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Exploring Tomorrow: Meaningful Science Fiction and Life's Big Questions

Exploring Tomorrow: Meaningful Science Fiction and Life's Big Questions

By Mikel J. Wisler
Can science fiction save the world? Author and filmmaker, Mikel J. Wisler, explores the themes and ideas presented in a wide range of sci-fi movies and books from various time periods. Convinced that sci-fi is the most naturally philosophical genre, Wisler invites everyone from die-hard fans to casual observers to dive into meaningful conversations about how sci-fi helps us think about our future, brings up challenging scenarios, and forces us to ask big questions.
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021 Machinehood by S.B. Divya and the world of 2095

Exploring Tomorrow: Meaningful Science Fiction and Life's Big Questions

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030 Subscribed Short Film - Or How I Got Diana Porter to Directing My Script
Because I love science fiction, I don't just talk about it. Occasionally, I write sci-fi stories. And because I used to be a narrative filmmaker, I still pick up and camera and do a little cinematography. In this episode, I invite actor and director Diana Porter to discuss with me why she agreed to direct and star in "Subscribed," this short film I wrote out of concerns over how faceless corporations might exploit artificial intelligence as a tool to transform us into cogs in their profit machine. I also ask what first got Diana interested in science fiction. We are in post-production for "Subscribed" and eager to complete the film and share it with more people, get it into festivals, and engage in meaningful conversations around the themes of the film. If you would like to learn more about the project, you can do so here: http://kck.st/3zD87bq Learn more about Diana Porter's work here: https://www.dianaporteractress.com
01:01:37
September 21, 2021
029 The Tomorrow War - Movie Discussion with Chris Wong & Naa Dodoo
The Tomorrow War offers us big-budget sci-fi with hand-wavy time travel and deadly aliens. What's not to love? On this episode, I invite a couple of friends who also love a good sci-fi flick to join me for a lively discussion about the merits and flaws of this tropy action movie. Be warned, we discuss the move at length, so expect a lot of spoilers. Follow Naa Dodoo on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/facelessfoods/ Keep up with my writing news (including updates about my own time-travel novel): www.mikelwisler.com
01:14:05
July 21, 2021
028 Octavia Cade, The Stone Weta, and Protecting Climate Change Data
Author and science communication specialist Octavia Cade joins me for an important conversation about climate change, effective communication of science to the public, and protecting data and scientific integrity in a world driven by politics and profit margins. In this challenging and eye-opening episode, Cade and I discuss the real-world inspiration for her novel, The Stone Weta, about the women who put their lives and work at risk to project damning data on climate change. While the novel is fiction, the reality it draws from is something we must face head-on in a world increasingly engaged in science denial. Learn more about Octavia Cade's work at www.ojcade.com The recent John Oliver episode I mentioned can be seen here: https://youtu.be/gPHgRp70H8o For more on my books and my blog, visit www.mikelwisler.com
01:15:40
June 29, 2021
027 Terri Favro and 100 Years of Robots
Author Terri Favro joins me to discuss her non-fiction book, Generation Robot, which gives us a look back at the history of robotics and AI and a well-researched look forward into what lies ahead in the coming decades. Science fiction has given us a wide range of views on robots. But has sci-fi really got it right? What will happen if we succeed in giving AI consciousness? What will our responsibility to AI be at that point? What is a realistic view of our relationship to robots in the future? We discuss these questions and much more. Learn more about Favro's work at terrifavro.ca Join the discussion on Discord: https://discord.gg/HKfpNXwhdV Check out my blog and books at mikelwisler.com
01:27:23
June 16, 2021
026 Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir - Review
Andy Weir, author of The Martian, has a new novel out, Project Hail Mary. In this episode, I dive into what works and what doesn't about this book, how Weir has given us a better character journey, and more. Weir returns to some familiar territory with this plausible hard SF adventure. First 20-minutes are spoiler free. Join the discussion on Discord: https://discord.gg/Arsbp5MAhq Grab a copy of Wisler's Hard SF Cyberpunk Thriller: https://www.doxanousmedia.com/product-page/sleepwalker Learn more at www.mikelwisler.com
53:44
June 08, 2021
025 Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee and the Golden Age of SF
