals dislike government mandates (as in China). Perhaps I am imagining it, but it often seems that those who are most AGAINST birth control are the same people who are most IN FAVOR OF war.

[deep thoughts and questions from a 15-year-old critiquer about the crowded city in NEBADOR Book Four, chapter 18]

"Seriously, what's up with that community? You'd think that the remaining 1% would end the cycle of death ... the inertia of bad ideas. Scientifically speaking animals reproduce to keep their genes passing along. Which is a good thing. There needs to be genetic diversity for any species to not risk extinction because of a virus. But these guys are going way overboard about it. Even if this is a medieval city there has to be enough death to make up for the births, especially if they're not allowing contraception. As horrible as this sounds, some pregnant ladies need to get 'accidentally' pushed down stairs, and some criminals, the really bad ones like murderers, need to spend too much time underwater ...

Which brings up something else! What do they do if someone murders another? Slap their wrists and tell them to never do it again? That city has got to be at least half doctors and jails if they have to keep everyone alive! But then, where do they get medical supplies? It's still a medieval city so there's probably just things like herbs and blood letting/leeches but how do they decide who gets the herbs? Or do the divy it up all even and make everyone have craptastic medical care? Hey! That's another way they could 'accidentally' lower the population! The doctors could just let too much blood out!

And say if the critical mass of the city was around say ... 1,000. And of the surviving 1% there was an uneven distribution of the genders, what would they do? Say it was 80% male and 20% female, four guys to every girl, how would they decide who gets to pass on genes? Even if the gender distribution was inverse 20% male, 80% female, the society would have the same problem, or a mass outbreak of STD.

Jeez, I don't think I've ever written so much about a single page before."
-- K, 15, NEBADOR critiquer, 2009

JZC: I pondered some of the same questions when I was writing that chapter, but don't have answers for you, as I'm sure you know. Your questions illuminate the essential point of the chapter: that such a society would be absurd and completely out of balance with the planet and the very nature of mortal life.

"Is Nebador some kind of cult?"
-- Mrs. Benson, USA

JZC: Gosh ... that's a hard question to tackle with a constructive response, but I'll give it a try. First of all, one of the recognized fallacies (errors of clear thinking and communicating) is the use of "loaded words," and "cult" is about as loaded as they come, especially in the USA. The word has neutral meanings, basically "sect" or "religious order." It also is used to mean "religion I don't like."

I know from your letter you were bothered by the ethics situation in chapter 15. It is very commonly used in philosophy courses, and is usually called "The Enquiring Murderer." It does tend to bother people because there is no easy solution. Many people like easy, clear-cut, black-and-white ethical rules. The universe we live in doesn't often provide them.

Although I respect your right to "not like" such difficult ethical situations, I'm not sure how you made the leap to such things constituting a "religion." Although ethics are certainly a part of any religion, a religion (or "cult") requires much more than ethical thinking. Religions (and "cults") are human organizations, with all the usual trappings.

Although I'm not sure you got much past chapter 15, if you kept reading, and especially if you got into Books Two and Three, you would see that these stories have, as one of their major themes, the difference between human religions (including "cults") with all their weaknesses, and genuine spirituality. Human religious organizations get tangled up in all the pitfalls of politics and economics, and so they revisit every kind of error and evil ever invented. The political scheme of the high priest, which concludes in Book Three, is only one example. The spiritual journey of individual people, on the other hand, is certainly not easy, but is completely different, and is usually not aided, in the author's opinion, by the political struggles of organizations.

In summary, I'd suggest that the high priest's religious order, and the other two orders in the capital city, all seem to fit the definition of "cult" you are using. Nebador would only fit that definition if you include in it anything that is a little hard to understand.

"Would you put all the lessons and wisdom stuff on 1 page? i don't mean the little picky stuff in the DLNs [Deep Learning Notes] ... I mean the big stuff."
-- Sean, 14, Nebador citizen, Quebec

JZC: I've had other people ask me that, so I've been thinking about how to do it. I promise to keep thinking and start it as soon as possible. I may need your help, Sean.

"If you don't mind--what are the steps in writing a book?"
-- William, 18, Nebador citizen

JZC: I can only speak for myself on that. Other authors have very different rhythms to their writing. And I can only speak about writing fiction.

