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.

Episodes

July 17, 2024 41 mins
In the years since my 2020 episode Fantasy and Fascism, I knew that I had to make a follow-up episode. The political landscape was changing in ways I didn’t expect while major sci-fi fantasy franchises were reflecting those anxieties. Last time, I focused on how SFF worlds depicted fascism. This time, I wanted to look at the other half of the equation -- why people lose faith in democracy. I interviewed Trinity College Dublin profe...
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Who really composed the scores of Dune, Interstellar, Blade Runner 2049, The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Lion King? Were they all written by Hans Zimmer? Or were those scores put together by a team of musicians at Hans Zimmer’s studio Remote Control? The podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz went behind-the-scenes and got a rare glimpse at the creative process of one of the most revered film composers in the...
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June 19, 2024 44 mins
The hottest trend in fantasy novels – in fact the hottest trend in publishing overall – is fantasy romance or romantasy. These stories take place in worlds with dragons, faeries, vampires and werewolves but the driving plot is romance with a guaranteed happy ending. For many fans of traditional fantasy novels, the fact that romantasy exists may be surprising news. But romantasy is a cultural and economic juggernaut. Dartmouth profe...
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June 5, 2024 43 mins
Book banning is hitting libraries across America, and many of the titles being banned or challenged are fantasy books or graphic novels – especially LGBTQ content. Malinda Lo has been tracking how her work is being targeted, like her novel Ash which is a queer reimagining of Cinderella. I talk with Malinda about how she’s been tracking the attacks on her work and fighting back. Plus, we hear a version of my 2018 episode Fahrenheit ...
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May 22, 2024 45 mins
Did you know that in retirement, George Lucas decided to host a live talk show with his sidekick Watto? That’s the conceit of The George Lucas Talk Show starring Connor Ratliff (from the podcast Dead Eyes) as Lucas, and Griffin Newman (from The Tick) playing the alien character Watto. They’ve had famous guests on the show, including people who know Lucas in real life. The guests have to pretend that Connor is George. Over the past ...
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May 8, 2024 39 mins
Over the past 40 years, Shigeru Miyamoto has been inventing the modern video game one pixel at a time. From Donkey Kong to Super Mario Bros to The Legend of Zelda, Miyamoto turned wonder and exploration into game mechanics, and incorporated his personal experiences into his games. I talk with Illinois Institute of Technology dean Jennifer deWinter and Oakland University professor Sam Srauy about how Miyamoto changed Nintendo, and w...
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April 24, 2024 35 mins
When Joe Dever died in 2016, he hadn’t written the last several books in his Lone Wolf series. The Lone Wolf books take place in a deeply rich fantasy universe, and they’re written as a combination of choose-your-own-adventure stories and role playing games like D&D. Joe’s final wish was that his son Ben would finish the series for him. However, Ben was unfamiliar with his father’s books, and the legions of Lone Wolf fans he would ...
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When the writer Nnedi Okorafor coined the term Africanfuturism, she wanted to distinguish sci-fi written about Africa from Afrofuturism, which is focuses on the experiences of Black people in the diaspora. Africanfuturism mixes the traditional with the futuristic in a way that resembles modern life in Africa, and many of these stories grapple with climate change. Although the writer Chinelo Onwualu says cli-fi isn’t a subgenre for ...
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March 27, 2024 48 mins
Back in 2018, I interviewed language creator David J. Peterson about how he invented Dothraki for Game of Thrones and other fictional languages in fantasy worlds. David and his wife Jessie just finished a huge project – developing the Fremen language for Dune: Part Two. I talk with the couple about their creative process and the challenge of imagining simple English phrases in the Chakobsa language that Frank Herbert imagined in hi...
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March 13, 2024 36 mins
The Wizard of Oz is deeply ingrained into our culture. While many people can practically recite the 1939 movie, the original source material isn’t as well known. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum was published in 1900. There are a lot of theories as to what inspired Baum – but the answer may be who rather than what. Baum’s mother-in-law Matilda Joslyn Gage was a groundbreaking writer and activist who could’ve been in ever...