Author Alec Nevala-Lee stops by to discuss his monumental biography of the early days of science fiction. His book, Astounding, details the rise of SF through the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. This was the age of a magazine called Astounding, today known as Analog Science Fiction and Fact. In those early decades, John W. Campbell served as editor of Astounding and he left an indelible mark on the genre, for better or worse. Campbell fostered talented writers like Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, L. Ron Hubbard, and so many more. He indisputably shaped what we understand as Science Fiction today. But he upheld a distinctly white, male, capitalist outlook. Meanwhile, as science fiction found its footing in American culture, it also spun off the creation of a new religion. Was this an accident, or was it inevitable? We discuss this and some of Nevala-Lee's own fiction feature in the collection, Syndromes. Learn more about Alec Nevala-Lee's work: https://nevalalee.com Read Astounding: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780062571946 Listen to Syndromes: https://nevalalee.wordpress.com/2020/04/14/listening-to-syndromes/ Learn more about Mikel's work at www.mikelwisler.com
01:01:19
June 01, 2021
024 - What Makes Good Science Fiction - Advice from Ben Bova and Orson Scott Card
Orson Scott Card and the late Ben Bova are two giants of the science fiction literary world. Bova has long been one of my favorite authors and his Grand Tour books have been an enormous influence on me. I recently dug up some solid advice from established professionals in the SF writing world and I found Card and Bova had both written books on writing SF. In this episode, I explore some of the connecting big themes both authors discuss in their books about what makes science fiction a challenging but worthwhile genre. I break down some examples of where some stories fail and others succeed. But this is not just an episode for writers. This is a look at why the genre matters, and why it may be the most fundamental human activity at this point in our evolution. If you want to check out my books, please visit www.mikelwisler.com
55:14
May 25, 2021
023 Professor Sherryl Vint and Using SF to Make Sense of the World
Sherryl Vint teaches Science Fiction Media Studies at the University of California, Riverside and has written several books exploring the various philosophical and cultural aspects of science fiction. Her latest book, Science Fiction, published as part of the MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series. This latest book is a guide for the casual sci-fi fan interested in understanding how the genre has evolved and how it has become one of the most important forms of storytelling in our society's rapid technological and cultural development. Join us for a great discussion. Learn more about Sherryl Vint's work here: https://profiles.ucr.edu/app/home/profile/sherrylv Join the discussion on Discord: https://discord.gg/HKfpNXwhdV Learn more about Wisler's work: mikelwisler.com
01:03:30
May 18, 2021
022 Stowaway - Netflix Movie Review
Have you seen the new Netflix sci-fi thriller, Stowaway? In this episode, I review the movie and discuss what worked and what didn't about it and why I want to see more movies like this made. The first portion of the episode is spoiler free, so even if you haven't seen the movie, you can listen to the first part and get a sense of whether this is something you want to watch. Then you can come back a listen to the rest of the episode to see if I got it right. Join the discussion on Discord: https://discord.gg/HKfpNXwhdV  Check out my stories at mikelwisler.com
38:13
May 11, 2021
021 Machinehood by S.B. Divya and the world of 2095
S.B. Divya's debut novel, Machinehood, is a thrill ride of plausible future conflict between developing AI and augmented human beings who have given up privacy and now rely on daily updates to their medication to combat designer viruses and remain competitive in the gig marketplace. Divya is also the co-editor of Escape Pod, which is a science fiction magazine podcast that features short stories by many of the greatest writers in the genre weekly. Join me for a lively discussion with S.B. Divya about how she got into the SF in the first place and how she went about creating her very plausible vision of the future in Machinehood. Learn more about S.B. Divya and her work: sbdivya.com Listen to Escape Pod: escapepod.org Join the discussion on Discord: https://discord.gg/HKfpNXwhdV
01:09:11
May 04, 2021
020 The Last Circus on Earth by B.P. Marshall
We didn't reverse climate change. The world is a barren husk of what it once was. And yet, humanity persists. Traveling between towns, villages, and cities, a circus cuts through Europe, delivering entertainment. But much there is a darker reality to this circus, and their trek to Asia is either hopeless venture or will be the spark of a new humanity. That's what Ben Marshall's novel, The Last Circus on Earth, deals with. That and so much more. In this episode, Ben joins me from Tasmania to discuss this gem of a post-apocalyptic novel that is both dark and hopeful--and positively hilarious at times. It also steers clear of the nihilistic trappings common to this subgenre. Grab a copy of The Last Circus on Earth here: benmarshallwriter.com  Join my discussion on Discord: https://discord.gg/HKfpNXwhdV Learn more at mikelwisler.com