1. I have an idea, I scribble down what I know about the idea, and I ponder it, glancing at my notes every day while I do other things. Subconscious levels of my mind and/or spiritual influences (the "Muses") are working on the idea, seeing what important story it contains. I am doing that with Book Seven right now as I work on the final polish of Book Four.

2. The inspiration comes, guided by my knowledge that any good story has certain elements. Not all parts of the story come through inspiration. Some I must just create through sheer "work." But, in my opinion, the essential story must be inspired, or it will not have "wings."

3. The first draft is pounded out. This is a combination of getting down what I have already been inspired about, and doing the "work" of filling in some gaps, creating smooth transitions, etc. This step includes a re-read of each chapter after it is written, sometimes another read of story arcs that span several chapters, and a final read of the whole thing, catching as many glaring mistakes as possible. This takes me six months to one year.

4. I then send printed manuscripts to my young-adult critiquers, who take up to a year to comb through it for grammar, story logic, or other mistakes, too little or too much description or explanation, confusing places, wrong vocabulary level, and anything else that bothers them. Also, my cover artist is probably doing the original art during this time.

5. After I get all the critiques back and interview all my critiquers, I do a re-write, going through the critiques chapter-by-chapter, considering every suggestion, and fixing anything else I see that needs work. The clarity necessary for this is only possible because it has been many months since I last read it. Also during this time, I meet with my illustrator about weekly to create the drawing I can't do myself (I do the maps and teaching aides).

6. Next I give printed manuscripts to a smaller group of helpers, mostly on the audiobook cast, who give me their reactions (happy faces, question marks, "OMG," "WTF," etc.) They also catch a few more story logic and grammar errors. Every change (and there were hundreds during the re-write) can introduce new errors.

7. After getting those manuscripts back, and/or interviewing the readers, I begin the final polish, which is actually three reads through the manuscript. During the first read, I write the Deep Learning Notes. Then a copy goes to my proofreader, who reads it at least twice. While she's working, I do the other two reads. Also during this time, I make sure all the illustrations are just the way I want them, and in the right places.

8. Finally, several sizes of description must be written (without spoilers), and the letter to readers at the beginning of the book. Whew! All that took about three years.

"I just read book 3. Why do you think animals have souls?"
-- Patricia, 15, Iowa

JZC: I tackled that wonderful/terrible questions on 8 January 2011 in the Youth Futures blog, Patricia.

"... They have had to bribe soldiers on several occassions. In Book 3, they also had to bribe the jailors for release of their teacher. It is true that there was no way out. But giving a bribe is almost as bad as taking a bribe. ... I would not want kids in my country to grow up on the assumption that it is fine to give a bribe. Perhaps it needs to be brought out that this was a last resort in the given circumstances which the students faced."
-- Lubna, India

Although I don't disagree with you that bribery isn't ideal, in many times and places it is normal. In the medieval situation of the story, Ilika (and in Book Three, Boro) only had the choices of violence, bribery, or prison (and possibly death). They chose the middle way. No "perfect" solution was possible.

"I notice in [Book Three] the students have begun to eat meat. There is mention of beef stew, then mutton with herbs when they meet Sata's parents and then a stewed rabbit on Toli's birthday. In the earlier books the thrust was a hearty stew with just a few mutton pieces. I mean even the fox in Book 2 had noticed that these humans did not smell like others because they did not eat meat. Is there a deliberate change?"
-- Lubna, India

JZC: Ilika, who usually lived in a nice, warm ship, ate little meat, but when they got into the mountains at the end of Book Two, he was smart enough to know that cold is hard to tolerate on a vegetarian diet. Then, when they returned to the lowlands, he respected their choices for birthday dinners. As you know, they avoided it at Cattle Town. When they got on the ship, they again ate little or none. As I hope you will discover, the NEBADOR stories are not about inflexible attitudes or simple people.

"Are you ever going to write Godi and Tima? You really should. It would be so WONDERFUL."
-- Running Cat, Nebador citizen, 14

JZC: I'm thinking of using that as a writing contest topic, in late 2011 or 2012. I think it would be fun to write, but the main NEBADOR story keeps me very busy. If you have ideas about it, RC, maybe you could start working on it now ...

