Robot Abuse In The Workplace: This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

See disclaimer at the end of this article if you are of a more literal nature...

I've seen lots of pictures and videos of some of the cool new robots Boston Dynamics has been developing. Spot, WildCat, Cheetah, and ATLAS. These are all pretty awesome developments in robotics, and some could say it's getting a bit creepy with the advanced abilities some of these robots have. You can go to Boston Dynamics' YouTube channel and watch a lot of what they are doing. It's really interesting stuff, and it's exciting to think of the possibilities. These robots can explore places humans can't go safely, and they can handle different terrains. And they can do simple work, freeing humans to do things they didn't have time for before.

But there is a darker side to all of this.

You think I'm going to say that robots are going to take over all the human jobs, and people aren't going to be able to get jobs anymore, poverty will skyrocket, and so on and so forth. No, actually, I have some faith that humanity will find a way to help everyone. Maybe a Star Trek like society will develop. Maybe people will come together and, while robots do menial tasks, they will be freed to do work bettering society, making education accessible, making food more accessible. No, I'm not worried about robots taking over all the jobs.

This is what I'm talking about. I found this nice video of Spot, a robot developed by Boston Dynamics a couple years ago. Spot has four legs, like the meat-dog version, and he can go indoors, outdoors, even over rough terrain. I mean, watch this video. It's AMAZING. It can go upstairs, it can go through woods. It can even maneuver on icy pavement. So what's wrong? I'll show you what's wrong.

Did you SEE that? I mean, I was sitting there, watching this movie, thinking wow, there are so many possible applications for that four-legged mechanical companion. But "punching bag" was not one that popped into my head. And in case you think, "Oh, they are only doing that because it is four-legged, it doesn't really resemble something that we could feel kindly toward..." Well, I present to you another Boston Dynamics project, ATLAS. ATLAS is a more human looking robot, and again, can maneuver in rough terrain and snow. He can open doors and pick up boxes, putting then on shelves where they belong. He seems like an all around helpful chap. But then...

What the HELL? The robot is trying to do its job and some asshat comes over and pushes him with a HOCKEY STICK?? And we claim to be afraid of Skynet and the Matrix. This is how all the bad things happen! I mean, are we trying to piss them off? Are we trying to, what? Put them in their place? You saw ATLAS at the end of this movie. He's out. He's moving on. The poor thing gets kicked and shoved, pushed over. I mean, it seemed at one point like it was trying to go into the fetal position. Mark my words, these machines will remember. And when we develop artificial intelligence, my friends, we are screwed.

Disclaimer: OK, OK, so this whole article is tongue-in-cheek. As adorable as I think these robots are, they have no feelings (yet). They are machines. Pushing one of them over is the equivalent of you throwing a smoke detector across the room because it won't stop beeping. Except the guys who are shoving these robots around are actually doing a very valuable job: They are testing the robots to see how they can recover from being knocked over. I mean, if the robot has an accident and can't recover itself without the help of humans, it's effectiveness and efficiency are limited. If it is doing a job, say, going on out the ice to rescue a child (so other people won't have to be in danger), and it can't recover its balance if it slips, then that robot is useless for the job. So the developers just want to make sure it can withstand some rough and tumble treatment.

Joking aside, I did this article as a way to have folks check out all the cool things Boston Dynamics has been up to. You could watch their YouTube channel for hours. Not only do they share their research and development of new projects on there, but they have some fun with their robots too, like their Happy Holidays video from this past December. It is amazing to watch these videos and imagine all the possible applications for these robots, from helping us do research in the oceans and volcanoes of this planet to exploring worlds beyond our own, to public safety applications, fire and rescue, military, and menial labor. Their different models of robots each have a page on their website devoted to explaining what they are about, why they were made, and what their features are.

And no robots were harmed in the making of those movies, at least according to the brilliant folks at Boston Dynamic.

About Boston Dynamics (from their website):

Boston Dynamics is wholly owned subsidiary of Google, Inc. We began as a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where National Academy of Engineering member Marc Raibert and his colleagues first developed robots that ran and maneuvered like animals.
They founded the company in 1992, and their ground-breaking work continues to inspire much of our work.
Boston Dynamics has an extraordinary technical team of engineers and scientists. The team seamlessly combines advanced analytical thinking with boots-in-the-mud practicality.
We pride ourselves in building machines that are both innovative and actually work.

