Imaginary Worlds

Imaginary Worlds

Imaginary Worlds sounds like what would happen if NPR went to ComicCon and decided that’s all they ever wanted to cover. Host Eric Molinsky spent over a decade working as a public radio reporter and producer, and he uses those skills to create thoughtful, sound-rich episodes about science fiction, fantasy, and other genres of speculative fiction. Every other week, he talks with comic book artists, game designers, novelists, screenwriters, filmmakers, and fans about how they craft their worlds, why we suspend our disbelief, and what happens if the spell is broken. Imaginary worlds may be set on distant planets or parallel dimensions, but they are crafted here on Earth, and they’re always about us and our lived experiences.


November 24, 2022 39 min

Was the tale of Hansel and Gretel inspired by a real crime in German history? It would make for a great story, if it were true. This week’s episode comes from the podcast Cautionary Tales, where host Tim Harford looks at how misinformation can cast a spell on us like a fairy tale, and he connects the dots from The Brothers Grimm to The Coen Brothers.

This episode is sponsored by Brilliant and Nord VPN. Visit

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From TV and film to novels and video games, the artistic movement of Indigenous Futurisms has been gaining momentum and breaking cultural barriers. I talk with professor and author Grace Dillon, filmmaker Danis Goulet, fiction writer Stephen Graham Jones, and visual artist Virgil Ortiz about what defines a work of indigenous futurism and why telling stories about werewolves, spirits, A.I., and time travelers can be an act of resist...

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October 26, 2022 31 min

Jeff Russo has composed music for sci-fi fantasy shows like Star Trek Discovery and Picard, The Umbrella Academy, Altered Carbon, For All Mankind, and Lucifer. But he didn’t set out to be known as a composer of SF projects, or even a composer at all. He began as a rock musician, and found he had a knack for writing music for the screen because he understood that music plays a crucial role in grounding unreal stories in the emotions...

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October 12, 2022 30 min

There is a booming culture of VTubers – people who create content online, but their fans rarely see their real faces or know their names. VTubers use motion-capture technology to appear as animated characters they designed, and many of these characters are otherworldly from robots to aliens to demons. I talk with VTubers named Xinebi Ven, Pandora Arktos, GloopQueen and D-36-5908 Ω (a.k.a. Omega) about the joys and challenges of bec...

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September 28, 2022 41 min

One of the most common tropes in fantasy genres is personifying Death – turning this abstract and often terrifying concept into a character that people can interact with. Sometimes Death is portrayed as a Grim Reaper, but Death doesn’t have to be grim. Death can be compassionate, and even funny. And more often in recent years, Death has been depicted as someone with deeply ambivalent feelings about their job. I talk with listeners ...

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September 14, 2022 32 min

The stories we tell about the past can determine the way we understand the present. But what happens when we combine tales of magic and fantasy with some of the most traumatic chapters in history? I talk with novelists P. Djeli Clark, Nisi Shawl, and Zen Cho about how speculative fiction can be a useful tool to reimagine the legacy of colonialism and imperialism. Plus, we hear readings from actress Nneka Okoye.

Books mentioned in th...

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August 31, 2022 32 min

In part 2 of our mini-series on mentorships, we travel to a galaxy far, far away. Amy Richau (co-author of Star Wars; I am Your Father and other Star Wars-related books) talks about her favorite partnerships between the Jedi and other characters in the Star Wars found family. Blogger Angry Staff Officer explains why the rigid rules for Jedi mentorships may have led to the downfall of the Jedi Council. And Ryan Arey of ScreenCrush s...

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August 17, 2022 29 min

In the first of a two-part episode on mentors in fantasy genres, we look at the roles of superheroes and their protégées. Matt Fraction talks about the inspiration for his acclaimed comic book series Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon, which was adapted into a Disney+ series. University of Oregon professor Ben Saunders explains why Peter Parker needs an endless series of mentors. Hellenic College Holy Cross professor Stamatia Dova ex...

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August 3, 2022 28 min

When the artist Cliff Chiang co-created the comic book series Paper Girls, about four suburban kids in the ‘80s who get caught up in forces that can break space and time, he thought they’d come up with something totally original. But soon after the comic book came out, Stranger Things debuted on Netflix. Both creative projects are part of a genre that’s more popular than ever: Kids on Bikes. I talk with Cliff about why he wanted Pa...