"When Tera is found near the abandoned cottage, she hasn't run away from this cottage premises, even though it is abandoned. This probably means someone has been feeding her or looking after her. Thus, walking away with Tera does seem to be not quite the right thing?"
-- Lubna, India

JZC: It's one of those things I probably should have somehow recapped from Book One, but forgot. Tera was purchased by Doti the healer as she helped the group prepare to leave, and was delivered to the corral just the evening before. The donkey was there just for Mati.

"At first I thought it was going to be all anti religion, and the green balls were just some sci fi thing, pure-energy beings or something. Now I've read book 3, I'm seeing connections all over the place. Angels, right?"
-- Gina, Nebador citizen, 17

JZC: I can't give away the plots of future books, Gina, but I'll say a few things about your insight. First of all, a "religion" is a human organization, and being "anti-religion" doesn't mean someone doesn't believe in spiritual beings. Also, of course, being pro-religion doesn't guarantee someone understands or believes in spiritual matters.

I'm glad you're starting to see the spiritual connections in the story. Just like in real life, they are subtle and easy to miss, and people who don't want to see them will not. It appears you have "eyes to see."

Putting labels like "angel" on a spiritual being is dangerous, because then people and their organizations (such as religions) start arguing about which label is right, exactly what it means, etc. People feel so strongly about their labels that they even sometimes kill each other. So I hope you'll understand if I don't confirm or deny (or even pretend to know) if the spiritual beings you have seen and heard in the story should be called "angels."

"Ok tell me if i'm getting this right. Wilderness like book 2 is really good for us because it doesn't save us if we f... screw up. Our momies aren't there. But what about summer camp?"
-- Billy, Georgia

JZC: You are on the right track, Billy. Some people can learn and grow even if they don't have to, but most people have trouble with that. That's why wilderness is so good for us. In civilization, there are people to rescue and comfort us. In wilderness, the clouds just rain and snow, the wild animals just hunt and eat.

Many people find that after growing up enough to be comfortable in wilderness, they are more self-motivated and self-contained even when with other people, even with parents. As Sata learned, standing on your own 2 feet feels good. It's not one of the boring, stuffy parts of adulthood, it's one of the good parts. There are many good parts of childhood and young-adulthood that we should keep, also, but that's another topic.

Summer camp is good, but it's not wilderness. Take a look at Outward Bound and NOLS. They come much closer to true wilderness experiences, but are expensive, and wilderness trips don't have to be. There is probably some kind of wilderness very close to your home.

"Why does the group in the book keep wanting to pick up pets?? lol ... and also I was kinda curious as to why Sata hasnt been singled out yet since she was not a slave to start with ... seems like there would be a bit of an argument about it ..."
-- Carl, Oregon

JZC: Young people love pets, and there seems to be a natural human need to practice having control over other creatures. Even children in a medieval culture know that people are in control of many animals. Pets give us many opportunities to make good (or bad) ethical decisions, and allowed Ilika to show how his ethical values were different from the people of the kingdom.

The NEBADOR stories, I hope it is obvious by now, are not about kids with all the usual bad habits and human weaknesses, like prejudice and social class separation. It is not about Tiko, Kodi, and the goatherd. It is about a handful of young adults who are ready to step outside their backward culture and take a different path.

"I wonder what do you think would happen in the room in the tunnel if Buna not find the courage?"
-- Yukika, Nebador citizen, 18

JZC: Ilika was gambling that hard, cold reality would motivate her to find her courage and swim through the underwater passage. It's quite amazing what people can do when they have no other options. But if that did not happen, he probably would have told the others (when Boro swam back through, wondering what was taking so long) to go on to the shack without him. He would have used the light in his bracelet to help them (he and Buna) retrace their steps. It would not have made such a good story.

"So you think math, phonetics, logic, and ethics are the most important subjects? How come we only get 2 out of 4 in school?"
-- William, Nebador citizen, 17

JZC: Yes. Mathematics is necessary to understand the physical world, and phonetics is the key to language. Without logic, at least intuitive (like Boro), little thinking takes place. Ethics separates us from ... most people would say "animals," but most non-human animals I've known have strong ethics ... ethics separates us from machines.

