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Exploring the meaning of science fiction


58: The nerd vs. jock fight was always a lie
May 21 • 38 min
We’re sick of the nerds vs. jocks trope in pop culture. In this episode we unpack how that trope came to be, and how to get beyond high school PE trauma. We talk about science fiction that fetishizes workout routines (Arrow’s salmon ladder!?), and…
57: Why Science Fiction Needs Romance
May 7 • 42 min
Romance and speculative fiction have always been closely connected, ever since the days of the pulps. But nowadays, some of the best science fiction and fantasy writing is happening in the romance genre. We talk Alyssa Cole, author of the Off the Grid…
56: 9 new shows you should be watching right now
Apr 23 • 43 min
In these tough times, we need great TV shows more than ever. We talk about nine new series that are making us happy because they’re smart, fun, and — best of all — colorful! Plus, we’ve got recommendations for over a dozen more not-so-new shows that are…
55: How to write a plot that sucks people in
Apr 9 • 41 min
Plots are one of the most important parts of storytelling. They carry our characters forward, and they force our heroes to make choices and to change along the way. Every story has a plot, whether it’s about saving the world of making a cup of tea. So why…
54: Science fiction didn’t prepare us for the pandemic
Mar 26 • 42 min
Pandemics are a recurring trope in science fiction, but this turns out to be surprisingly unhelpful when we’re facing a contagion in reality. We talk to Mike Chen, author of the new pandemic novel A Beginning at the End, about how science fiction uses…
53: F*ck Your Nihilism!
Mar 12 • 44 min
Everything is bloody terrifying right now, what with the pandemic and the would-be strongmen and the natural disasters. So it’s easy to retreat into nihilistic storytelling, which revels in the destruction of civilization. But screw that —- when you root…
52: Comedy, Death, and “The Good Place”
Feb 27 • 39 min
We would need an eternity to discuss everything that was great and groundbreaking about “The Good Place,” which just aired its series finale. We talk about how this weird afterlife comedy combined the workplace sitcom with weighty questions about ethics,…
51: The Delicious Significance of Food in Science Fiction
Feb 13 • 36 min
Science fiction and fantasy are full of feasts, from the banquets in Game of Thrones to all those Klingon delicacies. Why is food so important in SF? To find out, we talked to Mary Anne Mohanraj, author of The Stars Change and the cookbook A Feast of…
50: The Power of Names
Jan 30 • 39 min
Science fiction and fantasy are full of stories about the power of knowing someone’s true name, from the Doctor on Doctor Who to the wizards in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea. But why are names so important and powerful? And what do they tell us about the…
49: What’s the matter with Star Wars?
Jan 16 • 51 min
The nonology is over. Baby Yoda ate the internet. Fans are screaming about everything. How did Star Wars go from a campy space opera to a trigger for political conflict? We talk to guests Annalise Ophelian, director of the new Syfy documentary series…
48: How Pulp Magazines Conquered Publishing
Jan 2 • 38 min
The phrase “Pulp Fiction” brings to mind Quentin Tarantino’s movie of the same name. But real-life pulp fiction is much stranger, and more colorful, than you ever realized. We talk to pulp historian and author Jess Nevins about the weird and sometimes…
47: The legacy of scientific racism
Dec 19, 2019 • 37 min
Scientific racism means using science to justify racist beliefs or ideas, and it has a long history. In this episode, we explore the origins of scientific racism, and how it’s still affecting both evolutionary biology and fantastical stories about “other…
46: Four Technologies That Nobody Realizes Will Change the Future
Dec 5, 2019 • 42 min
Everybody obsesses about A.I., nanotech, space travel and robots. But the technologies nobody pays much attention to could have an equally significant impact on our world. Like artificial wombs, smart toilets, new forms of public transportation, and new…
45: Worldbuilding For Beginners
Nov 21, 2019 • 46 min
Speculative fiction writers talk endlessly about worldbuilding, which sounds like it ought to involve a near-infinite amount of drywall. What is worldbuilding? And why is it so important? Plus we talk to author K. Tempest Bradford about the Writing the…
44: What Killed the Terminator?