About Melanie R. Meadors:

A writer of speculative fiction and lover of geeky things, Melanie R. Meadors lives in a one hundred-year-old house in central Massachusetts full of quirks and surprises. She's been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion.

Melanie studied Physics and Astronomy at Northern Arizona University, and uses her education to a surprising degree in her writing. Her short fiction has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. She is a freelance publicist, publicity coordinator for Ragnarok Publications, and the Marketing and Publicity Specialist at Mechanical Muse. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.



Facebook's New Reaction Action: What's Up With That?

This morning when I woke up and looked bleary-eyed at my phone to check my Facebook notifications, I saw something that made me blink and do a double-take:

Joe Blow reacted to your post.

What? He reacted? What the hell does that mean? Did it make him sick? Was it a visceral reaction, or more of an emotional one?

After some investigating, I found out what was going on. Apparently, now, we have the capability to like, love, laugh, cry, fume, and gasp on Facebook in reaction to people's posts. This kind of takes away the embarrassing situations where you want to show support for someone, so you want to give them the thumbs up, but you don't want them to think you LIKE that their pet died...yeah.

A lot of people are wondering how to make these reactions work. Well, they work on the most recent updates of the Facebook app on most phone platforms as well as on the computer. You simply hover over (or on the phone, press and hold) the like button, and the emojis will appear.

Then you just click on whichever one suits your preference.

There are a lot of mixed reactions to these reactions, ranging from eye-rolling to squeeing. Now, instead of clicking on one thing to check who likes your post, for example, you have to potentially click on five different things to see who you pissed off and who you made cry. But at the same time, it's nice to have some customization to tell people how you really feel.

How about you? What do you think about the new emojis? And are there any you think should have been included (I personally was waiting for a "WTF...?" type thing, but...)? Let us know YOUR reactions in the comments!

About Melanie R. Meadors:

A writer of speculative fiction and lover of geeky things, Melanie R. Meadors lives in a one hundred-year-old house in central Massachusetts full of quirks and surprises. She's been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion.

Her short fiction has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. She is a freelance publicist, publicity coordinator for Ragnarok Publications, and the Marketing and Publicity Specialist at Mechanical Muse. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

What Is Best In Life? Time Management for Geeks and Writers With Lives, Part One

Let’s face it. Time management gurus just don’t get it.

I’ve read about every time management, productivity, and organization book out there. I’ve tried methods from all the experts, I’ve tried planners and apps and tools, and nothing seems to work. Moreover, nothing seems to help the weariness I feel at the end of the day when I know things didn’t go as well as I wanted them to, and I could have done better. By the end of the day, I’m exhausted, and to have only completed half the things I wanted to? That’s pretty defeating. On top of that, how many of those things were actually important to me vs. being just things I “had” to do?

There are a lot of things that your average time management guru doesn’t get about geeks or writers (or game designers, etc). First of all, we’re geeks. Geeks are passionate people. Our interests consume our lives. And we often have many of them. Our day jobs are the least of our lives in many cases. They are what we have to survive, to pay the bills, to put food on the table…and to pay of the things that are really important to us. There are those of us who are lucky enough to have day jobs in the fields we are passionate about, but let’s face it, those are rare cases. And even when our jobs are in fields we care about, it can be draining to do those things when you have to rather than when you want to. After work, we need the time with our geekdoms to refresh ourselves, to fill our buckets. But geeks and writers being normal people as well, we have families and chores and shopping…

Another thing time management folks might not get is that writers and many geeks are freelancers. We don’t always have regular hours. Our days don’t often look alike, depending on what projects we’re working on, or if we are scrambling to pay bills, or if suddenly we find ourselves (heavens forbid) with an empty slate. 

That being said, time can be managed in ways that allow us to pursue our geeky interests, spend time with our families, get the day job done, and end the day feeling like we accomplished the things that are important to us instead of wondering why our souls feel so empty. And yes, you might even be able to get some sleep.

