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.


May 24, 2023 29 mins
A play by Charles Dickens. The Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. A hologram of a famous dead pop singer. They’re all connected by a simple magic trick called Pepper’s Ghost. What’s most remarkable about this illusion is that it hasn’t changed much in over 160 years. I talk with Jim Steinmeyer and Ben Schrader, both designers of theatrical special effects, about why a Victorian magic trick is more popular than ever at modern theme...
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When Jim Henson hired Bonnie Erickson to design Muppets in the early 1970s, Bonnie had no idea this experimental project they were working on – a prime time TV show with puppets – would evolve into the cultural phenomenon of The Muppet Show. I talked with Bonnie about how the crew tried several one-off specials where they figured out who the main characters would be, what they’d look like, and what they’d sound like. Bonnie explain...
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April 26, 2023 40 mins
This summer, Hayao Miyazaki will be releasing his final animated film before retiring. Environmental stewardship has been a consistent theme throughout his work, from My Neighbor Totoro to Spirited Away to Princess Mononoke. But what exactly has he been saying all this time about our relationship to the natural world? I gather a panel of experts to discuss the worlds that Miyazaki creates, and how his stories tap into current debat...
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Discworld might be the most popular fantasy series you’ve never heard of. The late Terry Pratchett wrote 41 novels in the Discworld universe. To honor the 75th anniversary of his birth, we look at what fueled his satire, how he put himself into his characters, and why so many Discworld fans find solace and inspiration in his worldview. I talk with Pratchett’s former assistant and biographer Rob Wilkins, dramatist Stephen Briggs who...
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March 30, 2023 35 mins
Margaret Cavendish was a pioneer of modern science fiction – except she didn’t intend to write science fiction. In the 17th century, Cavendish was a noblewoman who wanted to be taken seriously as a philosopher. In her poetry and her landmark work, The Blazing World, she imagined parallel universes, microscopic cities, human animal hybrids, zombie armies and flying vehicles. I talk with professors Emily Thomas (Durham University), L...
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March 16, 2023 34 mins
When the March 1923 issue of Weird Tales hit newsstands, many people didn’t know what to make of this new magazine. But 100 years later, Weird Tales has had a huge influence on modern day sci-fi, fantasy and horror. I talk with authors John Locke and Will Murray, former Weird Tales editor Darrell Schweitzer, current Weird Tales editor Jonathan Maberry, and art collector Steve Korshak about how a scrappy publication often on the ver...
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March 2, 2023 50 mins
The town of Ong's Hat in New Jersey may have been the site of a top secret experiment that brought scientists to a parallel world in another dimension. Or it's the subject of a big inside joke and perhaps the first alternate reality game on the Internet. This week’s episode comes from the Slate podcast Decoder Ring, where the host Willa Paskin explores questions that have haunted me for a long time. When a fantasy world and the rea...
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February 16, 2023 37 mins
As we near the one year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I check in with the Ukrainian writers I interviewed for my 2022 episode A Nation Dreams of Itself. Maria Galina tells me about the difficulties of trying to create during wartime. Svitlana Taratorina and Volodymyr Arenev talk about why writing isn’t just a form of therapy or escapism, but it’s also a patriotic duty to keep Ukrainian culture alive in a war that’...
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February 2, 2023 35 mins
I’ve been following parallel media stories about visual artists in two different fields. Each story is about artists who create fantastical images, but they’re worried they can no long practice their craft or earn a living. First, a visual effects artist who worked with Marvel explains (as read by the actor Peter Grosz) why Marvel is so dysfunctional, and how the studio may be pushing the effects industry to the brink. Former VFX e...
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January 19, 2023 37 mins
Nghi Vo's novels Siren Queen and The Chosen and the Beautiful have gotten widespread critical acclaim, which was a pleasant surprise to her because she only started expanding beyond short story writing in the last several years. Both novels are set in the same magical early 20th century America where a Hollywood studio or Jay Gatsby’s mansion could be places of treachery and wonder. I talk with Nghi about the inspiration for her ma...
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January 4, 2023 41 mins
When a fantasy or sci-fi story is set in a real location, what happens when fans go to that place looking for a glimpse of magic? How do the locals feel about their hometowns turning into fandom destinations? I talk with tour guide Jen Cresswell about why Edinburgh has become a mecca for Harry Potter tours, even though the city is never mentioned in the books. Jelena Šimac is a tour guide in the city of Dubrovnik – a.k.a. King’s La...
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December 22, 2022 38 mins
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Octavia Butler’s birth. There have been commemorations nationwide, and I wanted to join in by replaying my 2016 episode, “The Legacy of Octavia Butler.” I produced that episode early in the history of my podcast, when I was still discovering the world of sci-fi literature. I became obsessed with Butler’s writing – even though at times it can be disturbing. Nisi Shawl, Ayana Jamieson and Caule...
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December 8, 2022 36 mins
In the subgenre of analog horror, there’s something sinister or supernatural lurking in the horizontal lines and vertical holds in those old VHS tapes. Filmmaker Chris LaMartina explains why he wanted his movies WNUF Halloween Special and Out There Halloween Mega Tape to seem like live broadcasts taped off local TV news in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I talk with podcasters Perry Carpenter and Mason Amadeus from the show Digital Folklore abo...
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November 24, 2022 39 mins
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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November 10, 2022 34 mins
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 27, 2022 31 mins
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 13, 2022 30 mins
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 mins
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 mins
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 t...
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September 1, 2022 32 mins
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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