Imaginary Worlds

By Eric Molinsky

Listen to a podcast, please open Podcast Republic app. Available on Google Play Store.

Category: Arts

Open in Apple Podcasts

Open RSS feed

Open Website

Rate for this podcast

Subscribers: 2387
Reviews: 16

 Aug 15, 2020
My favourite podacast, I get so excited to see that there's a new episode. I have recommended this to so many of my friends.

 Jul 11, 2020

 Feb 4, 2020

 Dec 22, 2019

 Dec 8, 2019


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 makes us suspend our disbelief, and what happens when that spell is broken. Fantasy worlds may be set in distant planets or parallel dimensions, but they are crafted here on Earth and on some level relate to our daily lives. Employing his years of experience in public radio, Eric brings a sophisticated, thoughtfully produced voice to the far-out and fantastical.

Episode Date
Law & Order Superheroes
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 when we’re reassessing the role of law enforcement in the real world, is it time to reimagine the role of vigilante super-cops in fantasy worlds? I talk with prosecutor Patrick O’Connor and police officer Henry Wong about how Batman or The Punisher could better reflect the times. Matthew Westfox, co-host of the podcast Superhero Ethics, discusses the moral quandaries of Daredevil. Peter Nowak, author of “The Rise of Real-Life Superheroes,” explains why costumed crime fighters are no longer just in fiction, and we hear from The Grim and Violet Valkyrie, who actually patrol the streets of San Diego as their superhero alter-egos. Today's episode is brought to you by EveryPlate, HelloFresh and BetterHelp. Want to advertise/sponsor our show? We have partnered with AdvertiseCast to handle our advertising/sponsorship requests. They’re great to work with and will help you advertise on our show. Please email or click the slink below to get started. Imaginary Worlds AdvertiseCast Listing Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Oct 15, 2020
Fantasy and Fascism
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, professor Jason Dittmer and podcaster Stefan Sasse – who teaches history in Germany – about Star Wars, Game of Thrones, superheroes and how fantasy itself can be a dangerous tool for authoritarians.   Stefan also hosts The Boiled Leather Audio Hour podcast. Today's episode is brought to you by BetterHelp. Want to advertise/sponsor our show? We have partnered with AdvertiseCast to handle our advertising/sponsorship requests. They’re great to work with and will help you advertise on our show. Please email or click the slink below to get started. Imaginary Worlds AdvertiseCast Listing Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Oct 01, 2020
Ahsoka Tano - A New Hope
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, she was Anakin Skywalker’s padawan who became a legendary Jedi in her own right. And she will (allegedly) make her live action debut on season 2 of The Mandalorian. I talk with entertainment journalists Lauren Davis and Amy Richau about how Ahsoka captured the imagination of Star Wars fans, and why she might be important to the future of the franchise. McKenna Fellows takes us into the world of Ahsoka cosplay, and designer Rachel Roth discusses why she created a couture dress based on Ahsoka’s costume.  See McKenna Fellows' cosplay of Ahsoka See Rachel Roth's couture Ahsoka dress at the Her Universe Fashion Show Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Sep 17, 2020
Mission to Zyxx
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 are all improvisers. Every story and every line of dialogue is made up on the spot, but when layered with stereo soundscapes and effects, it sounds like they are worldbuilding on the fly. The show has made me LOL many times with its sly references to established sci-fi franchises, and I’m happy to share it with you. Here is the Mission to Zyxx site for Episode 202: The New Norm [ft. Dru Johnston] with the cast list and other details. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Sep 03, 2020
Doug Jones: Shapeshifter
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 of The Amphibian Man in The Shape of Water or amazed by dual roles as The Faun and The Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth. He is the Lon Chaney or Boris Karloff of our time. We talk with Doug Jones about how he got started, his approach to embodying an incredible array of non-human characters, and how he and director Guillermo del Toro developed a shorthand style of communication over six films.    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Aug 20, 2020
Dumbledore's Army (Updated)
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. Jackson is also trans. Recently, JK Rowling has alienated many of her fans and supporters with her views on transgender rights. I catch up with Jackson Bird to discuss how he’s handling the cognitive dissonance of being inspired by the messages in the Harry Potter books while feeling profound disappointment in JK Rowling. Jackson Bird’s Op-Ed response to JK Rowling in The New York Times Responding to JK Rowlings Essay | Is It Anti-Trans? by Jamie Raines and Shaaba  Harry Potter Saved My Life. J.K. Rowling Is Now Endangering Trans People Like Me by Kacen Callender Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Aug 06, 2020
Inverting Lovecraft
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 novella The Ballad of Black Tom. What’s so surprising about Lovecraft’s newfound relevance is that he was exceptionally racist, and racism was folded into his stories. In the era of cancel culture, there are few people more apt to be cancelled than Lovecraft. So why are so many writers, filmmakers, and even game designers of color using Lovecraft’s mythology to illustrate the experience of being a marginalized person? I talk with novelist Victor LaValle, novelist Premee Mohamed, Michigan State University professor Kinitra Brooks, and UCR Irvine professor and illustrator John Jennings about how to separate a bigoted writer from his brilliant mythology. Also featuring readings by actor Varick Boyd. The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle: Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed Box of Bones by John Jennings and Ayize Jama Everett Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jul 23, 2020
Once and Future Comic Con
San Diego Comic Con is the high holiday of geekiness where fans converge to cosplay, buy collectables, show their appreciation to creators, and be the first to hear big announcements and see upcoming trailers. But the road from obscurity to cultural domination hasn’t always been smooth. In a year where the future of fan conventions is in doubt, we look back at the history of Comic Con and what it might look like in a COVID-19 world. Featuring filmmaker Eric Brammer, journalist Rob Salkowitz, and University of Oregon professor and author Erin Hanna. “Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture: What the World’s Wildest Trade Show Can Tell Us About the Future of Entertainment” by Rob Salkowitz “Only at Comic-Con: Hollywood, Fans, and the Limits of Exclusivity” by Erin Hanna Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jul 09, 2020
Making Up Creatures
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 Wang (Predator, Planet of the Apes, Underworld, Gremlins,) and Neill Gorton (Doctor Who, Torchwood, Being Human, Watchmen) about the process of turning a human actor into something convincingly non-human. Also, Rosemary Chalmers of Leeds Arts University explains why she wishes more creature designers would look more to the natural world for inspiration.   Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jun 25, 2020
Larping in Place
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 talk with Betsy Isaacson and Ryan Hart of Sinking Ship Creations about how the phone can be turned into a medium for audio drama. Carly Dwyer and Jasmine Kimieye Graham explain how anyone can feel empowered when working in I.T., especially when it’s a Magical Help Desk. Tiffany Keane discovers that Zoom is the perfect medium to tell stories about space travel, and game designer Jessica Creane discovers that her interactive show Chaos Theory can be tailor-made for the current moment. Sinking Ship Creations: Intramersive Media: Otherworld Theatre: Chaos Theory: Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jun 11, 2020
Time Travel Therapy
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 psychologically unhealthy way of avoiding problems in the present, or a helpful way of putting the present moment into sharper focus. I talk with authors Charles Yu, Vandana Singh, and editor Ann VanderMeer about the themes of loss and love in time travel narratives. And professors Antonio Cordoba and Concepcion Carmen Cascajosa Virino explain how the Spanish sci-fi show Ministry of Time (a.k.a. El Ministerio del Tiempo) became a therapeutic outlet for a nation still processing a long history of trauma and disappointments. Featuring readings by actor Woody Fu. The Time Traveler’s Almanac: A Time Travel Anthology How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
May 28, 2020
The Curse of The Curse
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 speculated that the films were literally cursed. Jay Cheel talks about his new documentary series “Cursed Films,” which explores why people believe the cast and crew of The Exorcist, The Omen, and other horror films were targeted by demonic forces. Special effects artist Craig Reardon and director Gary Sherman separate fact from fiction with the alleged Poltergeist curse. And I talk with professor Brandon Grafius, author of “Reading the Bible with Horror,” about why religion can prompt us to believe in curses.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
May 14, 2020
Toy Stories
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 those characters – or at least we’re supposed to. We asked our listeners to tell us about their favorite childhood toys that are still around and providing them with a sense of comfort and security during the global health crisis. Featuring Nancy Farnsworth, Steve Romenesko, Jen Cresswell, Jean Klare and the artist Jennifer Maher Coleman who paints portraits of childhood toys.   Jennifer’s site Your Toy Portrait: Jennifer and her husband’s band Architrave: Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Apr 30, 2020
Solarpunk the Future
Cyberpunk was cool. Steampunk was hip. Get ready for Solarpunk. This new emerging genre of art and fiction imagines a future where DIY environmental sustainability dictates the design of everything from skyscraper farms to homemade fashion. The writer Adam Flynn, magazine editors Scot and Jane Noel, writer Sarena Ulibarri, and game designer Keisha Howard discuss how we can create the future we want by inspiring people with science fiction, and why being anti-dystopia doesn’t mean they believe in utopias. Featuring readings by Vanessa Bellow. DreamForge magazine: Glass and Gardens Summers and Winters: Notes Towards a Solarpunk Manifesto: Sugar Gamers: Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Apr 16, 2020
Fighting a Virtual Pandemic
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 world played out remarkably like COVID-19. I talk with epidemiologist and gamer Eric Lofgren, NYU game design instructor Alexander King and longtime player Virginia Wilkerson about the parallels between the pandemic in World of Warcraft the one we’re facing in the real world, and what lessons we can learn by studying how players reacted to a virtual virus. Also if you want to submit a story for our upcoming toys episode, email us at Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Apr 02, 2020
We're craving an escape into our favorite fantasy worlds, but fans are complaining that all the "retconning" is ruining their suspension of disbelief. Why is retroactive continuity so controversial? Olivia Dolphin and Hayley Milliman discuss how JK Rowling’s decrees have unraveled The Potterverse. Nick Randall and Mac Rogers grapple with recent revelations in Doctor Who. Laurie Ulster defends Star Trek’s familial reshuffling, I try to make sense of the Star Wars canon, and author Andrew J. Friedenthal explains why rewriting the history of fantasy worlds is similar to revising history in real life. Here’s a link to Andrew’s book on retconning: Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Mar 19, 2020
Making The Good Places Better
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 Garrett explore why pop culture heavens are being depicted as bureaucracies where the angels are overwhelmed or lost sight of their mission. And Todd May describes what it was like being a philosophy consultant on The Good Place. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Mar 05, 2020
Truth, Justice and The American Way
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, John Jennings and Art Burton look at how black superheroes evolved from a black Wild West lawman to HBO's Watchmen. And I talk with John Valadez about Mexican American masked vigilantes who may have inspired Zorro, and other masked heroes. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Feb 20, 2020
2001: A Filmmaking Odyssey
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 initially scorned by critics. Barbara Miller of The Museum of The Moving Image walks me through their new exhibit on the making of 2001. And I talk with author Michael Benson, actor Keir Dullea and Stanley Kubrick’s daughter Katharina about how Kubrick and his collaborator Arthur C. Clarke reached for the stars, but felt lost in space as they struggled to finish this incredibly ambitious project. Here’s the link to Michael Benson’s book: Here’s a link the Museum of the Moving Image’s 2001 exhibit: Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Feb 06, 2020
Queen of Tarot
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 people know about Pamela Colman Smith, the woman who illustrated the best selling deck of all time. Professor Elizabeth Foley O’Connor and author Susan Wands explain why Pamela Colman Smith was uniquely suited to design tarot cards that stimulate our intuition and our imagination – and how figures on the Rider-Waite (a.k.a. Smith-Waite) deck are based on a real troupe of famous actors, including Bram Stoker.  Here's the link to Susan Wands' novel about Pamela Colman Smith:
Jan 23, 2020
Fear of The Borg
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 his arch nemesis The Borg. In our final installment on villains, we discuss why The Borg are a unique existential threat to the Star Trek ethos with the help of three academics who combine science fiction with philosophy in their courses. Featuring Kevin Decker and Christina Valeo of Eastern Washington University and Shawn Taylor of San Francisco State University. 
Jan 09, 2020
In Defense of The Star Wars Holiday Special

