Imaginary Worlds

113 EpisodesProduced by Eric Molinsky

Imaginary Worlds is a bi-weekly podcast about science fiction and other fantasy genres. Host Eric Molinsky talks with novelists, screenwriters, comic book artists, filmmakers, and game designers about their craft of creating fictional worlds. The show also looks at the fan experience, exploring what… read more

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Reimagining the Gods

January 10th, 2019


Madeline Miller received critical acclaim for her novels The Song of Achilles and Circe – which reimagine The Iliad and The Odyssey told from the …

A Visit by Three Ghosts

December 24th, 2018

In a special stocking stuffer of an episode, Stephanie Billman and I discuss why A Christmas Carol set the template for SF stories to come -- from …

Board Games Go Indie

December 13th, 2018

We all grow up playing board games and card games, and now those games are growing up as well. I check out BostonFIG (festival of independent games), where a new generation of indie board game designers is reimagining …

How I Won the Larp

November 29th, 2018

In my 2017 episode Winning the Larp, I looked at the history of larps (live action role plays) and how the larping experience is deeply personal for …

Alternate Movie Posters

November 15th, 2018

Long ago, before we found out about new movies from tweets about teaser trailers that advertised full-length trailers – the first glimpse of a new …

Faith in Fantasy

November 1st, 2018

Science fiction has not always been compatible with religion -- in fact many futuristic settings imagine no religion at all. But sci-fi and fantasy have long fascinated people of different faiths because the genres …

Don't Mess with the Fairies

October 18th, 2018

Forget Tinkerbell or those Victorian paintings of spritely pixies with wings. Traditional fairy folklore is much darker and weirder. Irish …

Movies for the Mind

October 4th, 2018

There has been a renaissance of audio drama podcasts over the last several years, so picking up where I left off in the previous episode, I bring the history of audio dramas up to date with the help of Ann Heppermann, …

Theater for the Mind

September 20th, 2018

The "golden age of radio drama" may have been a stellar period for storytelling -- but the stories weren't all golden bright. Science fiction and …

Fantastical Feasts

September 5th, 2018

What is the role of food in worldbuilding? Characters usually have to eat to stay alive -- but food is also culture, and if you're creating a fantasy …

D&D Revisited

August 23rd, 2018

Stubborn Lippi a.k.a. Stubbs is a halfling, a bard, and a sorcerer. He's also the character I've been playing since I produced my 2015 episode …

Fan Fiction (Special Edition)

August 9th, 2018

Last year, I interviewed Francesca Coppa for my episode Fan Fiction (Don't Judge.) She's the author of the book "The Fanfiction Reader," and one of the founders of the fanfic site Archive of Our Own. Francesca was such …

Do You Speak Conlang?

July 26th, 2018

Sci-fi fantasy worlds often use constructed languages (or conlangs for short) as a worldbuilding tool that can make us believe the characters come …

Imaginary Deaths

July 12th, 2018

Have you ever mourned the loss of a fictional character? It can be tough to get over, and difficult to convince people not caught up in that …

Fahrenheit 451 Still Burns

June 27th, 2018

The writer Neil Gaiman first became entranced with Fahrenheit 451 as a kid, but he says the novel is the kind of masterpiece that seems like a different story every time you read it depending on where you are in life, …

Gathering the Magic

June 14th, 2018

At its core, Magic: The Gathering is a card game and your goal is to knock your opponent down to zero points. But Magic: The Gathering also has a …

The First Three Lives of Catherine Webb

May 31st, 2018

You may know her as Claire North, author of the best-selling novel "The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August." You might also know her as Kate Griffin, author of the urban fantasy series about modern day sorcerer Matthew …

The Westworld Experience

May 17th, 2018

To promote season 2 of Westworld, HBO recreated the fictional Wild West town from the TV show just outside Austin at the SXSW festival, and they hired actors to play androids who think they're living in the Old West -- …

Jack Kirby's Marvels

May 3rd, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War brought together characters from across the Marvel universe, but many of them already shared a common bond -- their creator Jack Kirby. While Kirby is best known for his intense drawing style, he …

Living in Space

April 19th, 2018

People have fantasized for ages about what it would be like to live in space -- whether it's living on the moon or Mars or on a space station. And if …

Visions of Philip K. Dick

April 5th, 2018

Philip K. Dick is best known for his fiction that have been adapted to movies and TV shows like Blade Runner, Minority Report and Man in the High …

