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Imaginary Worlds

216 EpisodesProduced by Eric MolinskyWebsite

Imaginary Worlds sounds like what would happen if NPR went to ComicCon and decided that’s all they ever wanted to cover. Host Eric Molinsky spent over a decade working as a public radio reporter and producer, and he uses those skills to create thoughtful, sound-rich episodes about science fiction, f… read more

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Magic of Nghi Vo

January 19th, 2023

37:08

Nghi Vo's novels Siren Queen and The Chosen and the Beautiful have gotten widespread critical acclaim, which was a pleasant surprise to her because …

The Set Jet Crowds

January 4th, 2023

41:03

When a fantasy or sci-fi story is set in a real location, what happens when fans go to that place looking for a glimpse of magic? How do the locals feel about their hometowns turning into fandom destinations? I talk …

Octavia Butler Revisited

December 22nd, 2022

38:11

This year marks the 75th anniversary of Octavia Butler’s birth. There have been commemorations nationwide, and I wanted to join in by replaying my 2016 episode, “The Legacy of Octavia Butler.” I produced that episode …

Monsters in the Static

December 8th, 2022

36:16

In the subgenre of analog horror, there’s something sinister or supernatural lurking in the horizontal lines and vertical holds in those old VHS …

True Crime Fairy Tale

November 24th, 2022

39:34

Was the tale of Hansel and Gretel inspired by a real crime in German history? It would make for a great story, if it were true. This week’s episode …

Indigenous Futurisms

November 10th, 2022

34:31

From TV and film to novels and video games, the artistic movement of Indigenous Futurisms has been gaining momentum and breaking cultural barriers. I …

Songs in the Key of SF

October 27th, 2022

31:49

Jeff Russo has composed music for sci-fi fantasy shows like Star Trek Discovery and Picard, The Umbrella Academy, Altered Carbon, For All Mankind, and Lucifer. But he didn’t set out to be known as a composer of SF …

Generation VTube

October 13th, 2022

30:49

There is a booming culture of VTubers – people who create content online, but their fans rarely see their real faces or know their names. VTubers use …

Befriend The Reaper

September 28th, 2022

41:19

One of the most common tropes in fantasy genres is personifying Death – turning this abstract and often terrifying concept into a character that people can interact with. Sometimes Death is portrayed as a Grim Reaper, …

Postcolonial Worlds

September 14th, 2022

32:36

The stories we tell about the past can determine the way we understand the present. But what happens when we combine tales of magic and fantasy with some of the most traumatic chapters in history? I talk with novelists

Mentors: Balance of The Force

September 1st, 2022

32:53

In part 2 of our mini-series on mentorships, we travel to a galaxy far, far away. Amy Richau (co-author of Star Wars; I am Your Father and other Star Wars-related books) talks about her favorite partnerships between the …

Mentors: Dynamic Duos

August 18th, 2022

29:50

In the first of a two-part episode on mentors in fantasy genres, we look at the roles of superheroes and their protégées. Matt Fraction talks about …

Paper Girls on Bikes

August 4th, 2022

28:29

When the artist Cliff Chiang co-created the comic book series Paper Girls, about four suburban kids in the ‘80s who get caught up in forces that can break space and time, he thought they’d come up with something totally …

Charting Strange New Worlds

July 21st, 2022

34:10

It’s not often that I’m watching a TV show and I think, “I should ask the writers about that.” Luckily, I was in the same undergraduate film program …

Guys and Dolls

July 7th, 2022

35:45

I’ve long been fascinated by automatons – wind up mechanical beings that create the illusion of life. People have been making automatons for centuries, but how many automatons get to sing opera? This week’s episode …

The Art of Piracy

June 22nd, 2022

34:48

Our Flag Means Death is a hilarious anachronistic pirate comedy on HBO Max. But the backstory of its main characters is surprisingly real. I talk with pirate historian Jeremy Moss, Purdue professor Manushag Powell and

200 Imaginary Worlds

June 9th, 2022

40:52

When I began this podcast in September 2014, I couldn’t imagine myself someday celebrating 200 episodes of Imaginary Worlds. It feels like a …

Mystery Science Theater Reopens

May 26th, 2022

28:23

Mystery Science Theater 3000 or MST3K is back once again. The show was first created by Joel Hodgson, then a stand-up comedian who was ambivalent about the career path laid out in clubs or maybe a sitcom. His premise -- …