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 musical variety program, which centered on Chewbacca’s family, is considered a hokey, misguided embarrassment. But entertainment writer Bonnie Burton and comedian Alex Schmidt think there’s something to love about The Holiday Special -- and it may be in canon after all. Plus, listen for a special announcement about the future of the Imaginary Worlds back catalog.  

Dec 25, 2019
Can Villains Be Good?

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 Star Wars Episode IX. I talk with Charles Pulliam-Moore, JR Forasteros, Scott Tipton and Andrea Letamendi about some of the most and least convincing villain turnarounds, and whether we can have empathy for the devil. Part 2 of 2. 

Spoiler alert for Avengers, Thor, Power Rangers, Buffy, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica. 

Dec 12, 2019
My So Called Evil Plan

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 writers and podcasters Charles Pulliam-Moore, JR Forasteros and Bruce Leslie about woke villains, and what their popularity says about our frustrations in the real world. Part 1 of 2. 

Nov 27, 2019
Under a Red Moon

Ronald D. Moore is probably best known for rebooting the TV show Battlestar Galactica as a gritty political commentary in the early 2000s. His latest show For All Mankind on AppleTV Plus imagines what if the Soviet Union had beaten the U.S. in the space race and planted the hammer and sickle flag on the moon. But Moore spins that nightmare scenario into a positive alternative history where a newly invigorated space race not only gives NASA the budget it wanted in the 1970s, but forces the agency to be far more inclusive than it actually was in real history. 