Stuck in the Uncanny Valley

March 22nd, 2018

The holy grail for many animators is to create digital humans that can pass for the real thing -- in other words to cross the "uncanny valley."  The …

Remembering Ursula K. Le Guin

March 8th, 2018

Ursula K. Le Guin was a master storyteller who was best known for her "thought experiments" -- like what if there were a planet in which the …

Behind the Daleks

February 22nd, 2018

They may not look scary to you, but the monsters on Doctor Who have scared generations of children to the point where hiding "behind the sofa" has become a meme in the UK. When I first started watching the show, I was …

Traveling in The TARDIS

February 8th, 2018

If The Doctor offered you a spot traveling with him on his spaceship/time machine The TARDIS, would you go? Would you still go if you knew what …

Doctor Who?

January 25th, 2018

We don't know his real name. We don't know who he was before he stole the TARDIS -- a spaceship/time machine that looks like a police box on the …

Brain Chemistry

January 11th, 2018

For the past year, I've been working with The Truth, an audio drama collective that makes "movies for your ears." In the second story that I wrote …

The Canon Revisited

December 28th, 2017

The Last Jedi may be the most controversial film in the Star Wars series. While the movie has been critically acclaimed, many Star Wars fans have …

Politics of The Expanse

December 14th, 2017

The Expanse novels by James S.A. Corey (the pseudonym for writers Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham) imagine how human beings would colonize our solar …

Robot Collar Jobs

November 30th, 2017

Are we prepared for a future where robots are the most sought after employees? Maybe not. Lawmakers will blame anything but automation for job losses and flat wages -- but sci-fi writers are up to the challenge. In her …

On The Front Lines of Fantasy

November 16th, 2017

The military shows up in a lot of sci-fi and fantasy stories but the subgenre of military SF depicts soldiers holding their own in fantastical …

Fan Fiction (Don't Judge)

November 2nd, 2017

Sci-fi and fantasy have always been a big part of fan fiction, but fan fiction hasn't always gotten respect in return. My former colleague at WNYC …

The Haunted Mansion

October 19th, 2017

The Haunted Mansion is one of the most beloved rides at the Disney theme parks, yet its development was anything but smooth. Walt Disney himself …

Rappers with Arm Cannons

October 5th, 2017

In the second of my two-part episode on musical worlds, I talk with Mega Ran and Sammus -- hip hop artists that create concept albums based on the classic video games Mega Man and Metroid. They talk about the challenge …

Worldbuilding With Music

September 21st, 2017

In the first of a two part episode on imaginary worlds in music, I talk with members of Vertigo Drift, an indie band that created a cyberpunk concept album with an expanded universe of material provided by visual …


September 7th, 2017

This week, I team up with Helen Zaltzman of The Allusionist podcast to help me figure out why one set of poorly understood pseudo-scientific terms can sink a scene, while another set of pseudo-scientific phrases can …

Future Screens Are Mostly Blue

August 24th, 2017

This week, I'm playing one of my favorite episodes of the podcast 99% Invisible where host Roman Mars and producer Sam Greenspan look at control …

Scott Snyder

August 10th, 2017

If the previous episode was all about villains, this one looks at the other side of that equation. In 2014 I interviewed the writer Scott Snyder whose run on Batman comics is considered one of the best in long history …

Evil Plans

July 27th, 2017

They've tried to take over the world. They've tried to take away our free will. They've gone after ancient artifacts with vaguely defined magical properties. But they almost always fail. The evil plan has become a …

The Book of Dune

July 12th, 2017

Frank Herbert's 1965 novel Dune and its sequels tackled a lot of big themes. The books are about ecology. They're about journeys of self-realization …

World War EVE

June 29th, 2017

EVE Online is a massive multi-player online role playing game, which means it's a game where there are no rules -- just a galaxy where you build …

Imagining the Internet

June 15th, 2017

We were promised flying cars but we got Twitter instead. That's the common complaint against science fiction writers and the visions of the future they presented us in the 20th century. But many sci-fi authors did …

Do The Voice

June 1st, 2017

There's been a recent resurgence of radio dramas or audio dramas over the past 5 years. I've done a few myself on Imaginary Worlds. So I was very flattered (and a little intimidated) when the highly regarded audio drama …

The Real Twin Peaks

May 17th, 2017

Most people think of Twin Peaks as a place in their imaginations or on TV. But the show caused an identity crisis for the folks living in the towns …