Snow Crashing Into The Metaverse

May 12th, 2022

31:16

For the last 30 years, the real world has been catching up to Neal Stephenson’s vision of the future in his 1992 novel Snow Crash, which influenced …

De-Aging Well

April 28th, 2022

37:02

There’s an old saying that everyone wants to live long, but no one wants to get old. The same can be applied to our favorite sci-fi fantasy …

Neurodivergent Futures

April 14th, 2022

30:47

One of the most common requests I've gotten over the years has been to do an episode about why so many autistic people are drawn towards science fiction, and these suggestions have come from listeners who are autistic …

Nosferatu Live

March 31st, 2022

32:04

100 years ago this month, the vampire film Nosferatu was released in Germany. Not long after, it was hit with a lawsuit – which the filmmakers lost – and every copy of the film was to be destroyed. At least one copy …

A Nation Dreams of Itself

March 17th, 2022

29:30

The Russian invasion of Ukraine shocked the world, but this conflict was foreshadowed in Ukrainian and Russian speculative fiction. I talk with …

Asian Futures Without Asians

March 3rd, 2022

36:44

It’s a future we’re all very familiar with. The rainy streets are full of neon dragons, noodle shops, and other Asian iconography mixed up and …

Beforeigners

February 17th, 2022

36:39

In the sci-fi drama Beforeigners from HBO Nordic, Oslo is overrun with immigrants and refugees. But they haven’t come from other countries. They’re from the past. In fact, they’re from three specific eras: the Stone …

Headcanon Fodder

February 3rd, 2022

35:40

Have you ever watched a movie or show, gotten sucked into a mystery and come up with your own idea of what is going to be revealed – only to find out that you’re wrong? Do you accept what’s now established as canon, or …

Politics of the Funnies Part 2

January 20th, 2022

30:19

Once upon a time, the funnies or the comics pages dominated newspapers – back when newspapers were the main source of information for most Americans. In those days, Walt Kelly and Al Capp were titans of the funnies. …

Politics of the Funnies Part 1

January 6th, 2022

32:16

Once upon a time, the funnies or the comics pages dominated newspapers – back when newspapers were the main source of information for most Americans. In those days, Walt Kelly and Al Capp were titans of the funnies. …

Multiverse Remix

December 23rd, 2021

33:44

Marvel and DC are jumping into the multiverse with multiple movies and shows crossing over into parallels worlds with different versions of …

Have Yourself a Scary Little Krampus

December 9th, 2021

30:57

The imagery of Christmas in most Western countries is of pure wholesomeness with Santa Claus or St. Nicholas, presents, candy, lights, etc. But in …

Art of the Brick

November 25th, 2021

30:56

Nathan Sawaya is one of the best-known LEGO Master Builders – people who can recreate just about anything out of LEGO. While he's worked with major franchises like DC, creating life sized superheroes, he's also an …

Re-Rolling Role Playing Games

November 11th, 2021

31:15

The world of tabletop role-playing games is much broader than Dungeons & Dragons, and there’s been a boom of DIY tabletop RPGs in the last …

Stage Fright

October 28th, 2021

29:45

Many elements of modern horror movies and TV shows came from an unlikely source, a theater in Paris called The Grand Guignol. Beginning in the late …

The Ecology of Dune

October 14th, 2021

32:03

Frank Herbert’s Dune has been hailed as a pioneer of environmental science fiction, where the Fremen on the planet of Arakkis, have had to adapt to …

Office Space

September 30th, 2021

30:21

Kasra Farahani has done concept art on a lot of big sci-fi fantasy films, and this year he took on his biggest job yet as the production designer for the Disney+ series Loki. Kasra’s sets became fan favorites, …

Playing Blind

September 16th, 2021

31:32

Video games are an inherently visual medium that traditionally haven’t been very accessible to blind people. But there are plenty of blind players who enjoy games and want to lower the barriers to entry. I talk with …

Cartoonish Gender

September 2nd, 2021

32:09

Queer representation in children’s cartoons has never been better, but the road to get here has been fraught. I talk with podcaster Dawn H and journalist Sara Century about how the first type of queer representation …