59:01
April 27, 2021
019 Flights of Foundry Con Recap & Excited News!
This past weekend I got to attend (virtually) the Flights of Foundry 2021 con. It was fantastic and I feel so energized by it. Why is that? Well, grab a coffee or tea, and let's chat. From networking with fellow speculative fiction creators to jointly launching a new subgenre of science fiction, Flight of Foundry was a remarkable experience, and it is going to have a direct impact on this podcast from now on. Plus, I've got some other cool news I cannot wait to share with you. Learn more about Flights of Foundry here: flights-of-foundry.org Join me on Discord: https://discord.gg/HKfpNXwhdV Reach out to me or check out my book at mikelwisler.com
33:12
April 20, 2021
018 Frank Wu, Analog Sci-Fi Magazine, and Octopi meets AI
Sci-fi author and artist, Frank Wu, joins me for a lively, hilarious, and very informative conversation about how he got his first story published in one of my favorite science fiction magazines, Analog. We also dive into how his award-winning story, "In the Absence of Instructions to the Contrary," which truly one of the best short stories I've ever read. If you are writer yourself, you will want to stick around for Frank's very astute advice. Check out Frank's website: http://frankwu.com/ Check out Analog here: https://www.analogsf.com/ Watch the short film Frank and I worked on together: https://vimeo.com/groups/150129/videos/150488448 Here's "Stop," the short film of mine Frank loves: https://vimeo.com/24355900
01:46:59
April 14, 2021
017 Neuroscience and Storytelling - A Conversation with Chris Wong
What can we learn from neuroscience and psychology about the narratives we create, how mailable memories are, and how our drive for survival shapes our response to life? Chris Wong, therapist and adult education specialist, joins me for a lively follow-up discussion to episode 014 about the neuroscience of storytelling. We explore how trauma shapes narratives, how narratives can help us process our experiences, and much more. And, yes, we get into science fiction and wonder how today's growing body of knowledge of around emotional intelligence might inform sci-fi in the future. Keep up with the latest blog posts and more at www.mikelwisler.com
01:23:19
March 17, 2021
016 Devs - The Hulu Original Mini Series That Questions Reality
When my coworker, Mike Palumbo, told me I needed to check out Devs on Hulu because it was "my kind of sci-fi" that stuck with me. Well, I finally checked it out and boy, was he right. So I invited Mike to come on to the podcast to discuss this twisted, suspenseful, deeply philosophical mini series. This is a long discussion meant for folks who have seen the show or are okay with spoilers. We unpack Devs' take on living in a deterministic universe (and if it really thinks we do or not) and whether we live in a multiverse or in a simulation (or in multisimulationverse--that's a thing, right?) Check out Devs here: https://www.hulu.com/series/devs-fd2f6cc3-dafc-4741-ae2e-d86494f3ca51 Learn more about Mike Palumbo's work at Votary Films: https://votaryfilms.com/ Keep up with my latest stories: https://www.mikelwisler.com/
01:40:16
March 10, 2021
015 Saturn Run - The Political Impact of First Contact
This hard sci-fi thriller stares unflinchingly into the political ramifications of discovering we are not alone in this universe. The discovery launches a new space race with a winner-takes-all approach to securing alien tech and science. What can we learn from this novel and why do I wish more politicians were reading Saturn Run? Check out my recent appearance in this panel of talented New England authors: https://youtu.be/-M7pM5NxS18
34:32
March 02, 2021
014 Why Does Storytelling Matter? - How Researching Neuroscience Convinced Me
Yes, I love science fiction. But even more foundational than my affinity for this wonderful genre is the fact that I love storytelling. It's what I do for my day job (documentary film) and my side hustle (sci-fi novels and this podcast). So yes, I love storytelling. But turns out that there are deep reasons storytelling has been an integral part of every human society through the ages. It's because storytelling is the native language of our brains. In this episode, I unpack how doing research into neuroscience while writing my novel, Sleepwalker, ended up teaching me just how essential to our survival storytelling really is. So, get ready to geek out for a bit, because I'm about to dive into a crash course on science of storytelling. Join the event I mention (Feb 25, 2021 @ 7pm EST): http://www.eventkeeper.com/cham/ch_popevent.cfm?chamOrg=TCPL&EventID=6587549 Grab a signed copy of Sleepwalker: https://www.doxanousmedia.com/product-page/sleepwalker Check out Lisa Cron's work: http://wiredforstory.com Check out David Eagleman's work: https://eagleman.com