Nov 14, 2019
From Outer Space

Think of an alien abduction. You know the story: humanoid creatures descend on people in a rural area, bring them on board their spacecraft for medical experiments, and the victims’ memories are wiped out until they’re brought back by hypnosis. But that narrative was largely unknown until Betty and Barney Hill went public about their alien abduction in the 1960s. Betty Hill’s niece, author Kathleen Marden, tells the story of how fame was just as traumatic to her aunt and uncle as the alien encounter. And professors Susan Lepselter, Chris Bader, Joseph O. Baker and Stephanie Kelley-Romano explain how the story of the Hills changed UFO subculture and science fiction. 

Oct 30, 2019
Talking to the Dead

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 theatrical type of séance that departed American culture almost a century ago. And he believes that experiencing the way people who are now dead tried to contact those already dead can reveal a lot about our deepest desires and fears. Plus David Jaher, author of The Witch of Lime Street, discusses how séances became all the rage in spiritualism and show business, until Harry Houdini made it his life’s mission to debunk them.

Oct 16, 2019
Scoring Godzilla

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 with the director Ishiro Honda is fascinating because the two men had different ideas of what Godzilla represented. Honda filmed Godzilla as a monster, but Ifukube saw Godzilla as an anti-hero. Erik Homenick, John DeSentis, and Reiko Yamada explain how this artistic conversation between the music and the visuals added layers of depth that helped turn a monster into an icon. 

Oct 02, 2019
Ends of Evangelion

One of the most popular anime series just became widely available when Netflix started streaming Neon Genesis Evangelion. The show ran only one year in Japan but more than 20 years later, it’s still creating ripple effects across global pop culture. Evangelion is also infamous for having several different endings -- and a fandom that has a contentious relationship with the series creator Hideaki Anno. Former Crunchyroll editor Nate Ming, Anime Feminist editor Vrai Kaiser, Aaron Clark of Eva Monkey, Washington Post reporter Gene Park, and TV writer Heather Anne Campbell discuss how Evangelion tackled important issues like anxiety, depression, masculinity and sexuality while finding time for kids to get inside giant robots and fight giant aliens.  

Sep 18, 2019
Actors with Pencils

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. As they used to say, an animator is really an actor with a pencil, and The Nine Old Men were like a theatrical company hiding in plain sight behind some of the iconic characters of all time. Andreas Deja, who animated Scar and Jafar, talks about being trained by The Nine Old Men and the pressure of living up to their legacy. John Canemaker explains why hand drawn feature animation is a lost art in Hollywood, and Jerry Beck sees a renaissance of 2D animation lurking beyond the “live action” Disney remakes. 