Designing Bojack's World

May 3rd, 2017

Lisa Hanawalt had finally established herself as a freelance illustrator when her friend Raphael Bob-Wakesburg asked to borrow one of her drawings to pitch his animated series Bojack Horseman, which eventually ended up …

Healing Through Horror

April 20th, 2017

Steven Sheil grew up in the era of "video nasties" -- a pushback by conservatives in the UK to ban Hollywood slasher films before they could corrupt …

New York 2140

April 6th, 2017

Imagine you're a New Yorker in the mid 22nd century. You have to deal with all sorts of headaches like traffic jams on the East River or brownstones …

Beyond the Iron Curtain

March 23rd, 2017

Comrades! The USSR pioneered the craft of science fiction long before the decadent West. This is not an opinion - this is a scientific fact. Noted intellectuals Anindita Banerjee, Sibelan Forrester, Asif Siddiqi, …

The Spirit of Will Eisner

March 9th, 2017

Imaginary Worlds goes live in this special presentation from the work x work on air festival. In celebration of Will Eisner's centennial, authors …

28 Days of Black Cosplay

February 23rd, 2017

Cosplay has gotten huge in the age of social media, but when websites feature their ComicCon slides shows, they often don't reflect the true diversity of the fans. So black Cosplayers created their own hashtag …

Growing Up Avatar-American

February 8th, 2017

Sam Kaden Lai takes the wheel of this episode of Imaginary Worlds to tell the story of how Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel series on Nickelodeon, The Legend of Korra, redefined the Asian-American experience …

Winning the Larp

January 26th, 2017

Larp stands for Live Action Role Play. That's about as simple as it gets when trying to understand what Larps are. They can be fantastical and …

Atari vs The Imagination Gap

January 12th, 2017

Tim Lapetino's book "The Art of Atari" is full of eye candy for anyone who grew up playing those games -- especially if you gazed at the game boxes, …

Slave Leia 2016

December 29th, 2016

In memory of Carrie Fisher, I'm replaying my episode Slave Leia from last year's Star Wars series. For a while, the gold metal bikini that Princess …

Workin' on the Death Star

December 15th, 2016

Think of all the movies and TV shows that reference Star Wars. Most of those scenes are pretty forgettable -- except for a scene in the 1994 film Clerks, which set off a debate that's still going on today. One of the …

The Man In the High Castle

December 1st, 2016

The Amazon series The Man in the High Castle is based on a 1962 novel by Philip K. Dick, which imagines what would've happened to America if the Axis …

Dumbledore's Army

November 17th, 2016

How much does an author's point of view influence her stories? And do those stories in turn influence us? Professor Anthony Gierzynski argues that …

Caps Lock Harry

November 3rd, 2016

Harry was being a jerk -- or that's what a lot of kids and teens thought when they read the last few books of JK Rowling's series. Some adult readers …

The Sorting Hat

October 19th, 2016

Every 11-year old goes through this, right? Your teacher places a brown wizard's cap your head, and the hat tells you what your defining …

Magical Thinking

October 6th, 2016

Hocus Pocus. Abracadabra. Those words imply that magic is silly because it can solve problems far too easily. Fantasy novelists strive to avoid those …

Fantasy Maps

September 22nd, 2016

J.R.R. Tolkien not only kicked off the modern fantasy genre, he also made maps an indispensable part of any fantasy book. Tolkien spent decades …

The Hobbits and The Hippies

September 7th, 2016

SEASON 3 PREMIERE: J.R.R. Tolkien wanted his work to be taken seriously. But his magnum opus The Lord of the Rings was unlike most of great …

Behind The Felt

August 24th, 2016

In the continuation of my behind-the-scenes mini-series, I revisit the first interview I ever recorded for Imaginary Worlds -- the puppeteer Stephanie D'Abruzzo, who is best known for performing as Kate Monster in the …

Finding My Voice

August 10th, 2016

This week, I pull the curtain back on my process and look at two public radio stories I reported back in 2008 when I began to find my voice as a …

The Legacy of Octavia Butler

July 27th, 2016

2016 marks the ten-year anniversary of Octavia Butler's passing. Commemorative events are happening across Southern California, where she spent most of her life, from conferences to panels to walking tours. Recently, …

Ghost in the Shell

July 14th, 2016

Ghost in the Shell was groundbreaking, visually and thematically. The 1995 Japanese animated film (or anime) was unapologetically for adults. The …


June 29th, 2016

Digital technology has come so far that independent video game designers can create and distribute their work online, and make their games about …