The Legend of Musashi

August 19th, 2021

31:46

An entire subgenre of samurai films, shows, manga, anime and games can be traced back to one person – a real life samurai named Miyamoto Musashi. He was not the first samurai to achieve fame, but his remarkable career …

Giving Imaginary Advice

August 5th, 2021

38:41

If you’ve ever searched for my podcast, you probably came across a show with a similar title: Imaginary Advice. I quickly became a fan of Imaginary Advice because the host Ross Sutherland walks the line between fiction …

Harley Quinn (Special Edition)

July 22nd, 2021

34:51

Every year, I like to play a full-length version of an interview from a previous episode where a lot of great material ended up on the proverbial …

Reporting on Capes, Cowls, Threats and Menaces

July 8th, 2021

34:57

In superhero stories, the public is usually there to be saved by the heroes or killed by the villains. But as a journalist, I always wonder if these people are well informed enough about the threats to their lives, and …

Living in a Simulation

June 24th, 2021

34:06

Is it possible that we are living in an imaginary world? That is the premise of many science fiction stories, but some scientists have begun to wonder whether it’s not a fantasy. Perhaps what we think of as reality is a …

Guilty Pleasures

June 10th, 2021

40:11

Sci-fi and fantasy genres have come a long way from their pulp fiction and Saturday matinee origins to become respectable genres. But sometimes you …

Disco Elysium

May 27th, 2021

32:59

Disco Elysium has been called one of the best role-playing video games of all time. It's won a slew of awards and it’s a worldwide best-seller -- …

Weir Science

May 13th, 2021

30:22

When Andy Weir wrote “The Martian,” he self-published the chapters to his website -- never expecting the story to become a best-selling book, or an …

The Zen of Sci-Fi

April 29th, 2021

29:49

Illusions that mask the true nature of reality. Meditating to gain control over your mind and body. Sending your consciousness to other bodies. These …

Becky Chambers Goes Wayfaring

April 15th, 2021

37:38

Becky Chambers’ latest novel, “The Galaxy and The Ground Within,” is the final book in her Wayfarer series, which is about aliens, humans and AI trying to make their way through the galaxy and find common ground. Some …

Music From Saturn

April 1st, 2021

31:30

Sun Ra claimed to be an extraterrestrial being from Saturn who could teleport you to other planets with his music. That may or may not have been …

Second Life Goes On

March 18th, 2021

34:27

One year into this pandemic, it’s been a struggle to feel a connection with other people digitally. That’s why I was inspired to hear an episode from the show Science Friday about a community that refused to disband …

Tron: Welcome to the Machine

March 4th, 2021

31:51

The 1982 movie Tron may seem outdated and even hokey today, but the film was more groundbreaking and prophetic than many people realize. I talk with Tron’s director Steven Lisberger about the challenge of making a movie …

This Ain't No Fairy Tale

February 18th, 2021

32:28

The story of the brothers Grimm and how they came to publish a book of fairy tales has become something of a folk legend in itself. The conventional …

Embracing the Spooky Spooky

February 4th, 2021

30:25

In the 1950s and ‘60s, the vibrating sound of the Theremin instrument was synonymous with sci-fi movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still or horror shows like Dark Shadows to the point where the Theremin became a genre …

Betty Boop and the Hays Code

January 20th, 2021

32:02

Betty Boop is a beloved cultural icon, but she was controversial in her heyday. I talk with Mark Fleischer – grandson of Betty Boop’s co-creator Max …

Camelot Forever

January 7th, 2021

30:30

The myth of Camelot runs deep in our culture. For over a thousand years, storytellers have felt compelled to tell the tale of King Arthur and add …

Making Up Creatures (Special Edition)

December 24th, 2020

29:42

Every year, I like to play a full-length interview with a previous guest who had so much more to say than what I could fit into a particular topic. …

Monsters of 2020

December 10th, 2020

31:50

2020 has felt monstrous on so many levels. So, it’s no coincidence that two of the top grossing movies of the year were Jaws and Jurassic Park, mostly seen at drive-in theaters. Alex Shepard explains why the shark in …

Fan Films Go Pro

November 26th, 2020

30:13

Fan films allow filmmakers to tell stories set in the worlds of their favorite licensed characters, and fan films have taken off in recent years, thanks to affordable special effects and online distribution. Is that …