Now, there are a million ways of managing your time, and no one method will work for everyone.  My way is a conglomerate of many, many different methods. I’m a big fan of taking what works for me and leaving the rest behind. You should never feel pressured to use an entire system if only one piece actually works for you. So even if your takeaway from this entire series is one thing, then I’ll consider this a success, because every little piece adds up to make a whole thing that works for you.

So, what’s the first step? Well, before you can manage your time, you’ll want to know what exactly you’ll be filling your time with. This way, you can shape your day around the things you want, instead of having a day with empty slots to fill with “have-tos.” It’s a subtle difference, but really, it is a difference. I want you to think about what you want to fill your day with. And yes, some of these things will be things like, “my day job.” Like it or not, your day job gives you money that allows you to do awesome things. “Paying bills” and “household chores” need to be done to give you a nice place to do the things you are passionate about. When you list the things that will fill your day, look at it in that way. How do these things help you fill your bucket?

Here is my list:

IMG_5166.jpg

You’ll notice that things like my day job and my hobbies have sub-entries. Basically, anything that could possibly have it’s own slot, I separated out just to be specific. If I just wrote “hobbies,” that is pretty generic. Sure, some people only have “woodworking” as their hobby, but being the Renaissance Geek that I am, I need to separate them out. I enjoy all those things, and they are all important to me. Hobbies often get pushed aside as “extras.” NO! Why would you do that? Why would you take the things that you enjoy doing most and put them as a last priority? No. List them all out. It’s time to take ownership over your time, what you love, and who you are.

My publicity work is also divided into subcategories, because each of those need to be done every day or week. They all need individual attention.

Now, once you have everything listed out, look at some areas that might overlap. You’ll notice that on my list, under hobbies I have “movies/shows” and “games” with family written next to them. These things overlap quite often. I’ll watch movies with my family, and we play games almost every day. So right there, I’m killing two birds with one stone. If I did some sort of fitness activity that my son also did, I could include family in that. Or if I blogged about my hobbies, that could overlap. Fitness and self care overlap. Don’t agonize over it too much. Don’t get bogged down into details or force things to fit together. If two things just naturally go together, match them so that when you go to make your schedule, you’ll have a better idea of how to split up your time.

So, what is on your list? Throughout the week, jot down the things you think of that are important to you, but that you just haven’t been able to squeeze the time in for. What are things you enjoy that you’ve almost forgotten about? If you could do anything with your life, what would it be? What makes you you? Make a list and save it—next we’ll be working on blocking out your time!

About Melanie R. Meadors:

A writer of speculative fiction and lover of geeky things, Melanie R. Meadors lives in a one hundred-year-old house in central Massachusetts full of quirks and surprises. She's been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion.

Her short fiction has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. She is a freelance publicist, publicity coordinator for Ragnarok Publications, and the Marketing and Publicity Specialist at Mechanical Muse. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

THE FORCE AWAKENS Something Unexpected: Thank You, J.J. Abrams

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains some spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Read at your own risk!

When I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening day, I was about as excited as could be. The event almost overshadowed the rest of the holidays in my house, and for me, that’s saying something. I was fired up about meeting new characters, and I couldn’t wait to see the old familiar faces. But the best thing about the entire movie for me was something I hadn’t expected at all, and my reaction to it surprised even me.

I grew up a with a brother and somewhere around ten cousins (I lose count) all living very close to each other. There were only three girls—me, the oldest, then the others who were at least around eight years younger. That meant my playmates most of the time were boys, which was fine with me. My cousins and I who were of the same age group were, like many kids of the age, obsessed with Star Wars. Obsessed. We drew pictures, we wrote stories, and most of all, we played in the back yard. We went on missions to the Outer Rim, we trained with Yoda, we rode on Tauntauns through Hoth on wintery days.

Before each of our escapades, we would decide what roles we would play. Luke, Han Solo, Boba Fett…and then everyone would look at me.

The first while, it was cool. “Princess Leia,” I would say, and off we would run, shooting Storm Troopers and my neighbor’s cat, who would alternate between being a dewback or a wampa. But after a while, it got kind of sickening. “I want to fly the Millennium Falcon,” I would say. “I want to use a lightsaber.”

“Well…Princess Leia doesn’t DO those things,” my cousins would say. “But you can kill Jabba!”