Your second question is difficult, William. Here's my stab at it. At this point in history, our civilization has evolved with few people knowing logic and ethics. We have customs of thinking and packages of values that substitute, but they are not the same. I believe that situation will change, out of necessity, although I cannot predict when.

"By today's standards, wouldn't Boro and Sata's relationship be indicative of sexual trauma in Boro's history, and illegal?"
-- anonymous, 16

JZC: Since you say "by today's standards," I think you mean that the trauma is presumed. The perception, by other people, of trauma in a relationship, or as a cause of it, is often driven by customs or laws. If a relationship is against custom or law, it is assumed to be traumatic. The people making the judgment don't personally know the people in the relationship.

In contrast, real trauma is extremely unpredictable. Some people live through wars and other terrible experiences, and come through mentally healthy. Other are traumatized by the smallest challenges in life.

Boro certainly could have experienced real sexual trauma during his years in slavery. In that case, it might harm his relationship with Sata, or it might be healed by that relationship. Could it cause their relationship? Sure. People who have been traumatized seek out romantic relationships. So do people who are perfectly healthy.

What about the 4-year age difference between Boro and Sata? Although some people are bothered by such relationships, they are fairly common, especially when the girl is younger. And since girls tend to be about 2 years ahead of boys, Boro and Sata were only 2 "years" apart developmentally.

Could their relationship be illegal? Even by today's standards, in the USA and most other countries, relationships (in general) between youth of different ages are completely legal. Sexual contact is illegal under certain circumstances, but those circumstances differ greatly from place to place. Boro and Sata, as most readers know, were not lovers.

"If Ilika absolutely had to keep Kodi, how could he engage the boy in the learning process?"
-- Lisa, Nebador citizen

JZC: I know you're in that situation, Lisa. I have friends who are school teachers, and they tell me they rarely have anywhere they can send a troublemaker. But truthfully, I don't think Kodi was ready to have a teacher. If I was his therapist, I can think of things that MIGHT help him grow up, starting with a one-on-one, 24/7 therapeutic relationship. That wasn't available in the story, and it's probably not available to your students. The few hours a therapist or teacher gets with a troubled youth is rarely enough. Healing a twisted moral value system, like Kodi's, is a huge task that almost requires "re-raising" the person. It's almost impossible at or beyond 12, as I'm sure you know. Sorry I can't be more optimistic.

"Help! Scientific notation...or whatever you call it...I get multiplying where you multiply the numbers (duh) and add the exponents. But what about adding? I don't get that!"
-- Fiona, 16 ("I'm the one who asked about teachers like Ilika")

JZC: That's the hard one, Fiona. No shortcuts, you have to get all numbers scaled the same, then add the significant digits. In the following examples, E means "times 10 to the power of." It's usually best to put them all in the highest power of 10: 2.5E7 + 4.3E5 = 2.5E7 + .043E7 = 2.543E7. If you need to, you can put them in decimal form: 6.02E13 + 1.35E12 = 60200000000000 + 1350000000000 = 61550000000000 = 6.155E13. Negative exponents work the same: 2.9E3 + 3.66E-1 = 2.9E3 + .000366E3 = 2.900366E3 (or 2900 + 0.366 = 2900.366). Try some on your own and tell me how it goes.

"What do you do to verify the identities and ages of the people who write to you?"
-- Sandra, California

JZC: You must be new to the internet, Sandra. Even though you gave me your last name, address, and phone number, I will not publish them, just as I do not publish "too much" information that young readers sometimes send me.

To answer your question: nothing. The people who write to me, youth or adults, are welcome to use real or fake names, real or fake (or no) pictures, and be (or pretend to be) any age. None of that is of any importance to me. People (especially young people) are working out their public images, and I respect that. The only things of importance here are the thoughts being shared. It is a well-recognized fallacy, called "ad hominem," to think that the value of an idea is different depending on who it comes from. I honor statements and questions from 9-year-olds the same as I do those from adults. There is no business being conducted on this web site that requires verification of identity or any certain age. The only exceptions are the first place winners of the writing contests, who must have parents also sign the transfer-of-rights contracts if they are minors.

"Why doesn't Nebador have a presence on Facebook and Twitter?"
-- Ben, Montana

JZC: Facebook and Twitter are fads. They are very good at keeping people busy chasing after the latest thing. They are not so good at communicating ideas that really help people learn and grow. The "noise" level on social networking sites is very high, the true "content" very low.

