Like a lot of 99pi episodes, this one starts out about one thing (overpopulation, in this case) and then turns into something completely different. It’s really about physicist Gerard O’Neill’s audacious idea for building massive space colonies at Lagrange Point 5, where the gravity of Earth and the moon balance out.
In Flash Forward, science journalist Rose Eveleth explores scenarios for possible and not-so-possible futures, using short fictional introductions as an entry device. This episode entertainingly sums up the environmental and ethical arguments for putting an end to animal agriculture. And it asks where the world’s protein would come from in a future where meat is unavailable—or even illegal.
I love Imaginary Worlds for its uncondescending explorations of important ideas from the science fiction and fantasy genres. Host Eric Molinsky put out this short bonus episode to mark October 21, 2015, the day Marty McFly arrived in the future in Back to the Future Part II. Molinsky’s alternative version of the plot—about reversing Marty’s “superpower”—would have made the movie a lot better.
For the time being, the U.S. has no way into space except on Russian rockets, which isn’t great for NASA’s image. But perhaps science fiction can fill the enthusiasm gap. In this 2015 episode of Inquiring Minds—a great show about public perceptions of science—co-host Kishore Hari talks through the engineering and economics of Mars missions with Andy Weir, author of The Martian. The novel was later adapted into a film by Ridley Scott that made NASA look brilliant and seems to be helping to revive public interest in space exploration.
Longform showcases writers who focus on, you guessed it, longform narrative nonfiction. The show isn’t really about the future, but this episode is. It’s a talk with Kathryn Schulz about her alarming, Pulitzer-winning 2015 New Yorker story “The Really Big One,” which was structured partly as an account of a hypothetical magnitude-9.0 earthquake off the coast the Pacific Northwest.
Outside In, a show from New Hampshire Public Radio about everything nature-related, was one of my favorite new podcasts last year. So I’ll use any excuse to include it in my playlist. This bonus episode looks at one of the redeeming aspects of the Pokemon Go craze of mid-2016: the augmented-reality app forced people to go outdoors.
Stanley Kubrick was one of the most realism-obsessed movie directors in history, and science fiction giant Arthur C. Clarke was famous for the accuracy of his futurism. Together, they conjuried a meticulously detailed future world for their groundbreaking 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey”? So how did our real 21st-century world turn out to be so different from the one Kubrick and Clarke envisioned? That’s the driving question in the pilot episode of my own show, Soonish.