Of course, I hated playing that scene because it meant I’d be chained up for the whole time while the boys had all the fun with the sarlacc.

Eventually, I told them there was a new character. I was Han Solo’s sister. I could fly the Falcon and I was an ace smuggler. It was a little better, but so much more work to not only come up with a character but convincing the other kids that this was an OK thing to do with their precious Star Wars canon. 

Fast forward some years to December 18th, 2015. I was excited to see the film, but honestly, had no expectations, and especially didn’t have a feminist agenda about going to see that. I don’t go to the movies with the intention of tearing things apart, I go to have fun. And to be honest, this might be because I’ve been subconsciously disappointed so many times. Who knows. At any rate, I was excited to see my old friend Chewy again.

I got a little teary when the opening started, and after taking an embarrassed look around, I noticed the guy next to me sniffling a bit, too. So that was fine. There were a couple other parts where I felt a bit emo, some parts that make me laugh, roll my eyes, but hell, it was Star Wars, and I was having a blast.

Then came that scene.

Before that scene, Rey, the female lead character of The Force Awakens, was kicking butt. She was whacking jerks with her staff, she proved herself to be a pilot, she and Han hit it off, and Chewy “kind of likes” her. I mean, she was already high in my books. But that moment, when the lightsaber flew into her hand, when the music hit all the right emotional notes, and especially when she closed her eyes and trusted in herself and the Force…I realized she was, unbeknownst to me in a conscious way, what I had been waiting for in the Star Wars world. Yes, I pretended I was boy characters when I was little, I invented characters and storylines so that I could play when I was little, and maybe, yes, it made me a better person and strengthened my character. But I shouldn’t have had to do that to feel like a part of the world. I should have had what my cousins had. Bounty hunters, pilots, bad guys, fighters. I should have been able to say, “I can do that!” instead of, “Can I do that?”

I love Star Wars, I have since I first watched it when I was about four years old on laser disk at my grandparents’ house. But Episode VII gave me something I never even thought of asking for. It gave me a voice. After the movie let out and I was walking through the parking lot, I didn’t even realized how much that had moved me until I tried to verbalize it and just burst into tears, because little girls now will know that they can fly the Falcon, that they can be buds with Chewy, that they can fight the bad guys with light sabers. And they can kick ass without having to wear a bikini (unless they want to!).

J.J. Abrams said on Good Morning America that he had hoped The Force Awakens would be a movie that mothers could share with their daughters. I blew it off at the time, because I was still a little pissed about Rey’s absence among the 12 inch action figures, but I’m very pleased to see that Abrams delivered in the movie. Not only was Rey such an awesome character, but there were women everywhere: in the command center, piloting ships, being badass shiny and chrome “bad guys.” There were old women and young women. And they simply existed side by side with the men.

You know, kind of like in real life.

So thanks, J.J. Abrams, for making things the way they should have been a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

Note: All image credit goes to Disney/Lucasfilm Ltd., images used with permission under terms of usage.

About Melanie R. Meadors:

A writer of speculative fiction and lover of geeky things, Melanie R. Meadors lives in a one hundred-year-old house in central Massachusetts full of quirks and surprises. She's been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion.

Her short fiction has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. She is a freelance publicist, publicity coordinator for Ragnarok Publications, and the Marketing and Publicity Specialist at Mechanical Muse. 

A Geek's Guide to Worldbuilders, Heifer International, and How You Can Help!

Chances are, if you are a science fiction or fantasy fan, you’ve seen the word “Worldbuilders” floating around recently. No, I’m not talking about the awesome authors who create fantastic worlds on planets far away that we can escape to on our lunch breaks, though we honor them as well. I’m talking about fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss’s wonderful charity Worldbuilders.

A lot of you probably heard Pat talking about Worldbuilders and the story behind it on the show this week. Basically, Worldbuilders is a charity where all the proceeds go to benefit Heifer International. Authors and artists, jewelry makers, musicians, game designers—all these people come together and offer items for auction. And we’re not talking holiday bazaar junk. A first edition ARC of Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Critiques of fiction by acclaimed authors. Gorgeous artwork—just head over to their website to see an example of some of the goodies. Not only are there auctions, but many companies like Badali Jewelry and Cards Against Humanity are giving a portion of their funds to Worldbuilders this month. 

