Imaginary Worlds

Imaginary Worlds Podcast

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.To access the full archive of Imaginary Worlds episodes, go to www.stitcher.com/premium and use the promo code Imaginary.

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....

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....

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....


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 m...

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 m...

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 pr...


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 pr...

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 David Jaher, author of The Witch of Lime Street, discusses how séances became all the rage in the 1920s, until Harry Houdini made it his life’s mission to debunk them. But Houdini may have met his match in a Boston socialite who performed supernatural feats that he couldn't explain. h...

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, un...


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 ...

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, Washingt...

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...


The Booj
Movie trailers have come a long way from the voice-of-God narrators in the ‘80s and ‘90s. So why do the big budget sci-fi fantasy trailers still all feel the same? This week, we're featuring a fun episode from the podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz, where their host Dallas Taylor talks with James Deaville about the history of trailers. Plus, YouTuber Craven Moorhaus breaks down the elements of blockbuster trailers to the point where you’ll never watch trailers the same way again....

Superheroes in the Ring
Masks, capes, secret identities – Mexican wrestling (aka Lucha Libre) has a lot in common with the superhero genre. But trying to be a superhero in real life has its own set of challenges. I visit two Lucha Libre matches in New York City and talk with wrestlers (aka luchadors) about the joy of being famous and anonymous at the same time. Photographer Lourdes Grobet reveals how she went behind-the-scenes with luchadors without exposing their identities, and professor Heather Levi reveals the unusual origin o...

Dirk Maggs
I talked with legendary audio drama producer Dirk Maggs for an episode about the history of radio dramas last year-- but a lot of great material ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. So I’m presenting a full version of our conversation, where we discuss how he brought major franchises like Batman, Alien and The X-Files to life with audio drama, and how he brought The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy back to radio. He also reveals a few secrets of audio production on how to trick the brain into seei...


The Undertaker
He’s undead. He’s shot lightening out of his hands. He’s thrown his enemies into coffins. He's one of the most popular pro-wrestlers of all time. But Mark Calaway’s character The Undertaker is also an anachronism from a different era of wrestling. Today WWE performers rely more on their real life personalities than invented personas, and yet The Undertaker has continued his supernatural reign in the ring for nearly three decades. Journalist Chad Dundas and professors Charles Westmoreland of Delta State and ...

Hero Props vs. Fake Props
Imagine walking into your living room, and alongside your couch is a prop from one of your favorite childhood movies. Sure, it was costly but this is a piece of pop culture history, and it's right here in your home. Now imagine you found out that prop was a fake. I talk with prop collectors Tiana Armstrong of Hero Prop, Wesley Cannon of Hollywood History Online, prop appraiser Laura Woolley of Antiques Roadshow, prop designer Ross MacDonald, and Museum of Pop Culture curator Jacob McMurray about the dark we...

Nerdlesque
Burlesque has merged with geek culture to form nerdlesque – where characters from Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who and other fantasy franchises strip down to pasties and g-strings. Nerdlesque is also a form of storytelling, similar to fanfiction or cosplay in the way it encompasses a diverse range of fans, and re-imagines the power dynamics of the original stories. We talk with pioneering nerdlesque performers Fem Appeal and Nasty Canasta, and we get a back stage tour of The Empire Strips Back with Russall ...


Sidekicks: Harley Quinn
In the conclusion of our mini-series on sidekicks, we look at how Harley Quinn began as a sidekick to a villain, and found her way to the heart of the DC canon and fandoms around the world. Nicole Herviou of ComicsVerse and journalist Lux Alptraum discuss how the relationship between Harley Quinn and The Joker mirrors abusive relationships in real life. And I talk with comic book creators Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner about how they separated Harley from her toxic boyfriend, and set the character on a n...

Sidekicks: Tonto and Kato
As part of our mini series on sidekicks, we look at two characters that have travelled in parallel since they came out of the same radio station in the 1930s – Tonto and Kato. There wasn’t anything authentically Native American or Asian about these sidekicks, but that didn’t matter to the audiences who enjoyed their team-ups with The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet. Embodying Tonto and Kato was a lot more challenging for the actors Jay Silverheels and Bruce Lee, who struggled to find humanity within the st...

Sidekicks: Watson
Sidekicks are often taken for granted because they’re so loyal. We assume they’ll always be there to back up our heroes. Why? What’s in it for them? Who gets to be a sidekick, and do they want to stay in that role? To kick off our mini-series on sidekicks, we look at the most iconic and long-standing sidekick in pop culture: Doctor Watson. From The Steam Age to The Information Age, Watson has always found a place next to Sherlock Holmes. But as contemporary storytellers play with Watson’s race, gender, and ...


Rod Serling's Key of Imagination
Witness if you will a writer: Rod Serling. This is the story of a man with a vision -- a vision of what television could be if only men ceased to operate out of fear and greed. But Rod Serling has a plan. He will use the camouflage of monsters, both real and imagined, to reveal what cannot be said about society, and what Mr. Serling himself cannot say about his own fears and regrets. And those monsters dwell in a state of mind called The Twilight Zone. The cast of characters: Nicholas Parisi, author of “Rod...

