Breathe their air


In Iain M. Banks’ “The Algebraist”, the protagonist Fassin Taak is a “Slow Seer” who spends years embedded alien cultures (including the complex Dwellers), engaging in conversation and seeking insight, in an activity referred to as “delving.” Because he favors traveling to these other planets in person, he is challenged by the establishment who prefer more efficient methods [boldface emphasis mine].

“Have you tried remote delving recently?”
“Not for a long time,” Fassin admitted.
“it’s changed,” Pagges said, nodding. “It’s much more lifelike, if you know what I mean; more convincing.” Paggs smiled. “There have been a lot of improvements over the past couple of centuries.”

Ganscerel patted his arm again. “Just try it, will you, Fassin? Will you do that for me?”
Fassin didn’t want to say yes immediately. This is all beside the point, he thought. Even if I didn’t know there was a potential thread to Third Fury, the argument that matters is that the Dwellers we need to talk to just won’t take us seriously if we turn up in remotes. It’s about respect, about us taking risks, sharing their world with them, really being there.

In Seventeen ways to not suck at research, number 9 was Breathe their air, my response to the increasing desire for remote ethnographic-like methods. I think the insight and empathy that is gained from getting out of our own environment is essential, and as Banks points out, showing up on someone else’s planet is a a very effective way to start building rapport.

(Ironic detail given my choice of metaphor: Dwellers reside in/on gaseous planets, so Fassin actually visits them encased in a pressurized vehicle, and never literally breathes their air).

Also see Great interviewing means feeling the subtext


About Steve