Episode 9: The end… for now, plus thoughts on Charlottesville

The season one finale was supposed to be about The Handmaid’s Tale and some soon-to-be released dystopian movies, but Toby and Meg decided to talk about #Charlottesville instead.

Here’s the Vice News video Toby and Meg discuss:

P.S. You’ll notice that this episode is short. That’s because we’d like you to spend some time listening to a few podcasts that will help you better understand structural racism in America. Meg suggests you start here, here, here and here.  And, if you want more on how journalists have responded to the story, listen to this episode of Columbia Journalism Review’s The Kicker.






Episode 8: Young adult edition… or why dystopian novels are so popular among teens and tweens

It’s peak summer reading season, so Toby and Meg spent some time thinking about why books with dystopian themes appeal to young adults. They get help from YA author Susan Moger and Book Riot contributor Liberty Hardy. Also: Actual kids with great book suggestions, a look ahead to new dystopian titles coming this fall and a tangent about a little New Hampshire town with a (very) interesting history.


Here are some of the book’s Liberty mentioned:

  • After the Bomb by Gloria Miklowitz
  • Z for Zachariah by Robert O’Brien
  • Enclave by Ann Aguirre
  • Unwind by Neal Shusterman
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle
  • Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block
  • Warcross by Marie Lu
  • All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis
  • Otherworld by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller
  • Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh
  • The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins


Episode 7: This Perfect Day and our imperfect relationship with technology

The relationship between human beings and technology is ripe with dystopian undercurrents – so ripe that Toby and Meg talked to two guests instead of the usual one. Together, they ponder parallels between modern technology and This Perfect Day, a 1970 technocratic dystopian novel by Ira Levin. Also: Wardrobe advice from Alexa, emerging issues in civil liberties and a whopper of a News from Dystopia segment.

P.S. We’re still looking for suggestions from you (or your kids) about dystopian novels that appeal to teens and tweens. Send us an email or voice memo at radiofreedystopia@gmail.com.

Episode 6: A propaganda primer

downloadPropaganda is a key ingredient in dystopian narratives. It’s also present in many aspects of real life. To learn more, Toby and Meg talk to award-winning filmmaker and author Paul Fischer. His book – A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power – is a fascinating look at how the North Korean regime builds and rebuilds its own version of reality.

We also discuss other types of propaganda and how emerging technology is changing the way propagandists practice their craft.

P.S. We’re planning a show about young adult dystopian fiction, and we’d love to hear from you (or, even better, your kids.) What are some great kid-friendly dystopian books? Why are dystopian stories so popular among teens and tweens? Send us an email or voice memo at radiofreedystopia@gmail.com or leave a comment under this post.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Episode 5: Is good journalism the anti-dystopia?

If you want to avoid dystopia, you’re going to need plenty of independent journalists. Why else would so many great works of dystopian fiction make a point of describing how the press has been muzzled, marginalized or eradicated?

To learn more, Meg and Toby talk to Clay Wirestone, the news editor at the Topeka Capital-Journal in Topeka, Kansas and a writer whose work has appeared in Mental Floss and many other places. We discuss the importance of independent watchdog journalism and run through the many recent threats to press freedoms in the U.S.

Also: Clay explains why, sometimes, facts just aren’t enough. Toby talks about why he used a reporter as a character in his novels. Meg recommends It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis … and tells listeners about a Radio Free Dystopia drinking game that’s apparently becoming a thing.

Episode 4: The Handmaid’s Tale

Is Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale feminist? Hell yes! But it’s also a story about patriarchy, misogyny and a society built around state-sanctioned rape. Toby and Meg get help exploring these themes and others from Dr. Robin Hackett, an associate professor of English and Women’s Studies at the University of New Hampshire. Robin’s specialities include literary modernism, Virginia Woolf, feminist theory, queer theory and LGBTQ literature – so she’s pretty much perfect for this episode.


We also talk a little about the often-overlooked 1990 film adaptation and get insights via emails from listeners Mary, D’Anne, Cameron and Laurie.

