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

  • 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

  • The Man Behind the Sword

    Feb 21 2019

    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 Ro...more

  • The Power of the Makeover Mage

    Feb 07 2019

    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 J...more

  • Choose Your Own Adventure

    Jan 24 2019

    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 o...more

  • Reimagining the Gods

    Jan 10 2019

    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, a...more

  • A Visit by Three Ghosts

    Dec 24 2018

    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

    Dec 13 2018

    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 Cra...more

  • How I Won the Larp

    Nov 29 2018

    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 G...more

  • Alternate Movie Posters

    Nov 15 2018

    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...more

  • Faith in Fantasy

    Nov 01 2018

    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 Se...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

  • Doctor Who?

    Jan 25 2018

    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 res...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 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

  • Find Full Archive of Imaginary Worlds on Stitcher Premium

    May 25 1977