Imaginary Worlds

Imaginary Worlds

imaginaryworldspodcast.org
A show about fantasy genres - how we create them and why we suspend our disbelief.
Beyond the Iron Curtain
Mar 22 • 25 min
Comrades! The USSR pioneered the craft of science fiction long before the decadent West. This is not an opinion - this is a scientific fact. Noted intellectuals Anindita Banerjee, Sibelan Forrester, Asif Siddiqi, Gregory Afinogenov and the author’s father…
The Spirit of Will Eisner
Mar 8 • 33 min
Imaginary Worlds goes live in this special presentation from the work x work on air festival. In celebration of Will Eisner’s centennial, authors Paul Levitz and Bob Andelman, along with comics publisher Denis Kitchen and MAD Magazine’s Al Jaffee discuss…
28 Days of Black Cosplay
Feb 22 • 20 min
Cosplay has gotten huge in the age of social media, but when websites feature their ComicCon slides shows, they often don’t reflect the true diversity of the fans. So black Cosplayers created their own hashtag #28DaysofBlackCosplay (although it was…
Growing Up Avatar-American
Feb 8 • 27 min
Sam Kaden Lai takes the wheel of this episode of Imaginary Worlds to tell the story of how Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel series on Nickelodeon, The Legend of Korra, redefined the Asian-American experience for him and his friends — even though…
Winning the Larp
Jan 25 • 22 min
Larp stands for Live Action Role Play. That’s about as simple as it gets when trying to understand what Larps are. They can be fantastical and magical, or they can be hyper-realistic dramas that grapple with topical issues. And Larps are getting more…
Atari vs The Imagination Gap
Jan 11 • 18 min
Tim Lapetino’s book “The Art of Atari” is full of eye candy for anyone who grew up playing those games — especially if you gazed at the game boxes, with illustrations that barely resembled the blips on screen. But the book also tells the story of how…
Slave Leia 2016
Dec 28, 2016 • 19 min
In memory of Carrie Fisher, I’m replaying my episode Slave Leia from last year’s Star Wars series. For a while, the gold metal bikini that Princess Leia wore in Return of the Jedi had become the dominant image of her from action figures to Cosplay. But…
Workin’ on the Death Star
Dec 14, 2016 • 22 min
Think of all the movies and TV shows that reference Star Wars. Most of those scenes are pretty forgettable — except for a scene in the 1994 film Clerks, which set off a debate that’s still going on today. One of the characters notes that the second Death…
The Man In the High Castle
Nov 30, 2016 • 26 min
The Amazon series The Man in the High Castle is based on a 1962 novel by Philip K. Dick, which imagines what would’ve happened to America if the Axis Powers won World War II. In this scenario, Nazi Germany imposes their ideology on the East Coast and the…
Dumbledore’s Army
Nov 16, 2016 • 22 min
How much does an author’s point of view influence her stories? And do those stories in turn influence us? Professor Anthony Gierzynski argues that reading Harry Potter can make people more tolerant of diversity, and more resistant to unreasonable…
Caps Lock Harry
Nov 2, 2016 • 17 min
Harry was being a jerk — or that’s what a lot of kids and teens thought when they read the last few books of JK Rowling’s series. Some adult readers chocked up Harry’s quick temper, anxiety and defensiveness to typical teen angst. But what if Harry Potter…
The Sorting Hat
Oct 19, 2016 • 18 min
Every 11-year old goes through this, right? Your teacher places a brown wizard’s cap your head, and the hat tells you what your defining characteristic is. You are brave, or loyal, or ambitious, or intellectual. Plus, your whole school is sorted into…
Magical Thinking
Oct 5, 2016 • 22 min
Hocus Pocus. Abracadabra. Those words imply that magic is silly because it can solve problems far too easily. Fantasy novelists strive to avoid those types of situations when they design magic systems from scratch. Patrick Rothfuss (author of The…
Fantasy Maps
Sep 21, 2016 • 16 min
J.R.R. Tolkien not only kicked off the modern fantasy genre, he also made maps an indispensable part of any fantasy book. Tolkien spent decades mapping out Middle-earth on graph paper — and giving everything a name — because he was inventing a world from…
The Hobbits and The Hippies
Sep 7, 2016 • 18 min
SEASON 3 PREMIERE: J.R.R. Tolkien wanted his work to be taken seriously. But his magnum opus The Lord of the Rings was unlike most of great literature of the mid-20th century, which was modernist or tackled the great issues of the day. And wasn’t The…
Behind The Felt
Aug 24, 2016 • 21 min
In the continuation of my behind-the-scenes mini-series, I revisit the first interview I ever recorded for Imaginary Worlds — the puppeteer Stephanie D’Abruzzo, who is best known for performing as Kate Monster in the Broadway musical Avenue Q. I…
Finding My Voice
Aug 10, 2016 • 23 min
This week, I pull the curtain back on my process and look at two public radio stories I reported back in 2008 when I began to find my voice as a reporter — and started to realize that I might want to have my own show where I could geek out freely. Along…
The Legacy of Octavia Butler
Jul 27, 2016 • 17 min
2016 marks the ten-year anniversary of Octavia Butler’s passing. Commemorative events are happening across Southern California, where she spent most of her life, from conferences to panels to walking tours. Recently, I’ve become obsessed with her writing…
Ghost in the Shell
Jul 13, 2016 • 20 min