Also: Toby gets in a fight with his microphone, Meg runs through the first-ever Fact Check Edition of The News from Dystopia, and Robin recommends we all read Swastika Night by Katharine Burdekin.

P.S. Robin isn’t on Twitter, but you can find out more about her work here.

P.P.S. We’re now on Stitcher! 

Episode 3: Going Rogue

Secret messages and subversive communication are nothing new, but when social media gets added to the mix things become – as Toby would say – interesting.

In this episode, we get help understanding this phenomenon from Mark S. Luckiethe former head of media for Reddit and, before that, manager of journalism and media for Twitter. We discuss the real-life rise of rogue and alt Twitter accounts, plus how Toby uses secret messages in his own novels.  We also kick off what’s sure to be a long conversation about The Handmaid’s Tale and talk about what happened when a marketing campaign for Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle went just a little sideways.



THE FICTION: In addition to Toby’s first book, The Vaults, we talked about The Handmaid’s Tale (spoiler: subversive communication turns out to be a pretty big thing in the book), The Man in the High Castle (both Philip K. Dick’s novel and Amazon’s adaptation), the Black Panther reboot and The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard.

IRL: Here’s more on the legal battle between Twitter and the federal government over @ALT_uscis. Also: This story from The New York Times with some great quotes from Twitter’s court papers and how Amazon’s clever #resistanceradio marketing campaign was misunderstood.

P.S. Mark S. Luckie has a really cool (and decidedly non-dystopian) new project underway. It’s called SouledOut Cinema, and you should check it out here.




Episode 2: Funny Math

Can two plus two ever equal five? Math professor Mike Nothnagel helps Toby and Meg run the numbers and discuss why alternative facts are great for fiction and horrible for democracy.

THE FICTION: We started our conversation with Orwell’s 1984, then talked about other books, movies and TV shows that use competing realities as plot devices. On our list: The Parallax View, The X-Files, The Prisoner (original and reboot), The City & The City and this episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

IRL: We talk about the rise of alternative facts, especially Pizzagate. Also: fake news is everywhere, gang. Here’s a great primer on how to spot to it. And Mike talked about this study involving voters from different political parties and photos of President Trump’s inauguration crowds.

Episode 1.1: Welcome to the Resistance


Toby, Meg and guest host Clark Knowles discuss themes of resistance in three very different dystopian novels and explore how fictional narratives are helping real-life protestors define their cause.


THE FICTION: Toby reread George Orwell’s 1984. Pick up a copy at your favorite local bookstore or, if you prefer, on Amazon… where it seems to be back in stock. Clark told us about The Fifth Season, a Hugo-winning novel by N. K. Jemisin. Meg talked about A Wrinkle In Time, a classic young adult novel that’s about to become a movie.

IRL: Pretty much every major news organization is covering protests, boycotts and other acts of resistance. We’re fond of this project by The Guardian.  Meg mentioned supporters of President Trump who viewed their votes as acts of resistance. Here’s a project from The Washington Post about that. We also talked a lot about Standing Rock. Here’s a quick primer on the events leading up to the protests there, plus this column on how journalists could have covered the story better. And here are some of the amazing photos we mentioned. Finally: A Q&A with Jemisin about the backlash her work received from the alt-right.

Photo credits: (L) Alisdare Hickson via Flickr; (R) Sage Ross via Wikimedia. Both images used under Creative Commons 2.0.

Winston Smith had a diary. We have a podcast… and it’s dropping soon.

George Orwell’s 1984 is so popular even Amazon ran out of copies. There’s a new TV series based on The Handmaid’s Tale. Oprah is starring in a movie version of A Wrinkle in Time.

Dystopian fiction is HOT, and this is the podcast where we figure out why by exploring parallels between current events and dystopian fiction. Join us as we talk about authoritarianism, free speech, environmental decay and what it means to commit acts of resistance. Also: Power, privilege, freedom and – perhaps most importantly of all – hope.

Sound interesting? Find us on AudioBoomiTunes and Google Play. We’ll keep you company while you’re building a backyard fallout shelter … or just driving to work, trying to make sense of it all.

Radio Free Dystopia is a production of Partners In Crime Media