Imaginary Worlds

By Eric Molinsky

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 Dec 22, 2019

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 Jul 11, 2019

 Mar 20, 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
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
It will never be a holiday classic – far, far from it. But can we redeem the greatest villain in the Star Wars universe, the 1978 made-for-TV Star Wars Holiday Special?
Dec 25, 2019
Can Villains Be Good?
They took over the world. They crushed our heroes. Now they feel bad. What does it take for a villain to be redeemed -- and what does it take for us to forgive them?
Dec 12, 2019
My So Called Evil Plan
Taking over the world is so passé. The most popular villains want to save the world –- at a cost. What does the rise of the woke villain say about our frustrations with the real world?
Nov 27, 2019
Under a Red Moon
Ron Moore's new show For All Mankind imagines what if the Soviet Union landed a man on the moon first -- and what if that nightmare scenario forced NASA to be more inclusive than it was in real history?
Nov 14, 2019
From Outer Space
Think of an alien abduction. Humanoid creatures. Medical experiments. Missing time. Hypnosis. But years before The X-Files, that narrative was largely unknown until Betty and Barney Hill went public about their alien abduction.
Oct 30, 2019
Talking to the Dead
In Jason Suran’s show The Other Side, he keeps reminding the audience that he cannot talk to the dead. Then why does he do such a good job of convincing us that he can?
Oct 16, 2019
Scoring Godzilla
In 1954, director Ishiro Honda and composer Akira Ifukube disagreed about what Godzilla represented, but their collaboration added layers of depth that helped turn a monster into an icon.
Oct 02, 2019
Ends of Evangelion
Neon Genesis Evangelion ran only one year in Japan but more than 20 years later, the series and its subsequent movies are still creating ripple effects across global pop culture.
Sep 18, 2019
Actors with Pencils
Disney’s “live action” remakes of their classic films are a box office bonanza. But will they spark nostalgia not only for the originals, but for the lost art of hand drawn feature animation in Hollywood?
Sep 04, 2019
The Booj
After listening to this episode, you'll never watch movie trailers the same way again.
Aug 21, 2019
Superheroes in the Ring
Mexican wrestling (aka Lucha Libre) has a lot in common with the superhero genre. But trying to be a superhero has its own set of challenges in real life.
Aug 07, 2019
Dirk Maggs
Legendary audio drama producer Dirk Maggs reveals tricks of the trade he used to bring The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Alien, The X-Files and other stories to life.
Jul 25, 2019
The Undertaker
The Undertaker has dominated the WWE for decades -- but he’s also a throwback to a different era of wrestling when a supernatural character could reign supreme. So what is the secret to The Deadman's appeal?
Jul 11, 2019
Hero Props vs. Fake Props
The sci-fi fantasy market is a hot commodity, but it’s also drawn in swindlers with the skills to create fake props and believable backstories about who made them – robbing the fans financially and emotionally.
Jun 26, 2019
Burlesque and geek culture have merged to create a new art form.
Jun 12, 2019
Sidekicks: Harley Quinn
Harley Quinn began as a sidekick to a villain, and found her way to the heart of the DC canon and fandoms around the world. But to do so, she needed to dump a very toxic boyfriend.
May 29, 2019
Sidekicks: Tonto and Kato
There wasn’t anything authentic about Tonto and Kato, but that didn’t matter to the audiences who enjoyed their team-ups with The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet. But embodying those sidekicks was a lot more challenging for the actors Jay Silverheels and Bruce Lee, who struggled to find humanity within the stereotypes, and respect behind the scenes.
May 15, 2019
Sidekicks: Watson
In part one of our mini-series on sidekicks, we look at the enduring appeal of character that has gone through world wars, massive technological and social changes and the alleged death of his partner -- but Doctor Watson is forever loyal to Sherlock Holmes.
May 01, 2019
Rod Serling's Key of Imagination
Rod Serling's voice is still speaking to us well beyond The Twilight Zone.
Apr 17, 2019
The Hero's Journey Endgame
The Hero's Journey has dominated sci-fi fantasy storytelling for over 40 years. Have the storytelling formula reached a saturation point?
Apr 03, 2019
Slaughterhouse at Fifty
Kurt Vonnegut had a unique way of processing his wartime trauma -- he used science fiction. But why did the aliens in Slaughterhouse Five look like green toilet plungers with hands instead of heads? We explore that and much more on the book’s 50th anniversary.
