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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.


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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.




Class of '84: Turtles, Transformers and Toys Takeover TV

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 them in cultural dominance, but it began with two indie comic book creators making a black and white comic as a lark. But Turtles and Transformers both ended up wrestling with similar questions around what happens when you put the cart before the horse in creating content to sell products. Documentary filmmaker Isaac Elliot-Fisher and Cartoon Art Museum curator Andrew Farago talk about the incredible rags to riches story of the Turtles creators, and how success changed them. And I talk with Bob Budiansky, who created many of the original Transformers characters for Hasbro and Marvel Comics. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


Class of '84: When Cyber Was Punk

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 predicted the future of technology with surprising accuracy, but it also imagined the way that high tech would help fuel a new type of hyper capitalism. I also talk with Chris Miller aka Silver Spook, creator of the game Neofeud, and Gareth Damian Martin, creator of the game Citizen Sleeper, about how they used indie games to bring cyberpunk back to its roots in Neuromancer. Also, Lincoln Michel discusses why in his novel The Body Scout, he wanted to bring cyberpunk out of cyberspace. Featuring readings by actor Varick Boyd. This week’s episode is sponsored by Ship Station, Henson Shaving and Babbel. Use the promo code “imaginary” at to sign up for a free 60-day trial. Visit to pick the razor for you and use the code “imaginary” to get two years' worth of free blades. Get 50% off at Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


Bonus: Rise of The Villains Outtakes

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 and disabilities. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


Class of '84: Rise of The Villains

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-up and creature designers Neill Gorton and Shannon Shea (who worked on Terminator and Nightmare On Elm Street sequels) about why the '80s was a golden age of monsters. Criminal psychology professor Yannie ten Brooke analyzes the ’84 villains and why they scared us. And I talk with pastor and podcaster JR Forasteros about why they don’t make villains like they used to – for better and for worse. You can also find Shannon at Two Chez on Etsy. Today’s episode is sponsored by Magic Spoon and Green Chef. Go to to grab a variety pack and be sure to use our promo code IMAGINARY at checkout to save five dollars off your order. Go to and use the code 60imaginary to get 60% off, plus 20% off your next two months. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


Making Blue Eye Samurai

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 Blue Eye Samurai, and how she wanted to represent Japanese culture in a way that’s never been done in Western animation. Jane also discusses how her background in martial arts and how her personal history helped her understand the main character Mizu, a woman with dual identities on a quest for revenge 17th century Japan. Use the promo code IMAGINARY at to sign up for your free 30-day trial. Go to and enter IMAGINARY at checkout to get 100 free blades with your purchase. (Note: you must add both the 100-blade pack and the razor for the discount to apply.) Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


Prologue to Ursula K. le Guin

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 Man Is Ishi,” comes from the podcast The Last Archive from Pushkin Industries hosted by Jill Lepore and Ben Naddaff-Hafrey. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


@ChristmasCarol: A Holiday Tale

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 because we no longer believe they’re real. Featuring performances from Torian Brackett, Alexandra Reed and Bill Lobley. Get 55% off a Babbel subscription at To claim your free 3 piece towel set and save over 40% off Miracle Made sheets go to and use the code "imaginary." Give one annual membership of MasterClass and get one free at Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


Doctor Who's Power of Regeneration

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 but keeps overshooting the mark. I talk with Emmet’s partner Sylas K. Barrett and comedian Riley Silverman about how The Doctor’s gender transitions have been an apt metaphor for the transgender experience. Also, Nick Randall of the BBC and SNS Online, historian Robin Bunce, and playwright Mac Rogers talk about the show’s significance culturally, and what it means to them as fans. Get two memberships for the price of one at Go to and use the code "Imaginary" to sign up for a free 60-day trial. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