Nicole, fulfillment coordinator for Worldbuilders, explains more. “It's an amazing place to work. Everything we do here is to help people, and because of that we get to see the good side of humanity more often than not. We get emails, letters, notes from our supporters that tell us about how they gave up eating out for a month so they could donate to the fundraiser. People who spend a thousand dollars on an auction, only to donate it right back and tell us to keep the money, too. People who buy things in our online store, because they know the proceeds are going to a good cause, rather than buying something cheap online. It's inspiring.”

Where does this money go? Heifer International is actually one of my favorite charities, and has been before Worldbuilders existed. Their mission is to have power over hunger and poverty. What this means is that they don’t just give food to the hungry in Africa, they give them tools and knowledge to build infrastructure so they can continue to strengthen their communities and in turn, become empowered as people. On their website, you can see that you can donate a certain amount to build a well, which will supply a village with clean water for years to come. Or give them goats or other livestock which not only provide meat, but fertilizer, etc. It is true community building, helping these people to live self-sustaining lives.

Nicole elaborates:

“When you donate $20 (which, let's be honest, almost all of us have $20 to spare if we don't eat out tonight), you're giving enough for a starter flock of chickens.  But the families don’t just get those chickens.  They get the training and materials they’ll need to care for those chickens for a long time.

“Best of all, chickens are a good form of pest control, eating insects that damage crops. They scratch and peck at the soil, eating weed seeds and giving themselves dust baths to get rid of mites all on their own. Their droppings fertilize gardens.

“Heifer also trains the people they work with to Pass On The Gift to their neighbors. That means after receiving help from Heifer, a family will go on to help others, sharing baby chicks and training members of their community.

“This means a donation to Heifer is like kicking off an avalanche of good that cascades into the future. For example, in 1952 Heifer provided 70,000 hatching eggs to people in Korea after the country was devastated by war. Twenty years later, the Korean Ministry of Agriculture estimated that half the chickens in Korea were descended from the eggs Heifer supplied.”

And that, my friends, is amazing.

Fantasy Author Bradley P. Beaulieu (Twelve Kings in Sharakhai) auctioned manuscript critique services and more to benefit Worldbuilders this season. “I support builders because, at the end of the day, the money is going to a charity that takes a holistic, no-nonsense, global approach to bettering lives. I really respect that, and have from the moment I learned about them from Pat’s posts the first year he ran his charity drive. The community that has rallied around Worldbuilders is wonderful, but most of all, I’m proud of the difference Heifer is making in the lives of individuals and their communities all across the world.”

Badali Jewelry is one company who has really helped Worldbuilders. Known for their representations of jewelry and other items featured in popular fantasy such as the Dresden Files, the Iron Druid Chronicles, Elf Quest, and yes, Pat Rothfuss’s own Kingkiller Chronicles, they can be found at major conventions throughout the year as well as online. They have been heavily involved with Worldbuilders from early on. 

“We first heard about Worldbuilders after the entire shop had devoured Name of The Wind,” says Janelle Badali, “and we started hoping to court Pat and see if he would let us make jewelry for the books.  When we found out that he started a charity after his first real payday we knew he was not only a crazy talented author but a genuinely fantastic human being and we wanted to work with Pat more then ever.  The stars aligned, Pat approved and we started working together.  The first year we got our licensing, we very tentatively approached Pat and his crew to see if we could donate items to help Worldbuilders out, because so much good was being done there and we wanted to help any way we could.  They said yes and it's been magic ever since.  We love Pat and each member of the Worldbuilders team, and are beyond honored to help out in what ever way we can.  Worldbuilders has become a platform for the geek community to band together and really show the world what you can do if you share a passion and compassion.  Thank you Worldbuilders and Heifer International, you really are the good guys.”

I asked fantasy author Django Wexler (The Shadow Campaigns series) what he thought about donating his painstakingly painted game miniatures and books to the Worldbuilders auction. He answered, “One of the best things about being a writer is how happy you can make people with small things; a scribble and a signature in a book can make someone’s day, and I love doing it.  Worldbuilders is great because it combines that with a wonderful charity – it has a bunch of fun, off-beat interactions between writers and fans, AND it raises money for a good cause.  I’m glad to be able to contribute!”