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July 20, 2022 34 min

It’s not often that I’m watching a TV show and I think, “I should ask the writers about that.” Luckily, I was in the same undergraduate film program as Henry Alonso Myers and Bill Wolkoff, who are writers and producers on the Star Trek series Strange New Worlds, and they were happy to chat. We cover the challenge of telling new stories about legacy characters like Spock and Uhura, the need for Star Trek to stay politically relevant...

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July 6, 2022 35 min

I’ve long been fascinated by automatons – wind up mechanical beings that create the illusion of life. People have been making automatons for centuries, but how many automatons get to sing opera? This week’s episode comes from the podcast Aria Code from WQXR, WNYC Studios and The Metropolitan Opera. The show breaks down famous arias and looks at the meaning behind them. Host Rhiannon Giddens, along with Soprano Erin Morley, conducto...

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June 22, 2022 34 min

Our Flag Means Death is a hilarious anachronistic pirate comedy on HBO Max. But the backstory of its main characters is surprisingly real. I talk with pirate historian Jeremy Moss, Purdue professor Manushag Powell and Jamie Goodall, staff historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, about how the historical figure of Blackbeard used theatricality to become a media phenomenon, and why it was an easy transition for people t...

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June 8, 2022 40 min

When I began this podcast in September 2014, I couldn’t imagine myself someday celebrating 200 episodes of Imaginary Worlds. It feels like a momentous occasion, a moment to reflect and celebrate. So, I put together a super-sized episode where I check in on creative people that I’ve interviewed in the past. We also hear from listeners about where they listen to the show, and how those places evoke imaginary worlds for them. Featurin...

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May 25, 2022 28 min

Mystery Science Theater 3000 or MST3K is back once again. The show was first created by Joel Hodgson, then a stand-up comedian who was ambivalent about the career path laid out in clubs or maybe a sitcom. His premise -- that he and a few robot pals are trapped by mad scientists on a spaceship and forced to watch bad movies – turned the show into a cult classic and helped define a snarky, self-aware sense of humor for pop culture in...

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May 11, 2022 31 min

For the last 30 years, the real world has been catching up to Neal Stephenson’s vision of the future in his 1992 novel Snow Crash, which influenced the creators of Google Earth, Second Life, Oculus Rift and more. Now the centerpiece of the novel, a virtual world called The Metaverse, may become a daily part of our lives thanks to Facebook (renamed Meta) and other big tech companies. I talk with Meta’s director of A.I. policy Kevin ...

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April 27, 2022 37 min

There’s an old saying that everyone wants to live long, but no one wants to get old. The same can be applied to our favorite sci-fi fantasy franchises. As familiar faces return to Star Wars, Star Trek, and other movies and shows, some franchises have embraced stories about aging and mortality, while others have used digital technology to erase those issues with mixed results. In a roundtable discussion, I talk with Christina Valeo ...

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April 13, 2022 30 min

One of the most common requests I've gotten over the years has been to do an episode about why so many autistic people are drawn towards science fiction, and these suggestions have come from listeners who are autistic or have autistic children. Fiction writer Ada Hoffmann, writer and professor Dora Raymaker, YouTube presenter Quinn Dexter, and author and professor Nick Walker, who co-runs the publishing company Autonomous Press...

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March 30, 2022 32 min

100 years ago this month, the vampire film Nosferatu was released in Germany. Not long after, it was hit with a lawsuit – which the filmmakers lost – and every copy of the film was to be destroyed. At least one copy managed to survive, and decades later, Nosferatu became a worldwide classic. Part of what’s kept the film alive has been live orchestras who infuse this old vampire film with fresh blood and original scores. I talk with...

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March 16, 2022 29 min

The Russian invasion of Ukraine shocked the world, but this conflict was foreshadowed in Ukrainian and Russian speculative fiction. I talk with several fantasy writers in Ukraine about how they’ve used speculative fiction to break away from Russia’s sphere of influence, and why magic and folklore can be valuable tools to explore and defend their sense of national identity. I also talk with Ukrainian ex-pats in the U.S. about how Ru...

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March 3, 2022 36 min

It’s a future we’re all very familiar with. The rainy streets are full of neon dragons, noodle shops, and other Asian iconography mixed up and decontextualized amid sci-fi flourishes, but something is often missing: Asian people. In her video presentation “Asian futures, without Asians,” the artist and writer Astria Suparak breaks down dozens of films and TV shows, showing that there’s a shadow genre across different sci-fi franchi...

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