Nov 7, 2019 • 38 min
Terminator: Dark Fate barely made a dent in the world of pop culture, despite the fact that Terminator 2 changed the course of blockbuster cinema back in 1992. What made this series so electrifying in the twentieth century, and what’s different now? Why…
43: The Myth of Rugged Individualism
Oct 24, 2019 • 36 min
The idea of the “rugged individual” is all over the place in science fiction—especially in the United States. Who is this loner hero, and why are there so many stories about how personal freedom is more important than the public good? We explore the idea…
42: It’s time to stop quoting Clarke’s Third Law
Oct 10, 2019 • 45 min
We’ve all heard Arthur C. Clarke’s third law, which states that sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic. What did Clarke mean by this, and how are people using his law to take the mystery out of fantasy stories? Plus we look at…
41: The Multiverse Problem!
Sep 26, 2019 • 41 min
Multiverses are everywhere lately, from superheroes to fantasy novels. But there’s one huge downside to multiple realities: you can’t change the past, and if you try, you just create a new universe. Also, we talk about The Future of Another Timeline,…
40: What is TV criticism, anyway?
Sep 12, 2019 • 33 min
People have a lot of opinions about what it means to have opinions about TV. Who is allowed to criticize TV, and how do you do it well? In this episode, we talk to TV critics Inkoo King (Slate) and Nina Shen Rastogi (Vulture) about what it means to…
39: Monstrous Women and Women Who Make Monsters
Aug 29, 2019 • 46 min
Why do so many horror movies and stories feature terrifying women? Why do male creators treat female bodies and women’s sexuality as intrinsically terrifying? And what happens when women get to create their own monsters and horror narratives? Plus we talk…
38: The new anti-capitalist science fiction
Aug 15, 2019 • 41 min
There’s been a renaissance of anti-capitalist stories in science fiction and fantasy in the U.S. But these aren’t tales of violent revolution or faceless corporations. We discuss Utopia, community, and how group therapy is the opposite of…
37: The history of Afro-futurism
Aug 1, 2019 • 41 min
Afro-futurism is on the rise again, thanks to the popularity of movies like Black Panther, and creators such as Janelle Monae and N.K. Jemison. But Black-centered futurism has a long history in the U.S., and it’s changed a lot over the past century. We…
36: The Laws of the Future!
Jul 18, 2019 • 40 min
Real-world law is becoming science fictional. We talk about the future of surveillance and digital policing with guest Cyrus Farivar, a journalist who covers law and technology for NBC News. He’s also the author of Habeas Data, a book about landmark…
35: When science fiction gets censored
Jul 4, 2019 • 41 min
There’s nothing quite so dystopian as censorship: the suppression of knowledge, or works of art, that challenge the ruling order. We look at how science fiction, fantasy and horror have been censored. But also, what does science fiction teach us about how…
34: How to Write a Good Ending
Jun 20, 2019 • 40 min
Everybody knows that endings are hard, and we all love to complain about the way our favorite TV show or movie ended. But with both Game of Thrones and the Avengers movies coming to an end, this is a perfect time to think about what makes for a good…
33: Science fiction explains our messed-up economy
Jun 6, 2019 • 40 min
We talk to economist Noah Smith about how different theories of economics show up in science fiction — and how economics is also an exercise in speculative worldbuilding. How do ideas about “rational actors” make their way into space operas, and why is…
You’re doing camp wrong!
May 21, 2019 • 41 min
Lately the camp-themed Met Gala got us talking about camp again. What is camp? And how is it different in 2019 than in 1969? And most importantly, why is science fiction so deathly terrified of seeming campy? We’re going to have a Kiki about this. Show…
31: Getting out of the Utopia/dystopia binary
May 9, 2019 • 41 min
We’re living in an age of dystopian stories, while real-life social issues are getting pretty dystopian too. What’s the point of telling dark stories in a dark time? Also, we discuss how Utopian stories and dystopian stories are actually quite similar —…
30: Social media must die!