NEBADOR is all about changes that happen slowly, deep inside the individual reader who has decided to look thoughtfully at the universe, and listen to their sources of inspiration. If NEBADOR becomes a passing fad, it will have failed. If it becomes a treasure, with dog-eared copies tucked lovingly into daypacks as young people head out into the world, it will have succeeded.

For the same reasons, the author has decided to keep this web site simple, and the "noise" level as close to zero as possible.

"Why is the healer also referred to as a "witch"? That seems like a contradiction! Witches are evil."
-- anonymous

JZC: It's a contradiction if we're using a modern stereotype, but not if we use a definition with some historical accuracy. From the Deep Learning Notes for Book One:

Most of our modern concept of "witch" is derived from two sources: the Christian Inquisition, and Hollywood movie-making. If we peer beneath the surface of these stereotypes, some historical truth remains. Although they varied greatly from culture to culture, a "witch" was most often someone who attempted to deal with the unseen forces that others in society could not. During most of our history, illnesses and diseases fit into that category. "Witches" were, therefore, one of the forerunners of medical doctors.

"I keep rereading parts where Ilika isn't afraid of things most people would be. He wouldn't be afraid of the woods or the dark, right?"
-- Tabitha, Nebador citizen, 11

JZC: Yes, Tabitha, just like you, Ilika has mastered his fears. Partly that's because of his bracelet, and partly it's because of where he comes from, which you've seen hints of in Books One and Two, but will learn much more about later. I can't give away what's in later books, of course. Mastering fears is good, as long as you don't confuse that with being careless in a genuinely dangerous situation.

"Why do I get the feeling this story is about science one minute, and religion the next minute?"
-- Running Cat, Nebador citizen, 14

JZC: Running Cat has eyes to see! Science and religion are like a quarreling brother and sister. They are both after the same thing, figuring out what is really "out there," but they go about it slightly differently, so they love to hate each other. Perhaps a good measure of the advancement of a civilization would be how well science and religion get along. The author is of the opinion that any attempt to know what is really "out there," that didn't take into account the points of view of both science and religion, would be an incomplete and insincere effort.

"Why did you make Ilika give up on Kodi so easily? Would you have done that if he was YOUR child?"
-- just an irate mother

JZC: The author has no easy answer to that question, just as he has no easy answer to those who ask why Ilika put up with Kodi for so long. Certainly, most people would invest much more effort if he was their own son. Ilika's reaction to a possible new student in Book Two, chapter 8, may shed some light on this question.

"I'm trying to figure out if Ilika is conservative, or liberal. What do you think?"
-- Gina, Nebador citizen, 16

JZC: People often try to figure out if some famous person (or fictional character) would belong to their favorite (or hated) political party. Often, two or more opposing parties claim the same person. The poor fellow most fiercely dragged left and right is, of course, Joshua ben Joseph (Jesus of Nazareth).

The political labels "conservative" and "liberal" imply complex and constantly-changing platforms of values and positions. The author is no authority on either camp, and so will just take a look at the words themselves. Would Ilika "conserve" (hold onto, maintain) values and resources? The opposite would be shirking or wasting. "Liberty" (the noun, where "liberal" is an adjective) means freedom - does Ilika value freedom? The opposite would be bondage, or at least regimentation.

Although Ilika spends a little more money than he might spend if he haggled, we never see him waste anything. In Book One, he holds onto his values of trust and confidence by getting rid of Kodi, and in Book Two, the unneeded saddle bags are sold, not wasted. Although he doesn't buy every slave and give them their freedom, he clearly doesn't like slavery, and gives his students all possible liberty, except when it might interfere with the task at hand.

Whether we stick with this simple analysis, or dig into the details of political party platforms, the author has to honestly say that, in his opinion, Ilika would probably relate, to some degree, to both political positions, and so join neither.

"How could Sata's parents let her leave when they knew Ilika had just had a brush with the law? NO parent would do that!"
-- anonymous

JZC: It is true that today, in an affluent democratic society, most people who have "brushes with the law" are, to some degree, guilty or of questionable character. This is what we are used to, as we have enjoyed it since about the middle of the 20th century.