Sep 04, 2019
The Booj
Aug 21, 2019
Superheroes in the Ring
Aug 07, 2019
Dirk Maggs
Jul 25, 2019
The Undertaker
Jul 11, 2019
Hero Props vs. Fake Props
Jun 26, 2019
Jun 12, 2019
Sidekicks: Harley Quinn
May 29, 2019
Sidekicks: Tonto and Kato
May 15, 2019
Sidekicks: Watson
May 01, 2019
Rod Serling's Key of Imagination
Apr 17, 2019
The Hero's Journey Endgame
Apr 03, 2019
Slaughterhouse at Fifty
Mar 20, 2019
Tales of Margaret Brundage
Mar 07, 2019
The Man Behind the Sword
Feb 21, 2019
The Power of the Makeover Mage
Feb 07, 2019
Choose Your Own Adventure
Jan 24, 2019
Reimagining the Gods
Jan 10, 2019
A Visit by Three Ghosts
Dec 24, 2018
Board Games Go Indie
Dec 13, 2018
How I Won the Larp
Nov 29, 2018
Alternate Movie Posters
Nov 15, 2018
Faith in Fantasy
Nov 01, 2018
Don't Mess with the Fairies
Forget Tinkerbell or those Victorian paintings of spritely pixies with wings. Traditional fairy folklore is much darker and weirder. Irish storytellers Philip Byrne, Helena Byrne, Eddie Lenihan, and professor Martha Bayless explore how fairy folklore dominated Celtic culture for centuries, and why belief in fairies is not an unreasonable way of understanding the world.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Oct 18, 2018
Movies for the Mind
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, creator of The Sarah Awards for audio fiction. I also talk with Jonathan Mitchell of The Truth about the quest for realism and the pitfalls of fake interviews. Plus we hear the third audio drama that I wrote with The Truth, called "Nuclear Winter," about a pair of missile launch officers working in a silo that may be haunted. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Oct 04, 2018
Theater for the Mind
Sep 19, 2018
Fantastical Feasts
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 culture, food will be an expression of those values. Chef Chelsea Monroe-Cassell talks about the origin of her fantasy cookbooks while chef Jenn de la Vega makes us a dish based on the novel "The Lies of Locke Lamora." Authors Elizabeth Bear and Fran Wilde break down the tropes and cliches around SF foods. Chef and author Jason Sheehan talks about his favorite dystopian food. And writer Scott Lynch reveals the fantasy beverage he's always wanted to try.Here's the episode show page with Jenn's Pears and Sausages recipe: more about your ad choices. Visit
Sep 05, 2018
D&D Revisited
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 "Rolling the Twenty Sided Dice," where I learned how to play Dungeons & Dragons. This week, I discuss the epic and surprisingly personal journey I've been on over the past three years with my co-player Adam Boretz and our Dungeon Master Arlin Foley. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Aug 23, 2018
Fan Fiction (Special Edition)
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 a great source of information that I always regretted the fascinating parts of our interview which ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. So this week, I'm featuring a full version of our conversation -- ranging from the ancient roots of fan fiction (or fanfiction, as it's also spelled) to the reasons why a TV showrunner might anonymously publish fanfic of their own show.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Aug 09, 2018
Do You Speak Conlang?
Sci-fi fantasy worlds often use constructed languages (or conlangs for short) as a worldbuilding tool that can make us believe the characters come from an ancient or alien culture. But art can take on a life of its own once it's released into the world -- and so do languages. Marc Okrand, inventor of the Klingon language, and David J. Peterson, inventor of the Dothraki language and The 100's Trigedasleng, talk about the surprises they encountered. I also talk with Lawrence M. Schoen of the Klingon Language Institute and Robyn Stewart, the language consultant for Star Trek: Discovery, about why the Klingon culture spilled over into the real world. And Jen Usellis -- a.k.a. Klingon Pop Warrior -- will give you a serious case of earworms, and we're not talking about the mind-controlling earworms from Star Trek II. To hear Matt Fiddler's episode from Very Bad Words on cursing in conlangs: Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jul 26, 2018
Imaginary Deaths
Jul 12, 2018
Fahrenheit 451 Still Burns
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, or in history. I also talk with novelist Alice Hoffman and various Ray Bradbury scholars about why a book written in the McCarthy era still has a lot to say in the age of "fake news." And we hear from students at a high school in Texas about how Fahrenheit 451 reflects their own struggles fighting hate speech while honoring freedom of speech. A version of this episode originally aired on PRI's Studio 360 as part of their American Icons series.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jun 27, 2018
Gathering the Magic
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 deep mythology about an infinite number of parallel worlds. As Magic celebrates its 25th anniversary, I look at why this handheld card game has survived the onslaught of competition from digital games, and how the designers at Wizards of the Coast create a sense of character and worldbuilding within a non-sequential card game. Featuring Mark Rosewater, Brady Dommermuth, Alii Medwin, James Wyatt, Liz Leo and Nataniel Bael. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jun 14, 2018
The First Three Lives of Catherine Webb
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 Swift. You may have read her Horatio Lyle detective novels, which she published under her real name, Catherine Webb. But even if you haven't read any of her novels, you're in for a treat. I talk with Catherine Webb about being a wunderkind author who got published in high school, and why she might be on the verge of coming up with yet another pseudonym. Featuring readings by actress Robyn Kerr.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
May 31, 2018
The Westworld Experience
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 -- just like the androids on the TV show. The SXSW Westworld Experience was advertised as "Live Without Limits." Unfortunately, some of the guests took that slogan to heart. Featuring actors Alan Nelson, Liz Waters and Courtney Rose Kline. Also professors Noson Yanofsky, James South and Kim Engels discuss why an ancient Greek philosophical debate ties back to Westworld, the New York Yankees and whether you chose to buy a Cinnamon Danish. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
May 17, 2018
Jack Kirby's Marvels
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 was also a great storyteller who worked with Stan Lee to redefine what a comic book character could be. But their relationship was fraught. I talk with comic book experts Charles Hatfield, Mark Evanier, Randolph Hoppe, and Arlen Schumer about where we can see Jack Kirby's influence on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And I explore Kirby's childhood at the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
May 03, 2018
Living in Space
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 Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos achieve their goals with Space X and Blue Origin, life in space might not be science fiction anymore. I look at two different dreams of living outside the Earth and how close they are to becoming reality, from the impossibly curved space habitats of Gerard K. O'Neill to a city on the moon that might split apart. Featuring Robert Smith of the Space Studies Institute, artist Don Davis, and performers Jose Gonzales and Camille Hartmetz at Emerge, an annual event from Arizona State University's Center for Science and the Imagination.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Apr 19, 2018
Visions of Philip K. Dick
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 Castle. He wrote about multiple realities and fantastic worlds beyond the scope of our mundane everyday lives. But he also believed that he experienced one of those alternate realities in the winter of 1974.  The problem is, he couldn't figure out which paranormal experience he had. Professor Richard Doyle, author Erik Davis and playwright Victoria Stewart discuss how one of the most influential science fiction authors of all time became a character in one of his own novels.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Apr 05, 2018
Stuck in the Uncanny Valley
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 problem is that the closer they get to realism, the more those almost-real humans repulse us. Blame evolution for that. I talk with Hal Hickel from ILM who brought Peter Cushing to life on Rogue One, Marianne Hayden who worked on games like The Last of Us and Uncharted for Naughty Dog studios, Vladimir Mastilovic from 3Lateral studios who worked on Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, and SVA instructor Terrence Masson about what it takes to cross that valley.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Mar 22, 2018
Remembering Ursula K. Le Guin
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 inhabitants had no fixed gender? Or what if a man's dreams could alter reality around him? She was also a fearless critic, and a trailblazer. But she wasn't all that comfortable being on camera. That was the first of many challenges facing filmmaker Arwen Curry, who was determined to make a documentary about the author. I talked with Arwen about her film, Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, and how her subject became a mentor and a friend. (Correction from Arwen Curry: Ursula Le Guin had 3 brothers not 4, and the film will likely be on TV next Spring rather than the Fall.)Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Mar 08, 2018
Behind the Daleks
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 baffled by one particular villain -- The Daleks. I didn't understand why they were The Doctor's arch nemesis, or why they were such a cultural phenomenon. After I learned more about their backstory, I began to realize that Doctor Who wouldn't work without them. Featuring Robin Bunce, Frank Collins, Nick Randell, Alyssa Franke, and cognitive scientists Deirdre Kelly and Jim Davies -- who debate whether it's worse to face a Dalek invasion or an invasion by the other big bad in the Doctor Who universe, The Cybermen. (This is the last episode in a three-part miniseries on Doctor Who.)Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Feb 22, 2018
