Show Notes for Ep. 6 "Jed Hartman, Pt. 1: Conversational Cultures"

In his first appearance on the show, Jed Hartman converses with Mary Anne and Ben about the complexities of communication, which include everything from social mobility to ask/guess culture. As is their tendency, Mary Anne and Ben take these topics into the realm of science fiction and fantasy, asking what a realistic encounter with aliens would look like.

Recorded 30 August 2020 / Published 26 April 2021


  • 0:30: Introducing Jed: former Strange Horizons fiction editor; Mary Anne’s sweetie; edited Ben’s first story.
  • 3:15: Conversational dynamics, cultural protocols, and interruptions.
  • 7:00: Swiss and Sri Lankan conversational cultures.
  • 9:55: Conversational dynamics in Ben’s family.
  • 12:15: Making sure everyone in the conversation is enjoying themselves.
  • 13:55: Hospitality and asking for food.
  • 14:50: Ask culture vs guess culture.
  • 18:35: Geographical mobility in America and Switzerland.
  • 22:00: The constant-surveillance aspect of Sri Lankan culture.
  • 22:45: Ritualized manners and hierarchical relationships built into language.
  • 26:00: Whether to thank family or not.
  • 29:25: “Tentifying”: making phrasing more tentative.
  • 32:05: Women in positions of power get pushback about how much time they have; women aren’t supposed to say no.
  • 37:35: Politeness rituals are in the eye of the beholder.
  • 41:50: Love languages.
  • 45:00: Brief intermission, featuring an ad for the Speculative Literature Foundation.
  • 45:40: If you’re from ask culture, guess culture can chafe.
  • 46:15: Erotica writing and having conversations about sex.
  • 47:40: Ben’s early interactions with his now-wife Esther, in a context that wasn’t home for either of them.
  • 49:50: Women aren’t supposed to admit they like sex.
  • 50:20: Worldbuilding, linguistic patterns, and First Contact miscommunication.
  • 51:40: Several examples of humans interacting with aliens in sf books and movies.
  • 55:55: Mary Anne’s aliens tend to start out too human.
  • 56:55: Aliens as portrayed in sf tend not to be even as different from the writer’s culture as other human cultures are. “We don’t have a universal translator between ask culture and guess culture.”
  • 1:01:45: “Higher-order” beings, and complexity.
  • 1:06:15: The “Alien Sex” slideshow at sf conventions, which consists of information about real-world insect sex.
  • 1:08:05Star TrekStar Wars, inherent racial traits in aliens, and lazy worldbuilding.
  • 1:11:50: Mary Anne and Ben have complementary problems coming up with, respectively, worldbuilding and story.
  • 1:13:05: Alien furniture, and ways to suggest deeper alienness than is immediately evident.
  • 1:14:50: Universal translators in sf, and real-world automated language translation.
  • 1:19:45: When we’re creating stories, sometimes the first ideas that come to mind include cliches and clumps of received knowledge, crusted with prejudices.
  • 1:25:10: Jed’s closing notes; especially mentioning Juliette Wade’s “Darmok”-like story “Let the Word Take Me.”
  • 1:26:15: Mary Anne’s closing notes: Sometimes it’s OK to not pay attention to boring stuff. Also, getting worldbuilding help from your community.
  • 1:33:30: Women in a mostly-male math department.
  • 1:34:55: The tension between maintaining a talking-with-friends feel on this podcast and awareness of a potentially worldwide audience.
  • 1:37:50: Credits.

Works Mentioned

Alphabetically by author surname, or by title of work in cases where authorship isn’t simple.

Other Clarifying or Explanatory Links