The Year Without a Summer

June 15th, 2016

June 16, 2016 is the 200th anniversary of the night Mary Shelley began to write, "Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus." Scholars have long …

Then She Fell

June 2nd, 2016

Immersive theater is a new trend where there are no seats and no stage. The audience moves through the space like a virtual world, touching whatever they want, interacting with the actors who give them food and drink. I …

The Robot Uprising

May 19th, 2016

The robot uprising is coming, or at least that's what science fiction has told us. We will abuse the robots, treat them as less than us until one …

Humans: New & Improved

May 5th, 2016

When Graeme Manson started as a showrunner for BBC America's Orphan Black, he needed to create villains who were on the cutting edge of science, and …

Economics of Thrones and Starships

April 21st, 2016

Whether you're running the seven kingdoms of Westeros or flying to Mars -- you have to figure out how to pay for everything. Many economists are fans of sci-fi because those worlds take economics models to an extreme, …

Becoming Godzilla

April 7th, 2016

This week's episode features another monster who comes from the sea and represents an existential threat -- but he's just so lovable. Journalist Dave Serchuk and graphic designer Jim Fazar both discovered Godzilla as …

When Cthulhu Calls

March 24th, 2016

This week's episode is a radio drama, and a co-production with Jeff Emtman's podcast Here Be Monsters. I've been fascinated by the monster Cthulhu …

Why They Fight

March 10th, 2016

On the big screen this Spring, Batman will try to take down Superman, Iron Man is going to fight Captain America, and Daredevil will battle Punisher on Netflix. Cleary we are more interested in watching superheroes …

Imagining Wonder Woman

February 25th, 2016

Wonder Woman is finally going to make her cinematic debut in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Bringing her to the big screen has been a long and fraught process. She is a beloved character with a tricky backstory -- …

Noble Effort

February 11th, 2016

In 2013, I co-produced this episode of 99% Invisible with Roman Mars about Maurice Noble, the artist who created many of the background (or "layouts") in Warner Brothers cartoons of the 1950s and '60s. Noble's work was …

Dracula from Nebraska

January 28th, 2016

We all know that novelist Bram Stoker based the character of Dracula off Vlad the Impailer, the Romanian prince who fought off the Turks -- or that's …

Inside the Snow Globe

January 14th, 2016

Tom Fontana is a TV writer and producer who worked on St. Elsewhere in the 1980s. The show was a pretty straightforward hospital drama, but Fontana had a mischievous streak -- and a soft spot for crossovers. So when he …

The Expanded Universe

December 31st, 2015

Warning: Spoilers ahead! When The Force Awakens came out, millions of fans flocked to the theaters to find out what happened to the characters in the 30 years since Return of the Jedi. But hardcore Star Wars fans knew …

Han Shot Solo

December 16th, 2015

In 1997, the Star Wars trilogy was re-released in theaters. Longtime fans were excited to see the new digital effects, while younger fans couldn't …

Slave Leia

December 2nd, 2015

The gold metal bikini that Princess Leia wears in Return of the Jedi has become the dominant image of her from action figures to Cosplay. But the …

Empire vs Rebels

November 18th, 2015

The epic battle between the Evil Empire and the Rebel Alliance has become a metaphor we love to use in sports and politics. But what happens when you …


November 4th, 2015

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire...  Before those words crawled up movie screen screen in May 1977, what did …

Great Scott! It's The Future!

October 21st, 2015

In this bonus episode of Imaginary Worlds, I look at how Back to the Future Part II might have been a better movie if it took place in our 2015 -- yes, the one without flying cars. Learn more about your ad choices. …

First Contact

October 20th, 2015

They arrive out of nowhere in shockingly large ships, brandishing weapons we've never seen, offering false promises of peace when they really want our land, our resources and our labor. The alien invasion film is a …

The Truth Is Out There

October 7th, 2015

FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are reopening The X-Files in January. And the Internet couldn't be more excited. Every casting update, every …

Rolling the Twenty Sided Dice

September 23rd, 2015

SEASON 2 PREMIERE: I spent the last two months learning how to play Dungeons & Dragons. That's right, I never played as a kid. But I've been reading so many interviews with interesting creative people who credit …

Season 2 begins Sept 22nd -- but first, Hodor!