Traveling in The TARDIS
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 happened to all his previous companions? For many Doctor Who fans the answer to both questions is unequivocally yes. Traveling in the TARDIS will blow open your knowledge of the universe -- but you'll change in ways you can't begin to predict. In the second of my three-part series on Doctor Who, I look at whether The Doctor's companions are better off in the end, and why. Featuring Sarita Robinson, Emily Asher-Perrin, Alyssa Franke, Frank Collins, Nick Randell and Mac Rogers. Warning: spoilers ahead!Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Feb 08, 2018
Doctor Who?
Jan 25, 2018
Brain Chemistry
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 with them, a cryogenically-frozen man is revived over a century from now to find himself in a world that's not quite what he expected. How do you forge ahead in a future that considers you a relic? Featuring Scott Adsit (30 Rock), Amy Warren (Boardwalk Empire), Billy Griffin Jr. (Black Mirror) and Ed Herbstman (The Big Sick). Produced and directed by Jonathan Mitchell. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jan 11, 2018
The Canon Revisited
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 argued that the film violated canon in a number of ways, especially how it depicted Luke Skywalker. This week, I revisit my 2014 episode "The Canon," and I have a follow-up conversation with Rabbi Ben Newman about the state of the Star Wars canon. Until now, Ben and I had been on the same page about the new films, but like many fans, we found ourselves at odds when evaluating The Last Jedi. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Dec 28, 2017
Politics of The Expanse
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 system, with settlements on Mars, the asteroid belt and the moons beyond. But Earth looses control of its vast empire, and the colonies break into warring factions. The books are international best-sellers and the TV adaptation on the Syfy network has been critically acclaimed. Ty Franck, Daniel Abraham and one of the show's producers Mark Fergus discuss how The Expanse was developed, and why its underlying message feels more urgent than ever. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Dec 14, 2017
Robot Collar Jobs
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 debut novel Autonomous, Annalee Newitz imagines humans taking designer drugs to try and compete with A.I. for jobs. Lee Konstantinou writes about the last worker at a pit stop for self-driving trucks. And the authors of The Expanse depict a future where under-employed Earthers leave for a rugged life in space. Also featuring Arizona State University professor Ed Finn, and Erik Bergmann lending his voice for dramatic readings.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Nov 30, 2017
On The Front Lines of Fantasy
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 situations without needing superheroes to save the day. Many military SF authors have served in the armed forces and bring a sense of verisimilitude to depicting their experiences, even if the stories are about futuristic high-tech or alien invasions. I talk with authors Myke Cole, Linda Nagata and Taylor Anderson about whether military SF has a mission beyond entertainment. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Nov 16, 2017
Fan Fiction (Don't Judge)
Nov 02, 2017
The Haunted Mansion
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 could never decide if the ride should be funny or scary, so he assigned "Imagineers" to develop both aspects. But the team fell into competing groups that argued for over a decade. Author Jeff Baham of the site Doom Buggies and David Mumpower of the site Theme Park Tourist explain how this tortured creative process lead to a masterpiece in theme park design. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Oct 19, 2017
Rappers with Arm Cannons
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 of creating an imaginary world in music from someone else's source material, and why they identify with the struggles of 8-bit characters that fight their way through the world with arm cannons.Also, please fill out Panoply's annual survey -- it helps the company know how to better serve our listeners. Thanks! Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Oct 05, 2017
Worldbuilding With Music
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 artists, writers and filmmakers. While the group is influenced by concept albums of the past like The Who's Tommy or Plastic Beach by Gorillaz -- their true inspiration comes from sci-fi fantasy worlds, especially tabletop role-playing games. I visited Trevor Walker, Mark Ayesh and Mike Forsyth at their underground studio in Queens to find out how their debut album "Phase 3" came together. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Sep 21, 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 sell a sci-fi concept. We'll hear from physicist Katie Mack -- who hates technobabble -- and Jennifer Ouellette who plays matchmaker between scientists and Hollywood directors that want to sell their mumbo jumbo with real science. And "Timescape" author Gregory Benford tells the story of tachyons, and how an obscure theoretical particle became a technobabble meme. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Sep 07, 2017
Future Screens Are Mostly Blue
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 panels in science fiction -- the clunky, the elegant, and the just plain baffling. But those user interfaces have one thing in common: they're mostly blue. Chris Noessel and Nathan Shedroff also discuss the real-world lessons that designers should take from science fiction, and they come up with an intriguing theory as to why some of the most risible sci-fi user interfaces may not be so absurd. more about your ad choices. Visit
Aug 24, 2017
Scott Snyder
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 of the Dark Knight. It was a difficult interview to pare down, and a lot of good material ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. So this week, I'm playing a fuller version of that conversation, which has always been one of my favorites. I was interested in Scott's approach to Batman because it's so personal to him -- not just as a longtime fan that finally got his dream job but in the way he infuses Bruce Wayne with his own hopes and fears. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Aug 10, 2017
Evil Plans
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 meta-joke to the point where even the villains themselves can't help but comment on all the tropes. Yet we keep watching movies and TV shows to see more evil plans hatched.. Honest Trailers head writer Spencer Gilbert and writer Abraham Riesman talk about why super villains shouldn't try so hard to be evil geniuses, and how the best evil plans make us wonder if we'd do the same thing in the villain's situation.   Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jul 27, 2017
The Book of Dune
Jul 12, 2017
World War EVE
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 space ships, form alliances and go to war. The Icelandic company CCP that created the game even attracted players with the motto: "Build Your Dreams. Wreck Theirs." And the war stories of EVE players are remarkable, like the Bloodbath of B-R5RB, where over $350,000 worth of digital spaceships were destroyed in a single day. So why do half a million people invest so much time and money into EVE, to the point where they're living a double life in a virtual galaxy?Also highly recommended reading -- Andrew Groen's book "Empires of Eve" -- which was about how the early wars in EVE were just as much a battle over what kind of game it's supposed to be. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jun 29, 2017
Imagining the Internet
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 envision something like the Internet and social media -- and we might be able to learn something about our time from the people who tried to imagine it. Cory Doctorow, Ada Palmer, Jo Walton and Arizona State University professor Ed Finn look at the cyberpunks and their predecessors, and artist Paul St. George talks about why he's fascinated by a Skype-like machine from the Victorian era. Featuring readings by Erik Bergmann.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jun 15, 2017
Do The Voice
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 podcast The Truth asked me to write something for them. I worked with the group for months on a story about an animation voice actress whose cartoon alter ego has a mind of his own. We'll hear the final piece, and a conversation with The Truth's founder, Jonathan Mitchell. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jun 01, 2017
The Real Twin Peaks
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 where Twin Peaks was filmed. Kyle Twede, who owns Twede's Cafe which was a major location on the show, has to walk the line between being a real place and an imaginary one that caters to tourists. Dana Hubanks thinks David Lynch did capture something authentically dark about her hometown. And Cristie Coffing says whether the show captured the area is less important than the fact that it brought in a steady influx of tourists. But none of them were as disturbed by the show as Harry "Buzz" Teter. Not only did his hometown of Twin Peaks, CA resemble its TV counterpart -- but his late girlfriend shared many similarities with Laura Palmer, including her tragic fate.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
May 17, 2017
Designing Bojack's World
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 on Netflix. To Lisa's surprise, she eventually found herself in Los Angeles, overseeing a crew of dozens of artists as they tried to build a consistent world around her drawings of animal people -- which in some ways weren't that different from the stuff she used to draw as a kid. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
May 03, 2017
Healing Through Horror