The Hero's Journey Endgame
When something goes wrong in an ordinary world, an unlikely hero emerges to go on a quest….and you know the rest. Ever since George Lucas cited Joseph Campbell’s 1949 book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” as the inspiration for Star Wars, Hollywood screenwriters have used Campbell’s theory of The Hero’s Journey as the blueprint for making movies, especially stories about epic protagonists. But as we reach a saturation point of sci-fi fantasy and superhero franchises, has The Hero’s Journey outstayed its we...

Slaughterhouse at Fifty
Time doesn’t work the same for Billy Pilgrim as it does for the rest of us. He keeps jumping from one moment in his life to the next -- and always back to the bombing of Dresden. 50 years ago this month, Kurt Vonnegut introduced Billy Pilgrim and the aliens who gave him strange time traveling powers in his novel "Slaughterhouse Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death." Many critics were baffled as to why Vonnegut used sci-fi tropes to explore the horrors of World War II. But the novel was d...


Tales of Margaret Brundage
She’s mostly forgotten today, but in the 1930s Margaret Brundage was the hottest pulp fiction magazine illustrator. She created covers for Weird Tales magazine, which published the works of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft and other pioneering genre writers. But Brundage herself was something of a mystery. I talk with experts George Hagenauer, Lauren Stump and Steve Korshak about why Brundage’s art was so alluring, and how it taps into current questions about how women are depicted in fantasy worlds. And I ...

The Man Behind the Sword
Conan the Barbarian doesn't get much respect. He's generally thought of as a muscle-bound brute who fights his way through a made-up ancient world. But the character actually has a deep, rich history -- and his creator, Robert E. Howard, was a misunderstood genius. I talk with experts Rusty Burke, David C. Smith, Jeffrey Shanks, Jonas Prida, and Nicole Emmelhainz about why Conan the Barbarian is more relevant than ever, and how the character's journey reflects real world issues that Robert E. Howard struggl...

The Power of the Makeover Mage
In some video games, you can choose which characters you want to play, and you can customize the look of those characters -- including changing their gender. For many transgender players, that option has played a significant role in their lives. Reporter and podcaster Jaye McAuliffe co-hosts this episode, as she reflects on her own gender transition and the experience of others who discovered that they can use video game avatars to begin reimagining themselves in the real world. Also featuring Julie Tjalas,...


Choose Your Own Adventure
One of the unique aspects of video games is that you can control the characters. But game developers are often torn between wanting to give the players as much freedom as possible, and wanting to guide the players through a strong story. Adam Hines tries to crack the code with his indie game Oxen Free. Ryan Kaufman and Alyssa Finley discuss why the Telltale games were more like Choose Your Own Emotions. And Jamie Madigan of The Psychology of Video Games explains how clicking dialogue options can help streng...

Reimagining the Gods
Madeline Miller received critical acclaim for her novels The Song of Achilles and Circe – which reimagine The Iliad and The Odyssey told from the perspective of minor characters in the original texts by Homer. As someone who grew up loving Greek mythology, Madeline wanted to capture the sense of wonder she felt about gods and monsters, and the raw emotional truth inside those very human tales of immortal beings. But she struggled for years to find a modern voice for these classical characters, and rewriting...

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 megaphone.fm/adchoices...


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 Kickst...

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 Lu...

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 E...


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 Episo...

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 megaphone.fm/adchoices...

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 worki...


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. ...

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...

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 megaphone.fm/adchoices...


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 spelle...

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 ...

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 con...


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 figh...

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 Domme...

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...


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 Enge...

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 Mar...

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 o...


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...

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: S...

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 Urs...


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 Col...

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, an...

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 ...


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 Mit...

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 whe...

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 E...


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 rug...

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 entert...

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...


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 ...

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 ...

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 ...


Technobabble
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 tachyon...

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 in...

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 be...


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 Vulture.com writer Abraham Riesman talk about why super villains shouldn't t...

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 bo...

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...


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 Pau...

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 y...

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 import...


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 ...

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...

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. Lea...


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 y...

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.http://willeis...

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 c...


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 megaphone.fm/adchoices...

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...

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 v...


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 Bux...

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 ...

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 q...


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-par...

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 Sacre...

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 p...


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 Nemer...

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 o...

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 To...


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 Sesam...

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 megaphone....

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 ...


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 "...

Undertale
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 unforget...

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? Wit...


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 Pearso...

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...

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 Manso...


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 ...

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 wher...

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 ...


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. Feat...

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...

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 Polso...


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 unlikel...

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 Prui...

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 invali...


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...

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 War...

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 megaphone.fm/adcho...


1977
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 Washingt...

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 megaphone.fm/adchoices...

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 megaphone.fm/adchoices...


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 megaphone.fm/adchoices...

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...

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 http://www.studio360.org/series/sideshow.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices...


Heroines
"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 M...

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 att...

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. Vis...


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 megaphone.fm/adchoices...

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 ...

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 ow...


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 Gree...

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 choice...

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 ...


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 megaphone.fm/adchoices...

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...

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 megaphone.fm/adchoices...


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 megaphone....

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...

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 megaphone.fm/adchoices...


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 megaphone.fm/adchoices...

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 megaphone.fm/adchoices...

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 megaphone.fm/adchoices...


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 megaphone.fm/adchoices...

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 megaphone.f...

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 megaphone.fm/adchoices...


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 megaphone.fm/adchoices...

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 megaphone.fm/adchoices...

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 t...