Podcast

Imaginary Worlds

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 r...more

Episodes

  • The Booj

    Aug 21 2019

    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

    Aug 07 2019

    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 unus...more

  • Dirk Maggs

    Jul 25 2019

    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 bra...more

  • The Undertaker

    Jul 11 2019

    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 Delt...more

  • Hero Props vs. Fake Props

    Jun 26 2019

    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...more

  • Nerdlesque

    Jun 12 2019

    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 w...more

  • Sidekicks: Harley Quinn

    May 29 2019

    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 char...more

  • Sidekicks: Tonto and Kato

    May 15 2019

    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 w...more

  • Sidekicks: Watson

    May 01 2019

    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, ...more

  • Rod Serling's Key of Imagination

    Apr 17 2019

    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, au...more

  • The Hero's Journey Endgame

    Apr 03 2019

    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 outs...more

  • Slaughterhouse at Fifty

    Mar 20 2019

    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...more

  • Tales of Margaret Brundage

    Mar 07 2019

    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 wo...more

  • Imaginary Deaths

    Jul 12 2018

    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 fee...more

  • Fan Fiction (Don't Judge)

    Nov 02 2017

    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...more

  • The Book of Dune

    Jul 12 2017

    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 discus...more

  • Beyond the Iron Curtain

    Mar 23 2017

    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

  • 28 Days of Black Cosplay

    Feb 22 2017

    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 fin...more

  • The Year Without a Summer

    Jun 15 2016

    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 f...more

  • Rolling the Twenty Sided Dice

    Sep 23 2015

    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 ch...more

  • The Greatest Cartoon Almost Made

    Jun 03 2015

    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 H...more

  • The Mysterious James Tiptree

    Mar 11 2015

    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. W...more

  • Origin Stories

    Sep 10 2014

    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...more

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    May 25 1977