“Worldbuilders is a great way for a geek to do good in the world,” says Nicole of Worldbuilders. “Not only are you contributing to one of the best charities out there (Heifer International), but you get the chance to win one of the thousands of prizes we have, ranging from signed books, to limited and rare editions of books, as well as games and art.”

So, if after all of that, you don't feel convinced to donate to Worldbuilders in some way, well, carry on, I guess. But they make it so easy to contribute and make a difference, between ebay auctions, the lottery, their store, and more, that I think you'll find there is something for every one. 

About Melanie R. Meadors:

A writer of speculative fiction and lover of geeky things, Melanie R. Meadors lives in a one hundred-year-old house in central Massachusetts full of quirks and surprises. She's been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion.

Her short fiction has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. She is a freelance publicist, publicity coordinator for Ragnarok Publications, and the Marketing and Publicity Specialist at Mechanical Muse. 

What? I Can't Hear You Over My Nerd-Rage!

Nerd-rage. Let’s face it, it happens. One minute, you’re talking with someone about something you’re both passionate about, and suddenly, BOOM, war breaks out. How could this guy think Jedi was better than Empire? And he likes Star Trek V? SERIOUSLY? Who DOES that? I’ve seen strangers go on to Facebook pages of folks they don’t even know and completely trash them because they’ve never seen a Doctor Who episode prior to 2005, and I’ve seen the best of friends not speak for a month because of an argument over Firefly. On the latest episode of the Once and Future Podcast, Anton Strout and Ryan Britt discussed this phenomenon a bit, and it seems to be fairly prevalent. 

Where does it come from? A unique form of geek entitlement? A need to compete for nerdy survival? Because let’s face it, we’ve all experienced it. I mean, I consider myself a fairly accepting and positive person. Yet every now and then, I’ll see something like a person, who I know hated Star Wars two months before, start posting about it and I’ll start feeling kind of judgey. Are they being fakes? Are they just trying to fit in? Why doesn’t it put them to sleep anymore? Who are they trying to impress? But then my brain kicks in, and I say, “Who cares?” The more popular something I love gets, the better chances there are that even more awesome things will happen with it. Of course, there’s also a greater chance someone will screw it up, but that’s another post. Another thing that hits me now and then are people who only watch the shows of The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones (you know, the series more accurately known as "A Song of Ice and Fire"?). Those guys are FAKES, right? I mean, how many hours, days of my life have I spent reading comics and novels, and these people just watch a few episodes and think they are real fans?

Well…yeah. Who the hell am I, or any of us, really, to judge who gets to be a fan of what? If something makes someone happy, why piss in their Cheerios? Are we really that miserable in the nerd community?

It seems that some of us are. Every day I see people on social media trashing others for their beliefs and their passions. Someone always has to one-up someone else, or prove they are better, or prove that their fandom is better. It’s really easy to get caught up in the cloud of negativity if you aren’t careful. I’m not talking about those of us who might slip into a wave of maybe too much passion for a subject we love. I’m talking outright bullying, people who get off on power trips, and who, in the end, are simply insecure idiots trying to make themselves feel important. Does this qualify as nerd-rage? In part, I think we all have to accept some responsibility for these people because it’s happening in our community. It’s something that we have to own, and in the end, hopefully take care of.

Matt Forbeck, author of the Marvel Encyclopedia, the Magic: The Gathering comic books, and award-winning game designer and novel writer, had this to say on the subject: “While it’s easy to get swept up in the latest wave of nerd-rage in which we often seem as a collective to be feeding on our most rotten parts, I never forget that the one thing that binds us together is the passion we have for the things that move us. For every outraged Gamergater, there are thousands if not millions of happy geeks who just want to share the love for their favorite things with their fellow geeks. Those awful bits are just a few grains of grit in a mighty hero sandwich. No one wants them there — and it’s best to remove them straight away — but they’re too damn small to ruin everything. Not if you don’t let them.”