Fantasy in Translation

November 12th, 2020

33:43

Since we can’t pick up universal translators on The Enterprise or through the TARDIS, we have to rely on human translators to bring fantasy stories …

Adulting with Cowboy Bebop

October 29th, 2020

34:58

The anime series Cowboy Bebop is currently being turned into a live-action series for Netflix, but Cowboy Bebop doesn’t need to be Americanized. The original series was already an homage to Western films and movies. …

Law & Order Superheroes

October 15th, 2020

32:02

You know the scene. A pair of muggers are in an alleyway when a superhero leaps down and beats them to a pulp. It’s a classic scenario, but in a year …

Fantasy and Fascism

October 1st, 2020

35:44

Fascism is a common theme in fantasy worlds, especially the rebels vs. evil empire scenario. But what can we learn from stories about encroaching fascism? I talk with journalists Lauren Davis, Damien G. Walter, …

Ahsoka Tano - A New Hope

September 17th, 2020

32:28

If you’re the type of Star Wars fan who knows the original trilogy by heart but hasn’t seen much else, Ahsoka Tano may be the most beloved Star Wars character you’ve never heard of. In the animated series Clone Wars, …

Mission to Zyxx

September 3rd, 2020

44:36

Mission to Zyxx is one of my favorite and highly bingeable podcasts. It’s a sci-fi audio drama (although very much a comedy) about a ragtag crew of space adventurers ranging from humans to aliens to robots. The actors …

Doug Jones: Shapeshifter

August 20th, 2020

31:47

You've probably seen Doug Jones many times without realizing it because he is best known as a creature performer. You may have been moved by his performance as Saru in Star Trek: Discovery, captivated by his portrayal …

Dumbledore's Army (Updated)

August 6th, 2020

43:31

In 2016, I put out an episode about how JK Rowling’s themes in the Harry Potter series inspired a generation of progressive activists including Jackson Bird, who was the spokesperson for the Harry Potter Alliance. …

Inverting Lovecraft

July 23rd, 2020

38:32

The works of H. P. Lovecraft have inspired a number of Black creators and other writers of color, from the new HBO series Lovecraft Country to the …

Once and Future Comic Con

July 9th, 2020

34:27

San Diego Comic Con is the high holiday of geekiness where fans converge to cosplay, buy collectables, show their appreciation to creators, and be …

Making Up Creatures

June 25th, 2020

32:40

If we ever make contact with aliens, they probably won’t look like humans with pointy ears or bumpy noses, but creature makeup design is more about communicating ideas. I talk with creature and makeup designers Steve …

Larping in Place

June 11th, 2020

33:03

Live theater has been shut down across the country, but live action role play (“larp” for short) is finding new ways to thrive in digital spaces. I …

Time Travel Therapy

May 28th, 2020

33:05

Time travel is one of my favorite genres, and it’s also my go-to daydream. But I’ve begun to wonder whether time travel fantasies are a …

The Curse of The Curse

May 14th, 2020

31:44

When things go wrong, it’s tempting to say something’s cursed as a joke. But when things go dreadfully wrong on horror movie sets, some fans have …

Toy Stories

April 30th, 2020

35:37

Many of us have imaginary friends when we’re young in the guise of a doll, stuffed animal or toy that give us a sense of comfort. Then we grow out of …

Solarpunk the Future

April 16th, 2020

31:19

Cyberpunk was cool. Steampunk was hip. Get ready for Solarpunk. This new emerging genre of art and fiction imagines a future where DIY environmental …

Fighting a Virtual Pandemic

April 2nd, 2020

30:02

In 2005, the multiplayer online game World of Warcraft was taken over by a virus called Corrupted Blood, and the virtual pandemic in this fantasy …

Retcon-apalooza

March 19th, 2020

33:09

We're craving an escape into our favorite fantasy worlds, but fans are complaining that all the "retconning" is ruining their suspension of …

Making The Good Places Better

March 5th, 2020

34:03

The Good Place just ended after four critically acclaimed seasons, and it was one of several recent TV shows to imagine the afterlife as being far from paradise. Pastor and podcaster JR Forasteros and author Greg …

Truth, Justice and The American Way

February 20th, 2020

33:08

Tracing the history of the superhero genre can reveal a lot about how we understand our own history, and how history gets whitewashed. Shawn Taylor,