September 9th, 2015

Season 2 of Imaginary Worlds will kick off on September 22nd. In the mean time, I wanted to play an interview my colleague Sean Rameswaram did with …


July 29th, 2015

"The Strong Female Character" sounds positive, but it's actually a term used by culture critics to describe the token girl let into the boy's …

Fixing the Hobo Suit

July 15th, 2015

Superhero costumes used to be stand alone works of fashion that over time became dated or cringe-worthy. But lately, movie and TV superhero costumes have been looking good -- with fewer complaints from the fans. I talk …

Doppelgangers 2.0

July 1st, 2015

I have a thing for doppelgangers. Partly it's because my brain always falls for this trick and believes on some level that the doubles are being played by different actors. Thanks to digital effects, it's easier to …

The Greatest Cartoon Almost Made

June 17th, 2015

At the height of his career, Richard Williams was hailed as the next Walt Disney -- and he won two visual effects Oscars for Roger Rabbit. But Williams wanted to prove that animation was high art, not just something to …

Time Travelers of Renwick St.

June 3rd, 2015

New York City real estate is not usually a hotbed of fantasy, except the fantasy that you could afford that $20 million condo 50 stories up. But an …

Why Ron Moore Killed Captain Kirk

May 20th, 2015

Ronald D. Moore is best known for rebooting Battlestar Galactica for the post-9/11 era, but he got his start writing on Star Trek: The Next Generation. In fact, he really got his start in science fiction by watching the …

True Vampires of New Haven

May 6th, 2015

A few years ago, I reported a story about a safe house program for vampires in New Haven, CT. The city supplied the vampires with blood if they …

Beware of CyberCity

April 22nd, 2015

Ed Skoudis built a different kind of imaginary world. It's a three-dimensional model of a town that the military uses for cyber war games. Ed's team …

Politics of Thrones

April 8th, 2015

Game of Thrones is huge in every way. Why does this medieval fantasy with knights and castles speak to our time? Politics. There are a …

Zombie Therapy

March 25th, 2015

Zombies. I hate them the way Indiana Jones hates snakes. I know it's a ridiculous phobia -- they're not real, and zombies are a classic genre full of …

The Mysterious James Tiptree

March 11th, 2015

Science fiction writer James Tiptree Jr. wouldn't talk on the phone or appear in person. He developed friendships with contemporaries like Ursula le …

A Perfect World

February 25th, 2015

A French philosopher is certain his ideas will help human beings evolve -- not just emotionally or psychologically. We will start to grow tails. And …

Being Batman (For Now)

February 11th, 2015

They say you shouldn't meet your heroes because you might be disappointed.  What happens when you're told from now on you are your childhood hero? …

Sexy Robots

January 29th, 2015

The desirable robot has been a trope in science fiction for almost a century. American University professor Despina Kakoudaki (author of "Anatomy of …

The Golem and The Jinni

January 14th, 2015

"The Golem and The Jinni" by Helene Wecker is one of my favorite novels in recent years. It's about two mythological characters meeting in late 19th …

Joss Whedon '07

December 31st, 2014

In April 2007, I interviewed Joss Whedon for a public radio story about how he was continuing Buffy The Vampire Slayer as a comic book. I only got to use a few sound bytes for that piece, but I always liked the …

Action Figureland

December 17th, 2014

Kids may be aging out of action figures earlier than ever, but action figure collectables for adults is booming. I visit two of the leading toy …

In Defense of Captain Hook

December 4th, 2014

Peter Pan is never supposed to grow up, but Illinois State University professor Karen Coats says the character has grown over time from a Victorian …

Saving The Girl

November 19th, 2014

What exactly is the role of the love interest in a superhero story? Is she just the emotional stakes for the hero? Can she ever be anything more? I …

Salem Bewitched

November 5th, 2014

Salem is like something out of a Grimm fairy tale for many people -- it’s not a real place. But Salem always felt visceral to me growing up in …

King Denslow of Oz

October 22nd, 2014

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz started as a perfect partnership between writer L. Frank Baum and illustrator W. W. Denslow. But they became bitter …

The Canon

October 8th, 2014

Every sci-fi fantasy world comes with a canon of rules and back stories. Fans can be fiercely protective of their favorite canons, but canons are …

When Human Met Creature

September 24th, 2014

Computer animation vs. puppets. Fans have been debating for years which is more believable -- especially when a creature is sharing a scene with a human actor. I talk with ILM animator Charles Alleneck who worked on the …

Origin Stories

September 10th, 2014

What makes a good origin story? University of Oregon professor Benjamin Saunders explains how retelling origin stories is a way of returning to childhood wonder. The best origin stories are not a one shot deal, they …
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