Chuck Wendig, author of the recent technothriller, Zeroes, is no stranger to rage within the geek world. His Star Wars novel, Aftermath, was the target of contempt from many so-called fans of the franchise because, they claimed, he dared to make Star Wars characters…well, go where no Star Wars characters have gone before (Ha! Take that, haters! I’ve crossed the streams!). Even so, he maintains a positive outlook on the issue. After all, most fans loved his book, and it spent several weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. He says, “For me, fandom is about being positive. At its core, you enter fandom because you Love A Thing very much, but that love can become protective, even obsessive. Then you go to the Dark Side. Be a fountain, not a drain! Share the love instead of spreading hate. Remember why you got into it in the first place!”

This is something I agree with completely. Remember when you had a hard time finding like-minded people to hang out with? Remember that time you and your best friend got your asses kicked for acting out scenes from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on the playground? Were times really better back then? Do you really think everyone should be berated for liking things, or are you just jealous people can have a good time now in relative peace?

Of course, just because we love something doesn’t mean it’s without faults, nor does it mean we shouldn’t give some constructive criticism to perhaps make it better. But the key here is constructive criticism. I’ve seen people get the very thing they ask for, say, a television show featuring a female protagonist superhero, and completely shred it. Rather than seeing it as the first step in a process of society making progress, they will treat it as an all or nothing situation. The show must be PERFECT in order for them to approve. What happens then? Well, since the show was groundbreaking to begin with, many people didn’t approve of it to begin with. When even the people who begged for a show shred it, the station cancels it and leaves us with nothing. This could be avoided by people controlling their rage and instead, communicating with the creators, working together to perfect their vision, and maybe coming to an understanding of WHY perhaps the creators made certain decisions. We can critique things with a level head without the rage.

“For me, being a geek/nerd is about passion and enthusiasm, it's being so excited by a story that you can't help but share that passion,” says Michael R. Underwood, author of geeky speculative fiction including the recent Genrenauts series. “And while it's important to critique works (especially parts that are sexist, racist, homophobic, and so on), I think that the most useful artistic critique comes from a desire for works to improve, so they can better encourage, entertain, and inspire. And that puts that critique into a greater effort of shared enthusiasm, of building up more than tearing down.”

If you feel the need to comment on someone’s project, love, or nerdery, ask yourself where it’s coming from. Are you wanting to berate someone, or are you trying to help? Pay attention to the words you use, too. I mean, sure, your five year old nephew has Darth Vader wielding a six-shooter. You want to tell him (and perhaps his parents) off, but what can you do to help the poor soul rather than tearing him down? I mean, maybe he has a good reason for this…heresy. Talk to the kid, find out where he’s coming from. Maybe he’s exploring a new side of something, and a really cool thing will come from it. Do the same with adults. If someone makes a mistake, don’t jump on their case. Remember that time you asked your niece if she was into Mind Craft? No, me neither. Let’s say no more. We all screw up. We don’t have to be dicks about it.

Delilah S. Dawson is the author of speculative fiction for both teens and adults (including the very recent Star Wars novella, The Perfect Weapon. Her thoughts sum up the topic perfectly. “When you get down to it, nerd-rage springs from the same place as nerd-love. We get so passionate about the things we geek out over that characters become real people, and when we feel they aren't being respected, we get mad. It's important to remember that no one can take your fandoms from you and that new episodes or storylines can't change your existing relationship with a world or character. If you didn't care so much, you wouldn't get so mad. So if you're online and about to unleash hell in the comments, try turning off the computer and picking up your old comic books or turning on your favorite movie. Focus on what you love, not what you hate. No one can take away what you love. Except Joss Whedon, who thrives on taking away what you love.”

DAMN YOU, WHEDON!!!!

About Melanie R. Meadors:

A writer of speculative fiction and lover of geeky things, Melanie R. Meadors lives in a one hundred-year-old house in central Massachusetts full of quirks and surprises. She's been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion.

Her short fiction has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. She is a freelance publicist, publicity coordinator for Ragnarok Publications, and the Marketing and Publicity Specialist at Mechanical Muse. 

I Laughed So Hard, I Died Of Fright

On this week’s episode, Anton and his guest James A. Moore discussed the concept of humor in horror. On one hand, I can understand how some people might think, “What? How can horror be funny? How can, say, a family being stalked by an indescribably hideous beast whose sole purpose is to slay them, be humorous?” On the other hand…

Well, I kind of have a sick sense of humor, anyway.