Apr 25, 2019 • 44 min
Social media has become one of the biggest problems of our time. How does science fiction deal with the rise of social networks—-and how is this different from the way the real-life news media talks about it? And what does the future look like after…
29: Real talk about the end of the universe
Apr 11, 2019 • 34 min
For our first-ever live podcast, recorded in March on the JoCo Cruise, we talked to cosmologist Katie Mack about how the universe will end. Will it be heat death or vacuum decay? We also talk about how rarely science fiction deals with the end of the…
28: What’s the Matter With Westeros?
Mar 28, 2019 • 38 min
Game of Thrones comes back in a couple of weeks, so we’re thinking about the politics of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world. What would a satisfying ending to this show look like? Can our heroes defeat the ice zombies AND solve Westeros’ crisis of…
27: The future of futurism
Mar 14, 2019 • 42 min
Is there a way to predict the future accurately, using data and science? In this episode, we talk to Rose Eveleth, host of the Flash Forward podcast, about the idea of futurism. We explore its history and dark roots in fascism, as well as its connection…
26: The Bomb is back
Feb 28, 2019 • 34 min
Back during the Cold War era, we were awash in stories about nuclear armageddon: either living through it, or trying to prevent it. And now, experts say the threat of nuclear holocaust is the worst it’s been in over two decades. So how will pop culture…
25: Peering into the deep future of humanity
Feb 14, 2019 • 43 min
A lot of science fiction takes place in the near future, somewhere in the next century or so. But what about the far future in 10,000 years, or a million? How do writers and creators imagine deep time and make it plausible? We discuss our favorites and…
24: We Have Many Feelings About Steven Universe
Jan 31, 2019 • 28 min
We love the show Steven Universe now, more than ever. This cartoon about a magical child has gone through a lot of changes in the past couple of years, and now its cosmic mythos has become a lot more complex—and the theme of identity has only gotten…
Sex, Lies, and Science Fiction
Jan 17, 2019 • 49 min
Let’s talk about sex! In this episode we explore sci-fi tropes about where sex is going in the future, where it seems that we’re doomed to become aromantic hedonists or asexual drones. We also talk about the greatest hits of sci-fi and fantasy sex.…
22: Can science fiction still give us hope for the future?
Jan 3, 2019 • 44 min
We need hope now, more than ever. So it’s a good thing that more and more SF creators are trying to write hopeful stories—-but what does it mean to be hopeful? Is hope a genre, or just a theme? And what the heck is “hopepunk” anyway? We talk about the…
21: Pop culture nostalgia, or branding your memories
Dec 20, 2018 • 38 min
We know you just want to curl up by the fire and bask in pop culture of yesteryear this holiday season. But too bad. We’re here with special guest Katharine Trendacosta to interrogate the meaning of nostalgia in science fiction. We discuss remakes,…
Why we’re excited about Doctor Who again
Dec 6, 2018 • 39 min
Doctor Who is a brand new show this year. Not only is there a lady Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker, but the show’s whole format feels totally different. Three companions! All new monsters! But even more than that, the show has a new, more upbeat…
19: What’s so bad about cultural appropriation?
Nov 22, 2018 • 40 min
This holiday season, let’s add everyone’s biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Or hey—let’s not! In this episode, we talk with scholar and editor Jaymee Goh, whose doctoral research focused on cultural appropriation and steampunk. She…
18: Alien minds
Nov 8, 2018 • 41 min
It’s easy to stick prosthetics on someone’s face and call them an alien. But how do we represent a truly alien form of consciousness? In this episode, we talk about science fiction that succeeds (or fails) to evoke alien minds—whether they hail from other…
17: Democracy and its discontents
Oct 25, 2018 • 43 min
With the U.S. midterm election coming up, it’s time to look at representations of democracy in science fiction. The genre is often skeptical or satirical when it comes to democracy—you can see this in everything from episodes of The Prisoner to the movie…
16: Can we survive capitalism?