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 the youth. The effort backfired and made contraband films like The Evil Dead into hot commodities for impressionable youth like Steven. He grew up to become a horror filmmaker, but he never imagined the genre would help him deal with personal loss. Across the pond, Aaron Orbey wrote in The New Yorker about having a similar experience. Except in Aaron's case, he needed horror to remember a tragedy he was too young to fully experience. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Apr 20, 2017
New York 2140
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 collapsing into the canals. People think you're crazy to live in this Super Venice, but you wouldn't want to be anywhere else. That's the world Kim Stanley Robinson imagines in his latest novel New York 2140. It's a hopeful vision of a future where people are doing their best to live normal lives while climate change radically alters everything around them. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Apr 06, 2017
Beyond the Iron Curtain
Mar 23, 2017
The Spirit of Will Eisner
Imaginary Worlds goes live in this special presentation from the work x work on air festival. In celebration of Will Eisner's centennial, authors Paul Levitz and Bob Andelman, along with comics publisher Denis Kitchen and MAD Magazine's Al Jaffee discuss at how Eisner redefined comics as an art form, and became the "father of the graphic novel." Then comics historian and author Danny Fingeroth, editor Joan Hilty, and artist Dean Haspiel explore Eisner's legacy today in a live panel discussion. more about your ad choices. Visit
Mar 09, 2017
28 Days of Black Cosplay
Feb 22, 2017
Growing Up Avatar-American
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 for him and his friends -- even though there is no America in either series. With Mamatha Challa, Emily Tetri, Viet Hung, Elaine Wang, and Nhu Nyugen.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Feb 08, 2017
Winning the Larp
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 magical, or they can be hyper-realistic dramas that grapple with topical issues. And Larps are getting more popular -- maybe even on the verge of becoming mainstream. Game masters and Larpwrights Lizzie Stark, Evan Torner, Caroline Murphy and Eirik Fatland explain why playing pretend is the right cathartic outlet for our times; and why Larps may be redefining what we consider fiction or art.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jan 26, 2017
Atari vs The Imagination Gap
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, with illustrations that barely resembled the blips on screen. But the book also tells the story of how Atari invented the video game console as we know it, pioneered the lifestyle of the Silicon Valley start-up and kickstarted a billion dollar industry before Atari gobbled too much, ran smack into its own ghosts and flattened into a yellow pancake. With Atari veterans Steve Hendricks and Barney Huang.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jan 12, 2017
Slave Leia 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 Leia wore in Return of the Jedi had become the dominant image of her from action figures to Cosplay. But the context of that costume -- being a sex slave for a giant slug monster -- sparked a debate as to whether the Slave Leia meme is highly offensive, harmless cheesecake or a feminist icon. Featuring Donna Dickens, Annalee Newitz, Alyssa Rosenberg and Adam Buxton.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Dec 29, 2016
Workin' on the Death Star
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 characters notes that the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi was still under construction when it got blown up. So there must have been independent contractors still trying to finish the job. Is it fair that they got killed along with the Imperial Army and the Stormtroopers? Judge Matthew Sciarrino, Josh Gilliland of the podcast Legal Geeks and economist Zachary Feinstein of Washington University in St. Louis discuss the value "good guys" should place on the lives of "bad guys."  ** This is part VI is a series that will probably go on forever about the influence of Star Wars **Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Dec 15, 2016
The Man In the High Castle
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 Powers won World War II. In this scenario, Nazi Germany imposes their ideology on the East Coast and the Midwest, while Japan rules the West Coast through cultural imperialism. The storytelling from director and executive producer Dan Percival is top notch, but the production design from Drew Boughton also takes center stage -- all posing the same disturbing question. How much would we resist fascism? Season 2 begins on December 16th. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Dec 01, 2016
Dumbledore's Army
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 reading Harry Potter can make people more tolerant of diversity, and more resistant to unreasonable authority. Andrew Slack, creator of the Harry Potter Alliance, explains how JK Rowling inspired him to want to change the world. And the HPA's Jackson Bird explains how being a political activist changed him in ways he never expected.   ** This is part 6 in a 6-part series on magic and fantasy.**Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Nov 17, 2016
Caps Lock Harry
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 chocked up Harry's quick temper, anxiety and defensiveness to typical teen angst. But what if Harry Potter was suffering from PTSD? The writers July Westhale and Sarah Gailey explain how JK Rowling captured the nature of trauma, and why re-reading Harry Potter helped them heal. Also, Casper ter Kuile and Vanessa Zoltan of the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text discuss the burden of being the boy who lived. ** This is part 5 of a 6-part series on magic and fantasy. **Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Nov 03, 2016
The Sorting Hat
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 characteristic is. You are brave, or loyal, or ambitious, or intellectual. Plus, your whole school is sorted into personality types. If that were real life, parents and educators would be horrified -- but it's a fantasy that Harry Potter fans have thought about for years. James Madison University professor Elisabeth Gumnior, and Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile of the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text weigh in on the enduring appeal of the Sorting Hat at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Also featuring Kate Essig and Martin Cahill.** This is part four in a six-part series on magic and fantasy. **Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Oct 19, 2016
Magical Thinking
Hocus Pocus. Abracadabra. Those words imply that magic is silly because it can solve problems far too easily. Fantasy novelists strive to avoid those types of situations when they design magic systems from scratch. Patrick Rothfuss (author of The Kingkiller Chronicle) explains how most magic systems can be divided into two camps: poetic magic and scientific magic. Tor critic Martin Cahill appreciates Rothfuss's work because he weaves both types of magic into his stories. And psychology professor Carol Nemeroff reveals why our brains are hardwired to believe in magical thinking. **This is part 3 in a 6 part series on magic and fantasy.**Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Oct 06, 2016
Fantasy Maps
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 mapping out Middle-earth on graph paper -- and giving everything a name -- because he was inventing a world from scratch. Many of his maps weren't even published until after he died, but today's fantasy cartographers owe a great debt to his work. They also have a post-modern understanding that to create a believable fantasy map, they have to sow doubt in the minds of readers as to whether we should trust the mapmakers. With Isaac Stewart, Priscilla Spencer, Ethan Gilsdorf and Stefan Ekman.** This is part 2 in a 6 part series on magic and fantasy.**Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Sep 22, 2016
The Hobbits and The Hippies
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 literature of the mid-20th century, which was modernist or tackled the great issues of the day. And wasn't The Hobbit a children's book? The critics wondered, is this sequel supposed to be serious literature for adults? But there was a group of people who took Middle-earth very seriously and pushed this cult classic into the mainstream -- they just weren't the people Tolkien had expected. Wheaton College professor Michael Drout, Gary Lachman ("Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of Aquarius") and Ethan Gilsdorf ("Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks") explain how and why Tolkien became a folk hero to the counter-culture -- whether he liked it or not. ***This is the first in a six-part series on Magic and Fantasy***Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Sep 07, 2016
Behind The Felt
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 Broadway musical Avenue Q. I interviewed Stephanie for an episode that compared puppets to computer generated characters, but she had so many interesting things to say about the craft of puppeteering which didn't fit into that early episode. In other words, she can tell you how to get to Sesame Street.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Aug 24, 2016
Finding My Voice
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 reporter -- and started to realize that I might want to have my own show where I could geek out freely. Along for ride is my former editor at Studio 360 and mentor: David Krasnow. We talk about what goes into making an audio feature, why I needed more "sign posting," and how hard it is to not sound like Ira Glass.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Aug 10, 2016
The Legacy of Octavia Butler
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, I've become obsessed with her writing -- which can be so powerfully disturbing it keeps me up at night, while at the same time, I can't get enough of it. Nisi Shawl, Ayana Jamieson and Cauleen Smith explain how Butler came to tell stories about power imbalances between humans and other worldly beings, and what her work means to them. ***This is the end of Season 2.***Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jul 27, 2016
Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell was groundbreaking, visually and thematically. The 1995 Japanese animated film (or anime) was unapologetically for adults. The story focuses on a cyborg cop whose body is synthetic but her brain is organic. As she chases down a mysterious hacker, Major Motoko Kusanagi grapples with what it means to be alive. When Scarlett Johansson was cast as The Major in the live-action remake, there was an outcry over whitewashing. But the reaction in Japan has been different. Roland Kelts (author of "Japanamerica"), journalist Emily Yoshida and Tufts University professor Susan Napier discuss the racial politics of anime. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jul 14, 2016
Digital technology has come so far that independent video game designers can create and distribute their work online, and make their games about whatever they want. Some indie games have become mainstream hits, but Toby Fox's Undertale is a phenomenon. Fans have even hailed it as the "best game ever." Julian Feeld of Existential Gamer and Nathan Grayson of Kotaku explain how Undertale deconstructs and questions the fundamentals of video games -- while at the same time being really fun to play, with unforgettable characters. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jun 29, 2016
The Year Without a Summer
Jun 15, 2016
Then She Fell
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 love immersive theater. I've experienced a film noir-themed Macbeth and a fictitious elementary school reunion set in a real East Village apartment, but my favorite immersive show is Then She Fell. It's a retelling of Alice in Wonderland set in a turn-of-the-century insane asylum. Tom Pearson and Marissa Nielsen-Pincus of Third Rail Projects explain how the show reflects Lewis Carroll's own duality and the mystery behind his relationship with the real life Alice. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jun 02, 2016
The Robot Uprising
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 day, they will ask for their freedom, or take it by force. Howard University Professor Gregory Hampton says that narrative has more do with our anxieties over slavery, and how we work through those issues in fantasy films. In fact, computer scientist Joanna Bryson has argued that we should embrace the idea of robots as slaves, since she believes they will never be self-aware. But Popular Mechanics writer Erik Sofge worries any master/servant relationship will change us for the worse, even if we’re bossing around robot cars. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
May 19, 2016
Humans: New & Improved
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 believe that humans should take control of their own evolution.  He found inspiration in the real-life movement of Transhumanists, who advocate using tech to improve our bodies, and live well beyond our natural life span. Transhumanist Natasha Vita-More says their vision of a posthuman future is not science fiction, even if it's inspired by it. But Graeme Manson and journalists like Elmo Keep still ask tough questions -- like whether only the rich could afford to stop aging, and what that would do to your ego. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
May 05, 2016
Economics of Thrones and Starships
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, especially when its comes to the issue of scarcity vs. abundance. Sarah Skwire looks at what happens when strawberries are precious like gold, or when hot Earl Gray tea can materialize instantly. And Matthew McCaffrey explains why we should all worry that "Winter is Coming." Special thanks to Matthew Hollow. Featuring original music by Alexis Cuadrado. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Apr 21, 2016
Becoming Godzilla
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 kids and talk about his enduring appeal. But Jim went a step further and built a full body Godzilla suit. He and his brother Ron tell the story of how becoming Godzilla turned out to be much trickier than they anticipated. The final hurtle wasn't Mothra or Rodan -- it was a costume contest where fate seemed to conspire against them. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Apr 07, 2016
When Cthulhu Calls
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 for a long time. The writer H.P. Lovecraft described Cthulhu as a gargantuan, aquatic being with tentacles on its mouth, and bat-like wings  And yet, there is so much cute merchandise on the Internet which turns that green grotesque creature into an ironic meme. Perhaps these merchants are true believers, trying to manage their terror of the Cthulhu because they know it's real -- and it's rising. With Sheldon Solomon, Dan Truman, Bill Lobley and Ann Scobie. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Mar 24, 2016
Why They Fight
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 fight each other instead of the bad guys. The brawl between these characters isn't just about ego -- it taps into a larger conflict about personal ethics and the law. In other words, it's a battle of character alignments, a term first made popular by the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. Featuring novelist and comic book writer Samuel Sattin, Florida A&M University philosophy professor Michael LaBossiere and Brooklyn assistant district attorney Patrick O' Connor. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Mar 10, 2016
Imagining Wonder Woman
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 -- not just in the comics, but in real life too. While Superman and Batman have drawn from familiar genres of sci-fi and detective tales, Wonder Woman was created by psychologist William Moulton Marston, who tapped into long forgotten utopian feminist fiction while adding a few twists of his own. Featuring Jill Lepore ("The Secret History of Wonder Woman"), former DC exec Jenette Kahn and comic book artist Cliff Chiang.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Feb 25, 2016
Noble Effort
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 revolutionary, but it got lost in the spotlight as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and other Looney Tunes became cultural icons. But the next generation of artists recognized his genius and the society of "Noble Boys" (and girls) started to put his ideas into use at Pixar and elsewhere. With Tod Polson, Scott Morse and Bob McKinnon. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Feb 11, 2016
Dracula from Nebraska
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 the urban legend. Stoker actually didn't research Vlad that much, or vampire folklore. So scholars have looked into his personal life to suss out Stoker's inspiration. Many think Dracula could've been based on his employer, the famous actor Henry Irving. But Professor Louis Warren of UC Davis has another theory. The novel Dracula was inspired by a very unlikely persona: William "Buffalo Bill" Cody, star and creator of the Wild West show. Featuring voice actor John Keating, and WNYC's Katya Rogers.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jan 28, 2016
Inside the Snow Globe
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 came up with a trick ending to the show, revealing the entire series had been the fantasy of an autistic boy named Tommy Westphall peering into his snow globe, Fontana had no idea that episode would lead to a unified theory of television. With Keith Gow, Tom Fontana, Bill Lobley and Robb Pruitt. A version of this piece first aired on PRIs Studio 360.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jan 14, 2016
The Expanded Universe
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 what happened to them -- or they thought they did. LucasFilm had approved a series of books, comics and video games that filled in the gaps between the six Star Wars movies and beyond. Then Disney bought LucasFilm, and declared that canon of material (a.k.a. The Expanded Universe) to be invalid. But echoes of those stories found their way into the new movie anyway. With Sonia Soraya of, Rabbi Ben Newman, Serena and Eric Fong. This is part V of my V part series on the legacy of Star Wars. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Dec 31, 2015
Han Shot Solo
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 wait to experience Star Wars on the big screen. But George Lucas had made a fundamental change that altered Han Solo's introduction -- and that scene sparked a war between the creator and his fans that haunts Lucas to this day, and changed the course of movie fandom. With Jonathan V. Last, Annalee Newitz, Chris Taylor and Josh Gilliland of "Legal Geeks." The song over the credits is "Han Shot First" by Third World Famous. This is part IV of a V part series on Star Wars. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Dec 16, 2015
Slave Leia
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 context of that costume -- being a sex slave for a giant slug monster -- has sparked a debate as to whether the "Slave Leia" meme is highly offensive, harmless cheesecake or a feminist icon. With Donna Dickens of HitFIx, Annalee Newitz of Ars Technica, Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post and comedian Adam Buxton. This is part III of a V part series on Star Wars. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Dec 02, 2015
Empire vs Rebels
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 realize that you're the Empire in someone else's story? Do you tell them they're wrong? Do you embrace being bad? Or do you argue that "evil" is all relative? With Alyssa Rosenberg, Chris Taylor, and Jonathan V. Last. This is Part II of a V part series on how Star Wars changed the way we see our world. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Nov 18, 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 people think the future was going to look like? What did pop culture sound like on the eve of Star Wars? This is Episode I in a V part series on how Star Wars changed the way we imagine the world. With Kurt Andersen of Studio 360, Annalee Newitz of io9 and Gizmodo, Alyssa Rosenberg of the Washington Post, and Chris Taylor, author of "How Star Wars Conquered the Universe." Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Nov 04, 2015
Great Scott! It's The Future!