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March 6, 2024 23 mins
In the previous episode, I interviewed documentary filmmaker Isaac Elliot-Fisher about He-Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Isaac had so many great anecdotes about the history of those franchises that I couldn’t fit in. In this bonus episode of outtakes, Isaac explains the history of the term toyetic, the haphazard way He-Man came together, and why the 1990 live action TMNT film was so much darker than the cartoon show. Learn m...
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In the final episode of our mini-series Class of '84, we look at two iconic franchises that launched in 1984: Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They came from opposite ends of the business spectrum. Transformers was a top-down marketing synergy between American and Japanese toy companies along with Marvel Comics to compete against He-Man -- another TV toy behemoth. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle would eventually rival the...
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February 14, 2024 41 mins
In the second episode of our mini-series on groundbreaking works from 1984, we jack into the system and upload our minds into Neuromancer. William Gibson’s novel became a seminal work of cyberpunk, where he introduced words like “cyberspace” and storylines that would become tropes of the genre. Sci-fi writer Eileen Gunn, and professors Sherryl Vint of UC Riverside and Hugh O’Connell of UMass Boston discuss how Neuromancer not only ...
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February 7, 2024 22 mins
When I interviewed special effects artist Shannon Shea about The Terminator and other villains of ’84, we also discussed his experiences working on Terminator 2. He tells me about the many life-sized puppets of Arnold Schwarzenegger they built and how the industry has changed in the last 40 years. We also hear an outtake from my conversation with Neill Gorton about why the industry is moving away from depicting villains with scars ...
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January 31, 2024 37 mins
This year marks the 40th anniversary of a lot of landmarks in pop culture, especially sci-fi and fantasy. So many franchises were born in 1984. Some came to define their genre or invent new genres. In this three-part mini-series, we look at how The Class of ’84 made their mark on the world. First up: the bad guys. 1984 was a great year for villains from The Terminator to Freddy Krueger to Gremlins and Ghostbusters. I talk with make...
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January 17, 2024 40 mins
I was blown away by the Netflix animated series Blue Eye Samurai. I’m not alone, it has 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the supervising director and producer of the show, Jane Wu, began her career as an animation storyboard artist. In fact, we were working at different animation studios at the same time in L.A. We talk about why she took a live action approach to planning animated sequences in...
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January 3, 2024 48 mins
In the 1960s, Ursula K. le Guin represented a changing of the guard in science fiction literature. She was part of a generation of novelists who questioned the colonist mindset which had influenced American sci-fi for most of the 20th century. Le Guin came to this understanding not just as a moral stance or an intellectual exercise. Issues of racism and colonialism were personal to her. This episode, originally titled “The Word For...
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December 20, 2023 33 mins
This week's episode is an original audio drama. In previous episodes, I’ve interviewed Captain Hook, vampires, colonists on the moon, and H.P. Lovecraft’s brain in a jar -- or at least actors playing those characters. Now I’ve expanded my roster of fictional interviews to include iconic characters from Christmas tales. In this 21st century holiday tale, I am visited by supernatural entities who warn me that humanity is in danger be...
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December 6, 2023 39 mins
In honor of Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary, I’ve rewritten my 2018 episode about Doctor Who with updates on how the series has evolved, and new insights I’ve had about Doctor Who since I made this episode -- and since The Doctor has become one of my favorite characters. Media critic Emmet Asher-Perrin discusses how the history of The Doctor’s regenerations over 60 years is a story about an alien being who is striving to be better bu...
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One Piece is one of the biggest franchises in the world. The manga and anime have broken records in sales and viewership. The live action adaptation on Netflix was a hit. And the series holds a special place among fans who feel like they’re part of the Straw Hat pirate crew. But it may be the tragic backstories of the characters which tie it all together. I talk with co-host of the One Piece podcast Shannon Strucci, YouTuber Jordan...
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