Mar 20, 2019
Tales of Margaret Brundage
How a pioneering pulp fiction magazine illustrator reimagined women for fantasy and horror genres.
Mar 07, 2019
The Man Behind the Sword
Few people know the rich history behind Conan the Barbarian, and his creator Robert E. Howard.
Feb 21, 2019
The Power of the Makeover Mage
Video games can give you the option of customizing the look of your character -- and even change their gender. For many transgender players, that option played a significant role in their lives.
Feb 07, 2019
Choose Your Own Adventure
How much control do we really want over the characters we play in video games?
Jan 24, 2019
Reimagining the Gods
In Madeline Miller's critically acclaimed novels The Song of Achilles and Circe, she reimagines Homer's classic tales of gods, monsters and mortals from the point of view of minor characters in the original texts.
Jan 10, 2019
A Visit by Three Ghosts
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 Back to the Future to X=Men. Plus, we have a special announcement about the future of Imaginary Worlds! Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Dec 24, 2018
Board Games Go Indie
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 what we can do with dice, cards and plastic game pieces. I also talk with Shari and Jenni Spiro of AdMagic -- the company that can make unorthodox games like Cards Against Humanity and Exploding Kittens into household names. Plus, Dylan McKeefe at NYU's Game Incubator, and Luke Crane at Kickstarter explain why this is the perfect time for indie games to thrive.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Dec 13, 2018
How I Won the Larp
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 each of the players. But I hadn’t done any larps myself. So this year, I delved deep into larping, where I discovered the thrill of stepping into someone else’s world, and the out-of-body experience of feeling emotions that aren’t yours. Featuring Ashwick Planation, DexCon and Sinking Ship Creations, along with readings by George Morafetis, Nicole Greevy and Luisa Tripoli. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Nov 29, 2018
Alternate Movie Posters
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 movie would be the poster. Movie posters used to be hand-drawn illustrations, and many of them became iconic. Not so much anymore. But a growing movement of artists, galleries and print companies are creating alternative movie posters that re-imagine ad campaigns for current and former blockbusters of sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres. I talk with Rob Jones and Eric Garza of Mondo, author Matthew Chojnacki and artists Matt Taylor, Sara Deck, Tracie Ching, and Tim Doyle about the art of alternative movie posters, and a business model that has become controversial. Here is the link to the episode page with a slideshow.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Nov 15, 2018
Faith in Fantasy
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 wrestle with the big questions of life. I recently moderated a discussion between Minister Oscar Sinclair, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Alwaez Hussein Rashid about why SF worlds intrigue and inspire them. List of References: "Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. TolkienX-Men comicsDoctor Who Season 6 Episode 13 “The Big Bang” “The Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley Isaac Asimov, novelist“Speaker for the Dead” by Orson Scott Card “Rendezvous with Rama” by Arthur C. Clarke“Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert Heinlein “Record of a Spaceborn Few” from The Wayfarers Series by Becky Chambers“Small Gods” by Terry Pratchett Octavia Butler, novelistStar Trek: Deep Space Nine- Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin Monstress comics by Marjorie Liu “Lucifer’s Hammer” by Larry NivenMelancholia, film by Lars von Trier The Dragonlance series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman The Bloodprint Series by Ausma Khan“City of Brass” from The Daevabad series by S.A. Chakraborty Sabaa Tahir, novelistNarnia series by C.S. Lewis "Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land" by Ruthanna Emrys"The Sparrow" by Mary Doria RussellFirefly TV series “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” play by Jack Thorne Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
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
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 horror were the ideal genres to explore the deep anxieties people felt from the Depression through the Cold War. And these radio dramas set the stage for fantastical stories that couldn't be told yet without advanced special effects. Dallas Taylor of the podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz co-hosts this episode as we hear from radio historians Neil Verma and Richard J. Hand, and radio drama veterans Dirk Maggs and Richard Toscan. Plus Emory Braswell recalls the day he thought Martians had invaded New Jersey. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
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
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 fictional world that your sense of mourning is valid. I talk with Tim Burke, Dawn Fancher, Maria Clara Santarosa, Megan Knox, Stephanie Billman, Leigh Foster and Daniel Skorka about how they've grieved the loss of their favorite characters from video games, novels, TV shows and movies. Plus Professor Jennifer Barnes explains the psychology behind why we feel a deep connection to make believe people. To hear more of Leigh Foster discussing the death of Tara and other LGBT characters on her podcast: watch Jennifer Barnes give a TEDx Talk on parasocial relationships: more about your ad choices. Visit
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?