How One Piece Became King of the Backstories

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 Silva, artist Steve Yurko and Crunchyroll writer Daniel Dockery about how One Piece’s creator Eiichiro Oda is able to combine zany humor with emotional gut punches, and why so many fans identify with aspects of the characters’ backstories, even when the storylines are completely fantastical. Go to to save over 40%. And use the code “imaginary” at checkout to get 3 free towels and save an extra 20% Get 55% off at Go to and use the code “imaginaryfree” for free breakfast for life Give One Annual Membership and Get One Free at Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


Bonus: Norse Myths Outtakes

My guests from the previous episode, Carolyne Larrington and Ada Palmer, had so many interesting things to say about Norse mythology and how much of it is still a mystery to us, I decided to compile sections of their interviews in this bonus episode of outtakes. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


Seeing Ourselves in Norse Myths

Thor and Loki have become pop culture icons thanks to Marvel. But the influence of Norse mythology on contemporary fantasy runs through Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and so much more. University of Chicago professor and author Ada Palmer explains how people misunderstood Norse mythology for centuries, and why it’s so hard to capture the mindset of the Vikings in pop culture. And I talk with University of Oxford professor Carolyne Larrington, author of The Norse Myths That Shape the Way We Think, about how a light Marvel movie and a grimdark fantasy film like The Northman each capture aspects of the mythology in their own ways. Ada Palmer's a capella album is Sundown: Whispers of Ragnarök by Sassafrass. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


Creating Hindu Fantasy Worlds

Kritika H. Rao, Shveta Thakrar, Roshani Chokshi, and Ram V are helping to create a new genre. They use elements of their Hindu backgrounds to write fantasy books primarily aimed at a Western marketplace. I talked with them about the challenge of drawing on a diverse religion of beliefs and gods that many Western readers and publishers might be unfamiliar with. Our panel discussion also turned out to be an opportunity for the authors to bond over their favorite deities, the Hindu comics they grew up reading, and the questions they’ve faced about who gets to tell their stories. Roshani Chokshi writes the middle-grade series, Aru Shah, and she’s the author of The Star-Touched Queen trilogy of YA novels. Kritika H. Rao is the author of The Surviving Sky, which will be part of The Rages Trilogy. Shveta Thakrar is the author of Star Daughter and The Dream Runners. Ram V is a comic book writer, and the author of the graphic novel, The Many Deaths of Laila Starr. Today's episode is brought to you by HelloFresh. Go to and use code 50imaginary for 50% off plus free shipping. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


Haunted Housing Market

We all know the scenario. A nice young family moves into a new house. It’s haunted by an evil spirit. Mayhem ensues. These movies have been reliable box office hits for decades, but they might also be telling us something about the real anxieties of home ownership. I talk with Alexandra West, co-host of the podcast Faculty of Horror, and Dahlia Schweitzer, author of Haunted Homes, about how the history of the American suburbs made their mark on movies like The Amityville Horror and Poltergeist. George R. Olson, showrunner of the Syfy series SurrealEstate, discusses why the heroes of his show are ghost whispering real estate agents. And realtor Cindi Hagley explains how she became an expert in selling stigmatized properties with haunted pasts. Also check out the Faculty of Horror episode House Warning. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


Making the Sounds of Make-Believe

John Roesch is a legend in the field of foley sound effects. He mastered the art of creating bespoke sound effects using props or just his body on films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Back to the Future, Frozen, Toy Story, The Matrix, The Dark Knight, Inception, and much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And John was at the forefront of a revolution in foley sound effects starting with his work on classic Lucas and Spielberg films. We talk about the art of acting with props, the challenge of building upon sounds in an established universe like Star Wars, how they found the sound of Thor’s hammer, the grind of playing Batman’s body double in a video game, and the famous sci-fi film he wished he had worked on. Today's episode is brought to you by HelloFresh. Go to and use the code 50imaginary for 50% off plus 15% off the next 2 months. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


The Nine Lives of Red Dwarf

35 years ago, Doug Naylor co-created a sitcom called Red Dwarf about the last human left alive in the far future. But the character is not alone. The rest of the crew aboard the ship Red Dwarf includes an annoying hologram, a very helpful android, a very unhelpful A.I. and a cat-person with a great sense of style. The show was considered a huge gamble back then. Sci-fi and comedy were not supposed to mix. But Red Dwarf was a hit – and Doug Naylor has continued to revive the show over and over due to popular demand. I talked with him about why this existential comedy works so well, and how it continues to inspire him to create “emotion bombs.” Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


Have You Watched....?