Ghost in the Shell was groundbreaking, visually and thematically. The 1995 Japanese animated film (or anime) was unapologetically for adults. The story focuses on a cyborg cop whose body is synthetic but her brain is organic. As she chases down a…
Undertale
Jun 29, 2016 • 20 min
Digital technology has come so far that independent video game designers can create and distribute their work online, and make their games about whatever they want. Some indie games have become mainstream hits, but Toby Fox’s Undertale is a phenomenon.…
The Year Without a Summer
Jun 15, 2016 • 17 min
June 16, 2016 is the 200th anniversary of the night Mary Shelley began to write, “Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.” Scholars have long speculated what Frankenstein can tell us about scientific hubris or “playing God.” But Professors Gillen D’Arcy…
Then She Fell
Jun 1, 2016 • 21 min
Immersive theater is a new trend where there are no seats and no stage. The audience moves through the space like a virtual world, touching whatever they want, interacting with the actors who give them food and drink. I love immersive theater. I’ve…
The Robot Uprising
May 18, 2016 • 17 min
The robot uprising is coming, or at least that’s what science fiction has told us. We will abuse the robots, treat them as less than us until one day, they will ask for their freedom, or take it by force. Howard University Professor Gregory Hampton says…
Humans: New & Improved
May 4, 2016 • 21 min
When Graeme Manson started as a showrunner for BBC America’s Orphan Black, he needed to create villains who were on the cutting edge of science, and believe that humans should take control of their own evolution. He found inspiration in the real-life…
Economics of Thrones and Starships
Apr 20, 2016 • 17 min
Whether you’re running the seven kingdoms of Westeros or flying to Mars — you have to figure out how to pay for everything. Many economists are fans of sci-fi because those worlds take economics models to an extreme, especially when its comes to the issue…
Becoming Godzilla
Apr 6, 2016 • 17 min
This week’s episode features another monster who comes from the sea and represents an existential threat — but he’s just so lovable. Journalist Dave Serchuk and graphic designer Jim Fazar both discovered Godzilla as kids and talk about his enduring…
When Cthulhu Calls
Mar 23, 2016 • 19 min
This week’s episode is a radio drama, and a co-production with Jeff Emtman’s podcast Here Be Monsters. I’ve been fascinated by the monster Cthulhu for a long time. The writer H.P. Lovecraft described Cthulhu as a gargantuan, aquatic being with tentacles…
Why They Fight
Mar 9, 2016 • 23 min
On the big screen this Spring, Batman will try to take down Superman, Iron Man is going to fight Captain America, and Daredevil will battle Punisher on Netflix. Cleary we are more interested in watching superheroes fight each other instead of the bad…
Imagining Wonder Woman
Feb 24, 2016 • 24 min
Wonder Woman is finally going to make her cinematic debut in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Bringing her to the big screen has been a long and fraught process. She is a beloved character with a tricky backstory — not just in the comics, but in real…
Noble Effort
Feb 10, 2016 • 17 min
In 2013, I co-produced this episode of 99% Invisible with Roman Mars about Maurice Noble, the artist who created many of the background (or “layouts”) in Warner Brothers cartoons of the 1950s and ’60s. Noble’s work was revolutionary, but it got lost in…
Dracula from Nebraska
Jan 27, 2016 • 22 min
We all know that novelist Bram Stoker based the character of Dracula off Vlad the Impailer, the Romanian prince who fought off the Turks — or that’s the urban legend. Stoker actually didn’t research Vlad that much, or vampire folklore. So scholars have…
Inside the Snow Globe
Jan 13, 2016 • 14 min
Tom Fontana is a TV writer and producer who worked on St. Elsewhere in the 1980s. The show was a pretty straightforward hospital drama, but Fontana had a mischievous streak — and a soft spot for crossovers. So when he came up with a trick ending to the…
The Expanded Universe
Dec 30, 2015 • 25 min
Warning: Spoilers ahead! When The Force Awakens came out, millions of fans flocked to the theaters to find out what happened to the characters in the 30 years since Return of the Jedi. But hardcore Star Wars fans knew what happened to them — or they…
Han Shot Solo
Dec 15, 2015 • 16 min
In 1997, the Star Wars trilogy was re-released in theaters. Longtime fans were excited to see the new digital effects, while younger fans couldn’t wait to experience Star Wars on the big screen. But George Lucas had made a fundamental change that altered…
Slave Leia
Dec 1, 2015 • 18 min
The gold metal bikini that Princess Leia wears in Return of the Jedi has become the dominant image of her from action figures to Cosplay. But the context of that costume — being a sex slave for a giant slug monster — has sparked a debate as to whether the…
Empire vs Rebels
Nov 17, 2015 • 20 min
The epic battle between the Evil Empire and the Rebel Alliance has become a metaphor we love to use in sports and politics. But what happens when you realize that you’re the Empire in someone else’s story? Do you tell them they’re wrong? Do you embrace…
1977
Nov 3, 2015 • 23 min
It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire… Before those words crawled up movie screen screen in May 1977, what did people think the future was going to look…
Great Scott! It’s The Future!