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 outside, but is really a cavernous ship on the inside. He's thousands of years old, but wears a different face every few years. He calls himself The Doctor, but Doctor who? In the first of my three-part series, I look at how a restless intergalactic time traveller became a global pop culture icon, and why The Doctor's knack for physical regeneration resonates with fans on a more personal level. Featuring Andy Heidel, Nick Randell, Robin Bunce, Mac Rogers, Emily Asher-Perrin, Riley Silverman and Kelsey Jefferson Barrett. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
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)
Sci-fi and fantasy have always been a big part of fan fiction, but fan fiction hasn't always gotten respect in return. My former colleague at WNYC Stephanie Billman guides me through the landscape of fan fiction, debunking many of my preconceptions. We talk with Francesca Coppa, author of The Fanfiction Reader and one of the creators of the fan fic site Archive of Our Own. Britta Lundin, a writer on the CW's Riverdale, explains why writing fan fiction was a great way to train for writing TV. And fan fiction writer Savannah Stoehr explains why Kirk/Spock is the great love story of our time. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
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
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 through mind-altering substances. But religion is at the core of the series, since the main character Paul Atreides transforms from a teenage aristocrat into a messianic revolutionary leader of a nomadic desert tribe. And the real world religion that Frank Herbert borrows from the most is Islam. Khalid Baheyeldin, Salman Sayyid, and Sami Shah discuss why the book resonated deeply with them, despite the fact that Frank Herbert wasn't Muslim. And Liel Liebowitz explains why the novel even spoke to him as an Israeli.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
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
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, Gregory Afinogenov and the author's father Steven Molinsky discuss how the glorious Soviet people brought the Revolution to Mars, and used science fiction such as Aelita and Solaris to explore existential questions. Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live forever in outer space!Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
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
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 #28DaysofBlackCosplay (although it was #29DaysofBlackCosplay on the leap year.) Harry and Gina Crosland of Pop Culture Uncovered talk about why they like putting an original spins on classic characters. Cosplayers Suqi and Brittnay N. Williams of the site Black Nerd Problems talk about finding their community, and having to call out Cosplayers who don't understand why blackface shouldn't be part of any costume. Special thanks to Monica Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
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
June 16, 2016 is the 200th anniversary of the night Mary Shelley began to write, "Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus." Scholars have long speculated what Frankenstein can tell us about scientific hubris or "playing God." But Professors Gillen D'Arcy Wood and Ron Broglio think the book has just as much to say about how we adapt to "acts of God." In other words, Frankenstein was imagined in a year when the Earth's climate was thrown off balance and the weather was wildly unpredictable. Sound familiar? With biographer Charlotte Gordon and readings by Lily Dorment.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
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
SEASON 2 PREMIERE: I spent the last two months learning how to play Dungeons & Dragons. That's right, I never played as a kid. But I've been reading so many interviews with interesting creative people who credit D&D with their success, I kept wondering what I missed out on -- and whether it was too late to figure it out. Helping me on my quest are Lev Grossman (author of The Magicians trilogy), Paul La Farge, Richard Valazquez and the staff of The Brooklyn Strategist. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
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
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 sell toys. So he spent three decades working on a feature film called The Thief and The Cobbler, which was going to be extraordinary. But Williams made a deal with a movie studio that he couldn't keep. Garrett Gilchrist, Kevin Schreck, Neil Boyle and Greg Duffell discuss whether Hollywood or Williams's perfectionism did him in. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
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
Science fiction writer James Tiptree Jr. wouldn't talk on the phone or appear in person. He developed friendships with contemporaries like Ursula le Guin and Philip K. Dick purely through letters. And he became a mentor to Chelsea Quinn Yarbro when she was an up-in-coming writer. But James Tiptree Jr. didn't really exist. He was the pen name of a 60-year old suburban housewife named Alice Sheldon. Biogrpaher Julie Philips says Sheldon's real life story was even more surreal than her alter ego. With readings by Erik Bergmann. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
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
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 transform characters like Spider-Man or Buffy – and keep transforming them. I see a psychologist, Dr. Robin Rosenberg, who specializes in helping her patients figure out their powers and their mission. And I unpack my own origin story, or at least a story that explains how I got from animation to public radio -- hoping it's not just a contrived piece of fiction.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Sep 10, 2014