Sunday, September 06, 2009

Feeling a little alien?

Sooner or later, most of us will feel a little alien... and although this is an alien romance blog, I am not talking about sexually groping a diminutive being from Mars, or Europa, or Deneb.

I am talking about cultural dissonance. I make no apologies for using an ambiguous headline to make a point. The news media does it all the time.

Cultural dissonance is (IMHO) one of the most fertile and promising sources of internal and external conflict for heroes and heroines in alien/human romances, and we can all identify on some level with it. How far do we go in researching it?

What Is Cultural Dissonance?

Dissonance is a difference in point of view (or a lack of agreement) about how the world, or society, or a community works or how it ought to work.

We see it in politics, religion, the sciences, and probably in economics. Feelings run high, people feel uncomfortable, not least because they cannot understand why those who do not agree with them --apparently-- fail to see the superior good sense and fairness and reasonableness of their own position.

Cultures differ. If you live in a melting pot, you must expect the pot to boil over. That was a strength and a weakness in the Babylon 5 series. I particularly appreciated the point that there had been four Babylons before Babylon 5.

‘Cultural dissonance’ describes
a sense of discomfort, discord or disharmony arising from cultural differences or inconsistencies which are unexpected or unexplained and therefore difficult for individuals to negotiate. Dissonance can be experienced by all parties in the cultural interchange and attempts to resolve discordant issues can be bewildering or distressing.

Teachers know all about cultural dissonance, and how hard it is to teach children from different cultures and to make appropriate allowances for differences in the values, knowledge, skills, and learning styles that children bring to the classroom from their homes.

I suppose most people assume that their own views, habits, lifestyles, expectations are mainstream. Finding out that this is not the case can be deeply disturbing and infuriating.

How realistic are your favorite aliens when they visit Earth, or your humans when they are transported to another planet? Are they adequately angry, frightened, confused, baffled, outraged? Do they know when to keep quiet, and when (if at all) to hash out "where they are coming from"?

What sort of research do you do, or can you visualize your favorite alien romance author doing?

Possibly, this is not a propitious time to try going to a political meeting held by members of a party with whose policies you violently disagree for the sake of research. Safer might be to join a social networking group with whom you have nothing in common. Hang out with the nonogenarians subgroup on Eons, or with the young texting Haters on GoodReads, or the extremely sexually adventurous subgroup on TBD, or in a "pirates" chat room can be quite a good way to glimpse what it might be like to be an alien.

Happy researching.

Rowena Cherry


  1. I agree and this is one of my favorite things to play with as a writer.

  2. Very good points! In Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series there are numerous cultural differences between the Terrans (highly technological) and the Darkovans (low-tech and, at first sight, "backward" -- but possessing highly advanced use of psychic powers), even though both are human. Some differences are seriously disruptive, such as disagreements based on sexual jealousy when a Terran encounters the relaxed mores of a Tower circle in THE BLOODY SUN, and some arise from subtle points such as a woman from Earth wanting a hot shower in the morning but finding that the hot water isn't turned on because Darkovans prefer a "refreshing" cold shower when they wake up.