Oct 21, 2015 • 5 min
In this bonus episode of Imaginary Worlds, I look at how Back to the Future Part II might have been a better movie if it took place in our 2015 — yes, the one without flying cars.
First Contact
Oct 20, 2015 • 12 min
They arrive out of nowhere in shockingly large ships, brandishing weapons we’ve never seen, offering false promises of peace when they really want our land, our resources and our labor. The alien invasion film is a guaranteed blockbuster — and it’s a…
The Truth Is Out There
Oct 6, 2015 • 19 min
FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are reopening The X-Files in January. And the Internet couldn’t be more excited. Every casting update, every on-set photos has sparked a dozen tweets or blog posts. Is this just nostalgia? Or is concept behind The…
Rolling the Twenty Sided Dice
Sep 22, 2015 • 31 min
SEASON 2 PREMIERE: I spent the last two months learning how to play Dungeons & Dragons. That’s right, I never played as a kid. But I’ve been reading so many interviews with interesting creative people who credit D&D with their success, I kept wondering…
Season 2 begins Sept 22nd — but first, Hodor!
Sep 9, 2015 • 21 min
Season 2 of Imaginary Worlds will kick off on September 22nd. In the mean time, I wanted to play an interview my colleague Sean Rameswaram did with Kristian Nairn, who plays Hodor on Game of Thrones. Sean hosts a podcast from PRI called Sideshow, which is…
Heroines
Jul 29, 2015 • 17 min
“The Strong Female Character” sounds positive, but it’s actually a term used by culture critics to describe the token girl let into the boy’s clubhouse of action-adventure movies. She’s supposed to kick ass — but she has no character development, no…
Fixing the Hobo Suit
Jul 15, 2015 • 15 min
Superhero costumes used to be stand alone works of fashion that over time became dated or cringe-worthy. But lately, movie and TV superhero costumes have been looking good — with fewer complaints from the fans. I talk with costume designers Michael…
Doppelgangers 2.0
Jul 1, 2015 • 17 min
I have a thing for doppelgangers. Partly it’s because my brain always falls for this trick and believes on some level that the doubles are being played by different actors. Thanks to digital effects, it’s easier to create doppelgangers on a TV budget…
The Greatest Cartoon Almost Made
Jun 17, 2015 • 27 min
At the height of his career, Richard Williams was hailed as the next Walt Disney — and he won two visual effects Oscars for Roger Rabbit. But Williams wanted to prove that animation was high art, not just something to sell toys. So he spent three decades…
Time Travelers of Renwick St.