35:42
February 23, 2021
013 The Loop by Ben Oliver - Is this the new Hunger Games?
The Loop by Ben Oliver has been called "the new Hunger Games" by some. But does it live up to this bold claim? I checked out this brand new young adult dystopian futuristic thriller. In this episode, I dive into The Loop and discuss what works and what doesn't. I also discuss a couple of graphic novels I just read: Mooncop and Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed. Join me for a virtual local author's night on February 25, 2021 at 7PM: http://tinyurl.com/sptwamls
35:24
February 09, 2021
012 Seveneves by Neal Stephenson - Is the human race worth saving?
In one of the most epic sci-fi novels I've come across, Neal Stephenson takes on the long-term survival of the species after a freak event destroys the moon and dooms the planet to an eventual catastrophic rain of fire from the sky that will render the Earth unhabitable for thousands of years. At the core of this type of science fiction are questions about the nature of the human race and if we are really even worth of our survival. But more than just an interesting thought experiment, Seveneves is a harrowing saga of survival, heart, determination, ingenuity, and empathy. But why is such a story so important in this moment? Let's discuss! Keep up with my latest fiction here: https://www.doxanousmedia.com/bookstore?Collection=Sci-Fi
35:51
February 02, 2021
011 The Midnight Sky - Movie Review, Story Analysis, and What It Is Actually About
Have you checked out the new George Clooney directed film released on Netflix? The movie seems to split audiences. What can we learn from this film? Is it good sci-fi? Is it meaningful? What is the story really trying to get at, anyway? This contemplative sci-fi drama offers more than many of seem to dismiss it have recognized. But is it really an impactful of a film as other might say it is? Dive into more meaningful sci-fi reflections and check out Wisler's own books at https://www.mikelwisler.com/ Thank you for an outstanding first season, see you in 2021.
56:27
December 29, 2020
010 The Warehouse - The Economic Dystopian Cyber Thriller Just Around the Corner
Rob Hart's novel, The Warehouse, got me thinking about a lot of things when I first checked it out last year. It has become even more relevant this year as we have had to hunker down and do most, if not all, of our shopping online. Are we thinking clearly about the corporate and economic future we are fostering with each purchase? What does Hart's novel have for us to ponder as we stare into an immediate future controlled by fewer and larger corporations? Without spoiling the novel, I dive into the frightening themes I found most compelling and relevant. Want to check out my novels and blog posts? Head over to https://www.mikelwisler.com
53:18
December 22, 2020
009 The Matrix - Andrew Gilbert, PhD helps me see how deep the rabbit hole goes
In 1999, this crazy cyberpunk action movie came out, and it blew my mind. Not only that, it has withstood the test of time (and two subpar sequels). It is one of the most philosophically astute action films ever made, and it might just be more plausible than we're willing to admit (the whole "humans as batteries" thing aside). This hilarious episode takes a thoughtful look at The Matrix and tries to sort a few things out. Are you willing to take the red pill with us? Be sure to check out Andrew Gilbert's podcasts: Helpful Goat Gaming Presents: https://open.spotify.com/show/7sXYOgdSE21VJf2H8IeJ9H?si=pTwrWwgbTcq21V8cUlpuIw and Goats and Dragons: https://open.spotify.com/show/6aD0o0OOHm9iUWqBf4VDIQ?si=QXVvOnXDQWGPwwjAlef71Q Also, check out my cyberpunk novel I was already dreaming up back in 1999: https://www.mikelwisler.com/sleepwalker
01:25:60
December 15, 2020
008 Jurassic Park - The Book that Started It All for Me
Let's talk about the movie and book that started it tall for me. Does it still stand up all these years later? Where does Jurassic Park fit into the world of sci-fi? What question is at the heart of Michael Crichton's classic book? How do the book and movie differ in a key way? Take a peek at my novels, which have definitely been influenced by Crichton: https://www.mikelwisler.com/books-etc
41:17
December 11, 2020
007 The Arecibo Collapse - I need some hopeful Sci-Fi right about now