But if the situation is moved a little from "today," "affluent," or "democratic," things change. Even today, poor people often have "brushes with the law" for little or nothing. Not long ago, skin color was a determining factor. Our justice systems have only dispensed anything remotely like justice for the last couple of centuries.

In any culture, most people "know" which crimes are real, and which have no bearing on the quality of the individual. Today we laugh if a friend gets a parking ticket. Sata's parents knew how unreliable the medieval justice system was, especially when initiated by a personal request from someone of high status.

"Why are there no teachers like Ilika?"
-- Fiona, 16

JZC: There are. All of Ilika's teaching methods are based on sound educational and psychological theory and practice. The problem is that the places we usually go to find teachers and get an education, usually called schools, have several other purposes in addition to education, and must deal with social, political, and economic pressures that further distract them from teaching. Some good teachers can be found in schools, but they may not have time to do any real teaching. Other good teachers will never set foot in schools, but quietly do other jobs and teach a few students informally.

A bit of wisdom that has come down through the years, expressed with different words but the same general meaning, is that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. This means that when you are ready to learn something, you will naturally attract, and be attracted to, the right teacher. You might find that teacher in a school or college, in a library, or just about anywhere else. Most people are eager to share the knowledge and wisdom they have, and will gladly teach a sincere student.

The author believes that as we move further into the future, schools (especially public schools) will be less and less able to provide a good education, and it will be more and more necessary for young adults, who want to learn, to take responsibility for their own educations, which means finding their own teachers wherever they might be found.

"Why is this web site so simple?"
-- anonymous

JZC: Complexity is the enemy of resilience. Complex "state of the art" web sites require constant maintenance, and are often found to be partially or completely non-functional on one browser or another. This forces web programmers to chase after errors, and web site visitors to chase the latest browsers and updates.

Those are some of the reasons the author chose to write this web site in HTML 3.2. As an added bonus, simple web sites load much faster. The author wants time to write, and he wants his readers to have time to read.

In our world today, we have gotten into the bad habit of solving a problem (usually caused by too much complexity) by adding more complexity. If the author is not mistaken, we will soon be forced to bring many aspects of our civilization back to a more manageable level of complexity - in other words, back to resilience.

"What is a Muse?"
-- Jolene, Nebador citizen, 16

JZC: The ancient Greeks conceived of the sources of inspiration in the arts and sciences as nine sister goddesses, the Muses.

Any person working in a creative field experiences moments of inspiration that cannot be explained by anything from the person's past. Some people say that inspiration is just a process that occurs in the mind, an integration of past knowledge and experience that only SEEMS unique and new. Other people, who believe in a spiritual aspect of the universe, see inspiration as coming from deity.

The author, and many other creative people, uses the term "Muse" because it is very old-fashioned (2500-3000 years old), and therefore avoids the political and religious arguments of today. It's a way of saying "that mysterious source of inspiration." Others can argue about it, but we're busy writing, painting, or whatever.

This author is a theist; he happens to believe that deity exists. Another might use "Muse" for more of a psychological process. The honest truth is, we don't know, and can probably never know, at least in this life.

"Why does Ilika always use money to solve his problems?"
-- anonymous, 18

JZC: As anyone who has traveled to another culture knows, having money greatly simplifies getting things done. A story in which Ilika deals with the challenges of the capital city without money would probably be interesting, but it is not the story the author set out to tell. Ilika is there on an assignment: to find a crew for his ship. The cultural immersion necessary to live without money takes a great deal of time.

"How could Sata's parents allow her to make such a career choice at her age?"
-- anonymous

JZC: Sata is ten years old when she asks her parents if she can be tested for the jobs on Ilika's ship. Two things combine to make their acceptance plausible. First, it is the time in life in that culture when this should happen, as was the case in our world just a few centuries ago when apprenticeships usually began between five and ten years of age. It is as if a sixteen-year-old today was applying for his or her first job. Also, Sata is an example of a young adult growing up more quickly than the average. Although some people might prefer a world in which everyone's development is "average," the reality is that people mature at all different rates. Compare her to Toli.