2001: A Filmmaking Odyssey

February 6th, 2020

32:36

2001: A Space Odyssey is considered a masterpiece, and a game changer for sci-fi on film. But the movie had a tumultuous origin story, and it was …

Queen of Tarot

January 23rd, 2020

26:56

When it comes to tarot cards, there is an artistry to designing a world of emperors, fools, priestesses, hermits and other iconic figures. But few …

Fear of The Borg

January 9th, 2020

29:01

Patrick Stewart is reprising his role as Jean-Luc Picard in the new TV series “Picard,” where the writers have promised a very different storyline on …

In Defense of The Star Wars Holiday Special

December 25th, 2019

25:16

As far as Star Wars fans are concerned, there is no greater hive of scum and villainy than the 1978 made-for-TV Star Wars Holiday Special. The …

Can Villains Be Good?

December 12th, 2019

26:51

What does it take for a villain to be redeemed? That’s not a theoretical question when that villain is Kylo Ren who may or may not be redeemed in …

My So Called Evil Plan

November 27th, 2019

23:35

Villains are having a moment. They’re getting their own movies, they’re inspiring hashtags that say they’re right. And they don’t want to take over the world. They want to save it -- at a very high cost. I talk with …

Under a Red Moon

November 14th, 2019

34:45

Ronald D. Moore is probably best known for rebooting Battlestar Galactica as a gritty political commentary in the early 2000s. His latest show For …

From Outer Space

October 30th, 2019

36:18

Think of an alien abduction: humanoid creatures, medical experiments, lost memories brought back by hypnosis. But that narrative was largely unknown until Betty and Barney Hill went public about their alien abduction in …

Talking to the Dead

October 16th, 2019

30:48

Jason Suran wants you to know he can’t talk to the dead. Then he will convince you that he can. In Suran’s show, The Other Side, he recreates a …

Scoring Godzilla

October 2nd, 2019

27:56

We all know Godzilla’s iconic roar, but the musician who scored Godzilla's rampages is not as well known. The composer Akira Ifukube’s collaboration …

Ends of Evangelion

September 18th, 2019

35:12

One of the most popular anime series just became widely available when Netflix started streaming Neon Genesis Evangelion. Evangelion is also infamous …

Actors with Pencils

September 4th, 2019

30:12

Walt Disney pioneered the art of hand drawn animation, but it was really his top animators, “The Nine Old Men,” who were responsible for developing the art form. Andreas Deja, who animated Scar and Jafar, talks about …

The Booj

August 21st, 2019

26:00

Movie trailers have come a long way from the voice-of-God narrators in the ‘80s and ‘90s. So why do the big budget sci-fi fantasy trailers still all feel the same? This week, we're featuring a fun episode from the …

Superheroes in the Ring

August 7th, 2019

31:14

Mexican wrestling (aka Lucha Libre) has a lot in common with the superhero genre, but trying to be a superhero in real life has its own set of challenges. I talk with wrestlers (aka luchadors) about the joy of being …

Dirk Maggs

July 25th, 2019

31:46

I talked with legendary audio drama producer Dirk Maggs for an episode about the history of radio dramas last year-- but a lot of great material …

The Undertaker

July 11th, 2019

34:35

He's one of the most popular pro-wrestlers of all time, but Mark Calaway’s undead character The Undertaker is also an anachronism from a different …

Hero Props vs. Fake Props

June 26th, 2019

31:25

Imagine walking into your living room, and alongside your couch is a prop from one of your favorite childhood movies. Sure, it was costly but this is …

Nerdlesque

June 12th, 2019

27:46

Burlesque has merged with geek culture to form nerdlesque – where characters from familiar fantasy franchises strip down to pasties and g-strings. …

Sidekicks: Harley Quinn

May 29th, 2019

29:11

In the conclusion of our mini-series on sidekicks, we look at how Harley Quinn began as a sidekick to a villain, and found her way to the heart of …

Sidekicks: Tonto and Kato

May 15th, 2019

32:05

In part two of our mini series on sidekicks, we look at two characters that have travelled in parallel since they came out of the same radio station in the 1930s – Tonto and Kato. There wasn’t anything authentically …