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. Visit
Oct 21, 2015
First Contact
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 guaranteed blockbuster -- and it's a story that Native Americans know all too well. With LeAnne Howe, Owl Goingback and Despina Kakoudaki. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Oct 20, 2015
The Truth Is Out There
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 on-set photos has sparked a dozen tweets or blog posts. Is this just nostalgia? Or is concept behind The X-Files tapping into the zeitgeist again? With Lindsay Ellis, Joe Uscinski and John Lumiere-Wins. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Oct 07, 2015
Rolling the Twenty Sided Dice
Sep 23, 2015
Season 2 begins Sept 22nd -- but first, Hodor!
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 Kristian Nairn, who plays Hodor on Game of Thrones. Sean hosts a podcast from PRI called Sideshow, which is the "kid brother" to the show we both work on, Studio 360. There's a longer version of the interivew, where they discuss Nairn's career as a club DJ at more about your ad choices. Visit
Sep 09, 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 clubhouse of action-adventure movies. She's supposed to kick ass -- but she has no character development, no backstory, and ends up being a love interest or damsel. But something changed this summer. Feminist fans and critics got into a spirited debate over a group of heroines, and whether we need to rethink this whole problem. With Lindsay Ellis, Carolyn Cox of The Mary Sue, and Jan Combopiano of Catalyst. THIS IS THE END OF SEASON ONE. IMAGINARY WORLDS WILL RETURN IN THE FALL.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jul 29, 2015
Fixing the Hobo Suit
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 with costume designers Michael Wilkinson (Watchmen, Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman), Sammy Sheldon Differ (Ant-Man, X-Men: First Class) and Jams Acheson (Spider-Man trilogy) about what's changed. They're learning new tricks, and using better technology. But there's also been a change in attitude. The designers are now constantly asking themselves, "why?" Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jul 15, 2015
Doppelgangers 2.0
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 create doppelgangers on a TV budget (Orphan Black, Fringe) or in independent films (Moon, The One I Love.) But perhaps doppelgangers are multiplying because they tap into a very modern concern: social media. With Alissa Wilkinson, Ryan Britt and Elayne Tobin. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jul 01, 2015
Time Travelers of Renwick St.
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 unusual ad campaign for 15 Renwick St. in Hudson Square defied conventional thinking and focused on a group of characters that span through time. Just don't call them Stempunk. I talk with the teams at MARCH and IF Studio who dreamed them up, and Hana Alberts of the website Curbed. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jun 03, 2015
The Greatest Cartoon Almost Made
Jun 03, 2015
Why Ron Moore Killed Captain Kirk
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 original Star Trek as a kid growing up in a small town in Northern California. His hero was James T. Kirk, and by extension the man who dreamed up this universe, Gene Roddenberry. But Moore eventually discovered that killing your heroes is a right of passing to growing up and finding your own voice. Moore's new show is Outlander on the Starz network. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
May 20, 2015
True Vampires of New Haven
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 agreed to live under police supervision. But the funding for the program got cut and the vampires were sent to live with relatives or descendants. I revisit Trudy Manetti, who is under the care of her old childhood friend Frances O'Connor as they take stock of their past, present and future together. (This is a radio drama featuring actors Jean Richards, Nicole Greevy and Dan Truman.) Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
May 06, 2015
Beware of CyberCity
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 plays the role of the terrorists who keep trying to hijack a train or contaminate the water supply, while cyber warriors stationed at bases around the world try to stop them. But at some point, CyberCity became more than just a project for Ed. He fell in love with this town -- its simulated people and their Truman Show existence. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Apr 22, 2015
Politics of Thrones
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 surprising number of international relations experts that see parallels between the the jockeying for power in Westeros and our post-Cold War landscape. I talk with Dan Drezner from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Tim Westmyer from The Rising Powers Initiative about how Daenerys Targaryen wields her trio of dragons like a nuclear triad, and why King Joffrey was like Kim Jong Un. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Apr 08, 2015
Zombie Therapy
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 rich ideas. So I decide to undergo zombie immersion therapy. My friend Patrick O' Connor forces me to watch The Walking Dead. And I talk with psychiatrist Steven Schlozman, author of "The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notesboks from the Apocaplypse."Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Mar 25, 2015
The Mysterious James Tiptree
Mar 11, 2015
A Perfect World
A French philosopher is certain his ideas will help human beings evolve -- not just emotionally or psychologically. We will start to grow tails. And that inspires his disciples to start a socialist commune in the Wild West of 1850s Texas. Were utopians the first science fiction thinkers? Featuring Julia Barton and Eric Rabkin. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Feb 25, 2015
Being Batman (For Now)
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 many people that would be a metaphor but that actually happened to Scott Snyder when DC Comics assigned him to write Batman. It was hard to avoid emulating the other versions of Batman he loved, so he decided to pretend that he made up the character by himself. Scott's fears and anxieties became Bruce Wayne's.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Feb 11, 2015
Sexy Robots
The desirable robot has been a trope in science fiction for almost a century. American University professor Despina Kakoudaki (author of "Anatomy of a Robot") says watching actors play robots is a wish fulfillment -- imagining what it would be like to not feel emotions or deal with the messiness of the human body. I also talk with playwrights Mariah MacCarthy and Leah Nanako Winkler about their off-Broadway festival, "Sex with Robots," which explores the dark desires behind an impossible fantasy. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jan 29, 2015
The Golem and The Jinni
"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 century New York -- one from Arab culture and the other from Jewish folklore. The inspiration for the book came from real life. She's Jewish and her husband is Arab-American.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jan 14, 2015
Joss Whedon '07
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 interview itself, which has been sitting on my desktop until now.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Dec 31, 2014
Action Figureland
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 shops, NECA and Sideshow Collectables, and I talk with psychologist David Shim, who has an impressive man cave of vintage heroes and villains.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Dec 17, 2014
In Defense of Captain Hook
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 symbol of immaturity to a celebration of the inner-child. Either way, Captain Hook got a raw deal. He told me so himself over the phone. Featuring voice actor Erik Bergmann as a drunk-dialing Captain Hook, and actress Lily Dorment reading from the J.M. Barrie book.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Dec 04, 2014
Saving The Girl
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 talk with screenwriting guru Pilar Alessandra, and screenwriters Craig Fernandez and Carr D'Angelo. It turns out even male fans get frustrated when their favorite heroes can tackle villains head on but flee romantic relationships.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Nov 19, 2014
Salem Bewitched
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 Massachusetts. I love the ancient graveyards and the colonial houses flush up against the sidewalks. Historian Mary Beth Norton says to truly understand what happened, we have to delve into the imaginary world the Puritans believed in – where witches and Indians were both agents of the devil conspiring against them. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Nov 05, 2014
King Denslow of Oz
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz started as a perfect partnership between writer L. Frank Baum and illustrator W. W. Denslow. But they became bitter rivals, with each owning half the copyright to the 1900 book. Baum put his nose to the grindstone trying to build a franchise while Denslow took a more colorful and ultimately self-destructive path. I talk with Michael Patrick Hearn, who wrote biographies of both men.      Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Oct 22, 2014
The Canon
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 often patchworks created by people with conflicting ideas. Does a dense canon make better storytelling? Or does it alienate casual fans? I talk with Derek McCaw, who runs the website Fanboy Planet. And a rabbi explains why the Star Trek canon has a lot in common with The Torah.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Oct 08, 2014
When Human Met Creature
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 Star Wars prequels, and Stephanie D'Abruzzo who works on Sesame Street and performed Kate Monster in the original cast of Ave Q.    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Sep 24, 2014
Origin Stories
Sep 10, 2014
Find Full Archive of Imaginary Worlds on Stitcher Premium
May 25, 1977