"Several characters use the term "gods." What's going on? There's only one God!"
-- anonymous

JZC: Most older cultures conceive of deity as plural. Monotheism is a fairly recent concept in our world, and the NEBADOR story begins in an "older" culture. Also, it seems to the author that if a person "believes in God," then they are convinced of the absolute existence of deity, independent of any mere mortal's opinion. In that case, different titles, names, numbers, or genders for deity might be useful for including or excluding people from human groups, but have no bearing on the reality of deity.

"Are the characters bathing naked?"
-- anonymous

JZC: The author understands that this question looms large for some readers, so he leaves the answer up to them as much as possible, as it certainly isn't important to the story. Historically, someone in the middle class (like the innkeeper's daughter) might have some sort of simple underpants. A bathing suit would be unknown to anyone but upper-class nobility. To be completely authentic, they would bathe in full view of everyone at a cold stream. The author compromised by giving them some privacy and warm water.

"Ilika's students seem too smart, too cooperative, too good to be true. Are you trying to portray some kind of utopia?"
-- anonymous

JZC: Yes, in the sense that all employers are utopias because they don't have places for everyone from the general society. The drop-out is not welcome at IBM, nor the drug addict at British Airways.

Most of us are used to public schools where, if we are to learn anything, we must deal with ugly environments, poor or non-existent supplies, burned-out teachers, constant regimentation, and fellow students more interested in fist fights and back-biting than learning. Public schools have places for just about everyone from the general society.

Ilika's students were first selected by their harsh life circumstances and their strong spirits. Next, the slave master did some screening. Ilika then tested his candidates every way he could in the time and space allowed. But it was the half-year they all spent together that really told Ilika what they were made of.

Even so, every one of those who remained with Ilika had inner-demons to battle and weaknesses to overcome. Utopias have unrealistic expectation about people in general. In reality, there are always a few who can achieve great things.

"How could the students have learned so quickly? It took me ten years to go from counting on my fingers to trigonometry!"
-- anonymous

JZC: We are used to assuming that if a young person can't read, write, or do arithmetic by their teenage years, they must have a learning disability. That was not the case with Ilika's students. They were bright, but an education, even the materials to study on their own, was not available.

Now they are motivated by several things. This is their one and only chance out of poverty and oppression. They have chosen this path with their full hearts and minds. They are studying all day, every day, late into the evening, with no de-motivating forces (like school-yard bullies). Although they don't yet know much about Ilika, he is a shining role model, and obviously places great value on knowledge and clear thinking.

When it comes to education, there is just no substitute for self-motivation, whole-life immersion, and cohesive group reinforcement. No general society has ever succeeded in offering this kind of education to its people, so for most of us, it seems impossible.

"Sometimes the plots are not as action-packed as they could be. People today love constant action and maximum jeopardy. Aren't you afraid people will find your books boring?"
-- anonymous

JZC: It is true that stories today compete for action on the grandest possible scale. Once, exploding buildings and airplanes were exciting. Now it takes exploding planets to impress an audience.

The NEBADOR stories have a different purpose. While most people may be looking for the largest possible explosions, a few young people are keeping their eyes and ears open for stories that speak especially to them, at this point in history. These stories are for those few.

Often while writing, the author comes to a situation where he isn't sure what should happen next. Since he has read books and seen movies, well-used plot elements jump into his mind that could easily carry the story forward, and usually with plenty of excitement and jeopardy. Instead he waits, and often the Muses have something else in mind, something a little less exciting but more uniquely relevant to young adults facing the changing world of today.

The author trusts that those who need maximum excitement and danger will find plenty of books and movies to keep them satisfied.

"What does "Nebador" mean?"
-- anonymous

JZC: As far as the author can tell, it is just a rarely-used proper name.

"Les ceps du Nebador" is a French wine, meaning "The stocks of/from the Nebador." In this case, "Nebador" is most likely a place name. Since it does not occur on any map on the internet, it is probably a single vineyard.

Nebador Hood was a girl born in Washington County, Georgia, USA, in March 1882, and was alive and single at age 18 when she was recorded in the 1900 census. Nothing else is known about her from the internet.

"Nebador" (or the Cyrillic letters that appear as such on the internet) seems to be a person's name (or handle) on a Russian internet site.

The internet also contains a few occurrences of the word that are misspellings of other words, or randomly-generated nonsense words.

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

Copyright © 2009-2018
by J. Z. Colby
unless otherwise attributed