Sidekicks: Watson

May 1st, 2019

30:49

To kick off our mini-series on sidekicks, we look at the most iconic and long-standing sidekick in pop culture: Doctor Watson. For 130 years, Watson …

Rod Serling's Key of Imagination

April 17th, 2019

35:35

Witness if you will a writer: Rod Serling. This is the story of a man with a vision -- a vision of what television could be if only men ceased to …

The Hero's Journey Endgame

April 3rd, 2019

33:49

Ever since George Lucas cited Joseph Campbell’s 1949 book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” as the inspiration for Star Wars, Hollywood screenwriters …

Slaughterhouse at Fifty

March 20th, 2019

31:48

50 years ago this month, Kurt Vonnegut introduced Billy Pilgrim and the aliens who gave him time traveling powers in his novel Slaughterhouse Five. Many critics were baffled as to why Vonnegut used sci-fi tropes to …

Tales of Margaret Brundage

March 7th, 2019

27:30

In the 1930s Margaret Brundage was the hottest pulp fiction magazine illustrator. She primarily painted covers for Weird Tales magazine, which …

The Man Behind the Sword

February 21st, 2019

30:38

Conan the Barbarian is generally thought of as a muscle-bound brute who fights his way through a made-up ancient world. But the character actually has a deep, rich history. I talk with experts Rusty Burke, David C. …

The Power of the Makeover Mage

February 7th, 2019

28:30

In some video games, you can choose which character you want to play, and you can customize the look of those characters. For many transgender …

Choose Your Own Adventure

January 24th, 2019

31:26

One of the unique aspects of video games is that you can control the characters. But game developers are often torn between wanting to give the …

Reimagining the Gods

January 10th, 2019

31:39

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

25:26

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

28:25

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

41:30

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

28:45

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

32:19

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

30:11

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

31:15

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 19th, 2018

30:07

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

25:41

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

34:24

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 …

Fanfiction (Special Edition)

August 9th, 2018

33:38

Last year, I interviewed Francesca Coppa for my episode Fanfiction (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 a …

Do You Speak Conlang?

July 26th, 2018

27:50

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

30:10

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

28:23

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

27:27

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

37:13

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

34:17

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

32:26

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

33:34

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

27:54

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

28:00

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

26:18

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

31:19

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

29:08

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

34:44

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

27:31

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

32:26

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

28:21

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

22:57

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

24:04

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 …

Fanfiction (Don't Judge)

November 2nd, 2017

29:45

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

The Haunted Mansion

October 19th, 2017

25:56

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

23:32

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

17:30

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 …

Technobabble

September 7th, 2017

26:40

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

23:26

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

27:35

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

27:59

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

27:58

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

27:59

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

23:21

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

26:35

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

24:16

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

22:09

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

24:54

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

22:31

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

26:31

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

34:35

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 22nd, 2017

21:51

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

28:21

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

24:09

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

19:44

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, …

Workin' on the Death Star

December 15th, 2016

24:07

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

27:37

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

24:27

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

19:28

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

20:32

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

23:43

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

18:07

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

20:10

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 literature of the mid-20th …

Behind The Felt

August 24th, 2016

23:25

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

24:44

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

18:52

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

22:16

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

Undertale

June 29th, 2016

21:39

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

19:00

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

23:00

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

19:49

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

22:41

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

19:05

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

18:06
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

20:52

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

24:34

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

25:22

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

18:24

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

23:50

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

15:26

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

26:50

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

17:57

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

19:09

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

21:42

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 …

1977

November 4th, 2015

24:27

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

6:12

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

13:18

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

21:05

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

32:09

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 D&D with their …

Heroines

July 29th, 2015

18:29
"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

16:18
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

18:44

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 …

Time Travelers of Renwick St.

June 3rd, 2015

15:54

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 …

The Greatest Cartoon Almost Made

June 3rd, 2015

27:55

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 …

Why Ron Moore Killed Captain Kirk

May 20th, 2015

15:32

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

14:24

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

16:49

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

18:48

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

18:12

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

25:11

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

18:27

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

20:26

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? For …

Sexy Robots

January 29th, 2015

16:51

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

25:07

"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

23:27

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

19:16

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

23:32

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

17:01

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

17:39

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

13:27

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

15:53

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

16:56

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

16:42

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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