I light of the tragic collapse of the large radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory, I'm needing a bit of a pick-me-up. It can be quite difficult as a science fiction author to remain hopeful about human progress when we allow such an amazing tool for scientific discovery to literally fall apart. In this episode, I go digging for some suggestions on hopeful sci-fi books and movies to check out. Along the way, I notice an interesting trend. Check out the Votary Films podcast I was a guest on, and which I mention in this episode: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0cAulft2lwn2cV2EAeweZ9?si=b61L_bfkSimc16v0UyJo9A Read about the Arecibo Observatory Collapse here: https://www.wired.com/story/the-arecibo-observatory-is-more-than-just-a-telescope/ Grab a copy of one of my sci-fi novels or short stories here: https://www.mikelwisler.com/books-etc
44:32
December 03, 2020
006 Valerie Valdes - Chilling Effect and Prime Deceptions
When I first heard of Valerie Valdes' Latinx Space Opera novel, called Chilling Effect, I just had to check it out. Now that the sequel, Prime Deceptions, is out too, of course I had to dive in and continue soaking in Valdes' interstellar, off-beat, hilarious and yet heart-felt saga. Plus, there're psychic kittens. So there's that. In this episode, I explore what has drawn me into reading Valdes' sci-fi and why I think you should read her fantastic novels too. Learn more about Valerie Valdes by visiting her site http://candleinsunshine.com/ Wanna keep up with my latest news, check out some of my books and short stories? Stop by https://www.mikelwisler.com/
28:18
November 26, 2020
005 Andrew Gilbert - Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and How Playing D&D is Good For Us
Why do Sci-Fi and Fantasy get lumped together? Should they be lumped together? In this episode, I bring an old friend and Fantasy expert Andrew Gilbert. From his work teaching humanities and philosophy at Colorado University to playing D&D on his podcast with Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings, Lost) Gilbert knows a thing or two about Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and how we become better people through creating narratives together. Be sure to check out his D&D Podcast, Goats and Dragons.  On Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/goats-dragons-a-dungeons-dragons-podcast/id1459452748  On Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/6aD0o0OOHm9iUWqBf4VDIQ   Curious about my blog or books? Check out https://www.mikelwisler.com/
01:09:08
November 19, 2020
004 The Martian - Problem Solving is a Super Power
Why is The Martian a breath of fresh air to sci-fi? Is it really a love letter to science? Who's the bad guy in this story? This novel and movie helped me survive one of the toughest seasons of my life. Why is that? Well, let me tell you all about it and why I keep coming back to the character of Mark Watney as a role model for perseverance and creative problem solving. Adam Savage interviews Andy Weir: https://youtu.be/5SemyzKgaUU Adam Savage, Astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Andy Weir Q&A: https://youtu.be/Wq3xtZ8AjPE
47:33
November 13, 2020
003 Arrival - Time and Living Moment by Moment
Let's dive into one of the best science fiction movies ever made, Arrival. It's parallel stories unfolding outside of linear time give us a lot to unpack as I reflect on why it meant so much to me to see this film the moment it came out and dive into why it remains utterly relevant in uncertain times. What will we let dictate our choices? Fear? Love? Let's discuss.
44:22
November 06, 2020
002 Contact - Science, Religion, and the Scale of the Universe
How can a novel written by a scientist during the Cold War still be so moving and incredible? How could it give birth to a lasting science fiction movie that has aged well? Let's dive into Carl Sagan's "Contant." This authentically rendered exploration of humans coming into contact with intelligent life from beyond our solar system was one of the first profoundly philosophical movies to make a lasting mark on my soul. Let's dig into why that is and why we need more stories like "Contact" in our current age of political and religious divisiveness. What can we learn from Sagan's exploration of humanity's quest for meaning and significance? Read more about how "Contact" inspired me to write meaningful science fiction here: https://www.mikelwisler.com/single-post/2017/03/03/contact-conversations-across-ideoligical-divides
51:33
November 05, 2020
001 Annalee Newitz - Autonomous & The Future of Another Timeline
Let's explore the first two novels by Annalee Newitz. From a big-pharma-controlled futuristic world with autonomous robots to a twisted tale of time travel, Newitz is a fresh voice in science fiction literature that is worth check out. Whether addressing corporate greed, ethical questions around human-robot coexistence, or giving us a deep glimpse into a world reshaped by those who would subjugate and silence women, Newitz books are rich with themes worth exploring. Read more at www.mikelwisler.com.
20:43
November 04, 2020