Oct 11, 2018 • 43 min
Anti-capitalism is having a moment in the West, and especially in the U.S. political scene. But science fiction has been grappling with the promises and savage realities of capitalism since its very inception. In this episode, we talk about…
15: The future of the city
Sep 27, 2018 • 35 min
Cities lurk in the background of many futuristic stories, but they can also be characters in them. In this episode, we talk about how cities might evolve, and whether it’s inevitable that they’ll become cyber-noir dystopias. Also on our minds: Why social…
14: The rise of transgender science fiction
Sep 13, 2018 • 42 min
Transgender people have always been part of science fiction and fantasy, but the past few years have seen a whole new generation of trans creators bursting onto the scene. Why are so many trans people flocking to SF and what kind of stories are they…
13: The Wiki-ization of television
Aug 30, 2018 • 38 min
There were 487 scripted shows on the air in 2017, and 2018 is just as packed. In this episode, we talk about the history of peak TV, and what it’s done to the way we tell stories. Some TV shows have been Wiki-ized, getting so complex that you need…
12: Why Are Utopias So Hard To Imagine?
Aug 14, 2018 • 40 min
In this episode, we look at Sense8, the globe-spanning show about mentally linked psychics from Lana and Lily Wachowski, and we celebrate its uplifting vision of people coming together and letting go of ego. But one of the most fascinating things about…
11: We’re in the wrong timeline
Aug 2, 2018 • 39 min
We’ve all been feeling like something is wrong with the timeline. In this episode, we ask what alternate history, fake history, and secondary world history can teach us about the present. Does exploring the past in fiction help us learn from history or…
10: Deep in the heart of fandom
Jul 19, 2018 • 34 min
We’ve all witnessed the awesome power of fandom: saving beloved TV shows from cancellation, creating beautiful fan art and fan-fiction, and creating brilliant communities. But the dark side of fandom is also powerful, and can lead to actors and creators…
9: Horror of the One Percent
Jul 5, 2018 • 38 min
Rich people want to eat you. That’s the literal plot in a lot of horror movies, and the subtext of many more. Inspired by The Purge saga, we’re talking about movies and TV where class warfare becomes a blood-soaked battleground. From recent standouts Get…
8: Science fiction has always been queer
Jun 21, 2018 • 44 min
It’s queer pride month, and we’re talking about how LGBTQIA+ got into our SFF. We time warp back to the lesbian vampires of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla and the utopian world of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, and catch you up on modern…
7: Imaginary immigrants and time-traveling refugees
Jun 7, 2018 • 45 min
Immigration is a major theme in science fiction, both as subtext and major plot arcs. Creators often tell stories about new arrivals on Earth from other worlds, other dimensions, and other timelines. Poet and performer Baruch Porras-Hernandez joins us to…
6: Animal companions and magical beasts
May 24, 2018 • 42 min
Special guest Maggie Tokuda-Hall, author of the children’s book Also An Octopus, joins us to talk about what happens when animals become characters in science fiction and fantasy. Animals get to speak in fairy tales, Disney movies, and stories of…
5: Fear of robots
May 10, 2018 • 42 min
Fear of robots is on the rise — in science fiction and the tech industry. What causes this anxiety in real life, and how does science fiction imagine the future of human/robot relationships? Are we going to be raw materials for a future AI civilization,…
4: Crisis on infinite superheroes
Apr 27, 2018 • 36 min
With Avengers: Infinity War about to hit theaters, we needed to talk about superheroes. What is it about these larger-than-life characters that fascinates us so much? Why can’t we eliminate campiness and silliness from superhero epics? And have the…
3: Books that stand the test of time
Apr 12, 2018 • 36 min
Some science fiction books are still fascinating after 200 years, while others make us wince after just a decade on the shelf. What makes an SF book stay relevant? Hint: it’s not the book’s ability to predict the future. Your hosts Annalee Newitz and…
Propaganda and mind control in science fiction
Mar 29, 2018 • 39 min
There’s something distinctly science fictional about how Facebook has been used by governments, politicians, and private companies to manipulate people’s perceptions—and even affect the outcomes of elections. In this episode, we talk about how science…
1: Hope, dread, and Star Trek: Discovery
Mar 15, 2018 • 36 min
Join authors Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz to explore storytelling, science, and cultural meaning in science fiction. In our first episode, we discuss the inaugural season of Star Trek: Discovery. How does this show fit into the Star Trek…