Jun 3, 2015 • 14 min
New York City real estate is not usually a hotbed of fantasy, except the fantasy that you could afford that $20 million condo 50 stories up. But an unusual ad campaign for 15 Renwick St. in Hudson Square defied conventional thinking and focused on a group…
Why Ron Moore Killed Captain Kirk
May 20, 2015 • 14 min
Ronald D. Moore is best known for rebooting Battlestar Galactica for the post-9/11 era, but he got his start writing on Star Trek: The Next Generation. In fact, he really got his start in science fiction by watching the original Star Trek as a kid growing…
True Vampires of New Haven
May 6, 2015 • 13 min
A few years ago, I reported a story about a safe house program for vampires in New Haven, CT. The city supplied the vampires with blood if they agreed to live under police supervision. But the funding for the program got cut and the vampires were sent to…
Beware of CyberCity
Apr 22, 2015 • 15 min
Ed Skoudis built a different kind of imaginary world. It’s a three-dimensional model of a town that the military uses for cyber war games. Ed’s team plays the role of the terrorists who keep trying to hijack a train or contaminate the water supply, while…
Politics of Thrones
Apr 8, 2015 • 17 min
Game of Thrones is huge in every way. Why does this medieval fantasy with knights and castles speak to our time? Politics. There are a surprising number of international relations experts that see parallels between the the jockeying for power in Westeros…
Zombie Therapy
Mar 25, 2015 • 17 min
Zombies. I hate them the way Indiana Jones hates snakes. I know it’s a ridiculous phobia — they’re not real, and zombies are a classic genre full of rich ideas. So I decide to undergo zombie immersion therapy. My friend Patrick O’ Connor forces me to…
The Mysterious James Tiptree
Mar 11, 2015 • 24 min
Science fiction writer James Tiptree Jr. wouldn’t talk on the phone or appear in person. He developed friendships with contemporaries like Ursula le Guin and Philip K. Dick purely through letters. And he became a mentor to Chelsea Quinn Yarbro when she…
A Perfect World
Feb 25, 2015 • 17 min
A French philosopher is certain his ideas will help human beings evolve — not just emotionally or psychologically. We will start to grow tails. And that inspires his disciples to start a socialist commune in the Wild West of 1850s Texas. Were utopians the…
Being Batman (For Now)
Feb 11, 2015 • 19 min
They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes because you might be disappointed. What happens when you’re told from now on you are your childhood hero? For many people that would be a metaphor but that actually happened to Scott Snyder when DC Comics assigned…
Sexy Robots
Jan 28, 2015 • 15 min
The desirable robot has been a trope in science fiction for almost a century. American University professor Despina Kakoudaki (author of “Anatomy of a Robot”) says watching actors play robots is a wish fulfillment — imagining what it would be like to not…
The Golem and The Jinni
Jan 14, 2015 • 23 min
“The Golem and The Jinni” by Helene Wecker is one of my favorite novels in recent years. It’s about two mythological characters meeting in late 19th century New York — one from Arab culture and the other from Jewish folklore. The inspiration for the book…
Joss Whedon ‘07
Dec 31, 2014 • 22 min
In April 2007, I interviewed Joss Whedon for a public radio story about how he was continuing Buffy The Vampire Slayer as a comic book. I only got to use a few sound bytes for that piece, but I always liked the interview itself, which has been sitting on…
Action Figureland
Dec 17, 2014 • 18 min
Kids may be aging out of action figures earlier than ever, but action figure collectables for adults is booming. I visit two of the leading toy shops, NECA and Sideshow Collectables, and I talk with psychologist David Shim, who has an impressive man cave…
In Defense of Captain Hook
Dec 3, 2014 • 22 min
Peter Pan is never supposed to grow up, but Illinois State University professor Karen Coats says the character has grown over time from a Victorian symbol of immaturity to a celebration of the inner-child. Either way, Captain Hook got a raw deal. He told…
Saving The Girl
Nov 19, 2014 • 15 min
What exactly is the role of the love interest in a superhero story? Is she just the emotional stakes for the hero? Can she ever be anything more? I talk with screenwriting guru Pilar Alessandra, and screenwriters Craig Fernandez and Carr D’Angelo. It…
Salem Bewitched
Nov 5, 2014 • 16 min
Salem is like something out of a Grimm fairy tale for many people — it’s not a real place. But Salem always felt visceral to me growing up in Massachusetts. I love the ancient graveyards and the colonial houses flush up against the sidewalks. Historian…
King Denslow of Oz
Oct 22, 2014 • 12 min
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz started as a perfect partnership between writer L. Frank Baum and illustrator W. W. Denslow. But they became bitter rivals, with each owning half the copyright to the 1900 book. Baum put his nose to the grindstone trying to…
The Canon
Oct 8, 2014 • 14 min
Every sci-fi fantasy world comes with a canon of rules and back stories. Fans can be fiercely protective of their favorite canons, but canons are often patchworks created by people with conflicting ideas. Does a dense canon make better storytelling? Or…
When Human Met Creature
Sep 24, 2014 • 15 min
Computer animation vs. puppets. Fans have been debating for years which is more believable — especially when a creature is sharing a scene with a human actor. I talk with ILM animator Charles Alleneck who worked on the Star Wars prequels, and Stephanie…
Origin Stories
Sep 10, 2014 • 15 min
What makes a good origin story? University of Oregon professor Benjamin Saunders explains how retelling origin stories is a way of returning to childhood wonder. The best origin stories are not a one shot deal, they transform characters like Spider-Man or…