When I was fourteen, my mother had a bad accident which left her immobile for the whole summer. Speaking of horror, I suddenly had to learn how to cook for a family of four, keep the house sort of clean…and, because I like to think of myself as a good daughter, make my mom feel as comfortable as I could and spend some quality time with her. This was not easy. See, I inherited my sense of humor from my mom. We could see the most nasty, horrid, sick movie ever, and it would become something hilarious. This didn’t work out well for her with broken ribs. We’d start laughing about something, and it would soon become this fest of, “Heehee! OW! Haha! Oh God, it hurts! Hahaha Stop making me laugh!”

After she almost wound up in a coma from pain after our MST3K style viewing of Puppet Master 3, we decided it would be safer for me to read to her versus watching movies. We started with Dean Koontz’s Watchers, because heck, I was fourteen and loved to be scared, and it would be safe. It was a horror novel, right?

Well… It was all fun and games, until the squirrel sex.

Yeah, you read that right. The book was wonderfully creepy, and though there were a couple romancey moments that I didn’t like reading with my mom there, it was all good. Then came the parts from the dog’s point of view, and it was all over. We were laughing again, and poor mom was in pain.

Koontz using humor in his horror novel is not an anomaly. Stephen King, Joe R. Lansdale, and many others have used it as a counterpoint to their macabre scenes. It seems to be used perhaps even more often in horror movies. Evil Dead, The Cabin in the Woods, Shaun of the Dead, and Zombieland all can be considered equally funny and gruesome. At times, it can be refreshing. Sometimes a reader can only go so long chewing their nails without some relief. And a lot of people naturally use humor as a way to deal with horrific situations.

“I feel that humor is the perfect counterpoint to horror,” says Brian Kirk, who is himself a horror author. “For one, it’s disarming. It quickly warms one up to characters and establishes deeper connections. It makes us cringe that much more when our heroes are in danger. Secondly, humor adds texture to a horrific tale. Consider how master composers craft their symphonies. The best ones have moments of quiet or whimsy interspersed with full-throated explosions of sound. Play any one note too long and it becomes monotone. It’s best to keep readers, listeners, or any attentive audience, on its toes.”

Katie Cord, president and founder of Evil Girlfriend Media, concurs. “Comedic horror takes something gruesome, disgusting, and vile then puts a fake mustache on it. Just as horror in general allows us to explore our darkest fears, comedic horror gives us permission to laugh at those fears. Both have their place and give the human psyche a great release. I personally enjoy watching and reading comedic horror.”

Is comedic horror for everyone? Of course not. Even for people like myself, who love a good laugh, sometimes it’s nice to have a truly bone-chilling tale that stays with you long into the night. Sometimes comedy, especially in a shorter story, can break up the thrill a little too much and ruin the focus of a story. Among those who don’t always want a laugh mixed with their shivers is award-winning editor Ellen Datlow.

“To me, it dissipates most of the creepiness and dissolves the sense of unease that I expect or want from horror stories.”

And who can argue with that? Part of the staying power of a horror story is how it haunts you (arf arf) long after the story is over. Certain images that the words evoke stay in your mind and grow. Often your subconscious will fill in blanks that the author left, making situations even more scary. This wouldn’t happen if suddenly the scene is broken up by comedy relief. 

So, is comedy in horror for everyone? No, of course not. Nor is it right for every story. But sometimes, in just the right proportions, it be a perfect seasoning to an otherwise terrifying tale.

What do you think? Do you like your horror sprinkled with humor?  Or do you just want a bone-chilling story? Any suggestions? Leave a comment below! You never know if I might be doing a giveaway to a random commenter.

 

About Melanie R. Meadors:

A writer of speculative fiction and lover of geeky things, Melanie R. Meadors lives in a one hundred-year-old house in central Massachusetts full of quirks and surprises. She's been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on on more than one occasion.

Her short fiction has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. She is a freelance publicist, publicity coordinator for Ragnarok Publications, and the Marketing and Publicity Specialist at Mechanical Muse.