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.
Tracing the history of the superhero genre can reveal a lot about how we understand our own history, and how history gets whitewashed. Shawn Taylor, John Jennings and Art Burton look at how black superheroes evolved from a black Wild West lawman to HBO's Watchmen. And I talk with John Valadez about Mexican American masked vigilantes who may have inspired Zorro, and other masked heroes.
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2001: A Space Odyssey is considered a masterpiece, and a game changer for sci-fi on film. But the movie had a tumultuous origin story, and it was initially scorned by critics. Barbara Miller of The Museum of The Moving Image walks me through their new exhibit on the making of 2001. And I talk with author Michael Benson, actor Keir Dullea and Stanley Kubrick’s daughter Katharina about how Kubrick and his collaborator Arthur C. Clarke reached for the stars, but felt lost in space as they struggled to finish this incredibly ambitious project.
Here’s the link to Michael Benson’s book:
Here’s a link the Museum of the Moving Image’s 2001 exhibit:
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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:
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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: https://www.imaginaryworldspodcast.org/fantastical-feasts.htmlLearn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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:http://www.verybadwords.com/shows/constructed-curses-in-sci-fi-fantasy Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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: https://lezhangoutpod.com/blog/2018/4/2/episode-15-bury-your-gaysTo watch Jennifer Barnes give a TEDx Talk on parasocial relationships: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22yoaiLYb7MLearn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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. http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/future-screens-are-mostly-blue/Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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://willeisnerweek.com/Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 Hunasikatti.blacknerdproblems.com popcultureuncovered.cominstagram.com/BrittanyActs instagram.com/mssuqiyomifacebook.com/BishopCosplay Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices
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 megaphone.fm/adchoices