The writers’ and actors’ strikes have disrupted the pipeline of new shows and movies. We’re going to run out of new stuff to watch soon. Our listeners can help with that. They want you know about their favorite unsung gems of sci-fi and fantasy. Some of them were cult hits. Others underperformed at the box office or in the ratings. Maybe it’s time to give them a chance. In this episode, we hear about The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Odyssey 5, Spaced, Erik the Viking, John Carter, Centaurworld and Wendell & Wild. Our guests also recommend The 13th Warrior, Jerimiah, Babylon 5, and the Syfy mini-series Alice. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


Ghosted by TV Shows

We’ve all had this experience. We get hooked on a show. We fall in love with the characters. We can’t stop thinking about them in between episodes. Then it gets cancelled or rushed to conclusion. When that happens to a show, it can feel like a relationship has abruptly ended – and a lot of them have ended in recent years. The streaming boom has gone bust. A lot of streaming services invested in sci-fi fantasy shows, hoping the for next Game of Thrones or Stranger Things. So, this wave of cancellations has hit SFF fans hard. We asked our listeners to tell us about the cancellations that broke their hearts in the recent or distant past, and how they’re trying to make sense of unresolved endings. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


Extreme Makeover: Fairy Godmother Edition

Who wouldn’t want a fairy godmother to solve our problems with the flick of a magic wand? We know that’s not a healthy fantasy and yet, fairy godmothers aren’t going away. In fact, they’ve been proliferating in contemporary fantasy novels and reinterpretations of Cinderella. But they don’t look or act like you might expect. I talk with Butler University lecturer Jeana Jorgensen and PhD student Abigail Fine about the origin of fairy godmothers and why they’re ripe for reimagining. And I talk with author Gail Caron Levine about her groundbreaking novel Ella Enchanted, which broke the mold on fairy tales. Featuring readings from Aliza Pearl. Jeana Jorgensen's latest book is Fairy Tales 101: An Accessible Introduction to Fairy Tales. In this episode we discussed Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron and Kissing the Witch by Emma Donahue. Other contemporary novels with fairy godmother-type characters include Geekerella by Ashley Poston, Shadows on The Moon by Zoe Marriott, Ash by Malinda Lo, Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas, and Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella by Megan Morrison. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


How to Go to Infinity and Beyond

These ships feel like old friends – The Enterprise, the Millennium Falcon, Battlestar Galactica, Serenity, The Rosinante. But would any of them actually work in space? I talk with NASA astrophysicist Jessie Christiansen, JPL planetary scientist Kevin Hand and Boeing engineer Eric Primm talk about how we would get to the stars, what those ships would actually look like, why the Millennium Falcon probably couldn’t have made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, and whether the X-Wing fighter should be a drone. This week's episode is sponsored by Express VPN. We’re proud to be featured on Podurama this month. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit


Welcome Our New A.I. Overlords

Science fiction has primed us for this moment when artificial intelligence starts to take on a life of its own. ChatGPT has baffled and surprised even computer scientists in terms of how it works. Now a lot of us are asking, “Which movie are we in?” Is ChatGPT going to be a benign intelligence like Samantha from Her, dangerously neurotic and emotionally unstable like HAL from 2001, or a malevolent force like Skynet from The Terminator series? I talk with Erik Sofge, senior editor at MIT Horizon, about whether any of these scenarios are accurate, or if sci-fi is distracting us from seeing the problems that A.I. could create in our daily lives. We also revisit my 2016 episode The Robot Uprising, where I looked at how our feelings about A.I. and robots are influenced not just by sci-fi but also unresolved historical guilt. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit