Worldbuilding for Masochists

Worldbuilding for Masochists header image 1
July 7, 2021  

Episode 54: Cyberpunk Worldbuilding ft. PJ MANNEY

When you're building for the near future, how far can you go? Is technology going to doom us, save us, or a bit of both? How does a society make that determination -- and how can your worldbuilding show those choices in action?

In this episode with guest PJ Manney, we explore cyberpunk, technothrillers, and other alternate-near-future fiction. We also spend some time teasing apart the ideas of genre, aesthetic, and plot device, and where they overlap.

Our Guest: PJ Manney is the author of the bestselling and Philip K. Dick Award nominated science fiction technothriller, (R)EVOLUTION (2015), published by 47North in the Phoenix Horizon trilogy with, (ID)ENTITY (2017), and (CON)SCIENCE, (2021). Set as alternate, future American histories, the novels chart the influence of world-changing technologies on power and nations. 

A former chairperson of Humanity Plus, she helped rebrand the organization, launch H+ Magazine and organize the first multi-org conference on futurist topics, Convergence ’08. She authored "Yucky Gets Yummy: How Speculative Fiction Creates Society"​ and "Empathy in the Time of Technology: How Storytelling is the Key to Empathy,"​ foundational works on the neuropsychology of empathy and media. 

Manney presented her ideas to National Geographic, the Producers Guild of America, Directors Guild of America, NASA-JPL, M.I.T., Huffington Post, The H+ Summit, and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, is a frequent guest on podcasts/webshows including StarTalk, The World Transformed, Singularity 1on1 and Amazing Mind, and has published in BoingBoing, Live Science and She is also the first person to create and transfer a digital autograph for a novel verified by the blockchain. Manney consults for varied organizations about the future of humanity and technology, including artificial intelligence, robotics, cyborgs, nanotechnology, biotechnology, brain-computer interfaces, space, blockchains and cryptocurrencies.

Manney graduated from Wesleyan University double majoring in Film and American Studies. She worked for over 25 years in film/TV: motion picture PR at Walt Disney/Touchstone Pictures; story development for independent film production companies; and writing as Patricia Manney for the critically acclaimed hit TV shows Hercules — The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. She also co-founded Uncharted Entertainment, writing and/or creating many pilot scripts for television networks, including CBS, Fox, UPN, Discovery, ABC Family and Comedy Central.

Manney lives with her husband in Southern California and is a dual citizen of the US and New Zealand. She is a member of the WGA, SFWA, ITW and PEN America.


Transcript for Episode 54 (with thanks to our scribes!)

June 23, 2021  

Episode 53: Worldbuilding 301

Our third season begins! We go back to the basics of worldbuilding -- and then we think about how to level up! When we're digging deep on our motto of "Choose, don't presume," what does that mean as we do more and more of it? How much work do you make for yourself as a writer? How does your worldbuilding serve your story and your characters? And, as always, we examine the craft of communicating those choices to the reader.

Transcript for Episode 53 (with great thanks to our scribes!)


To celebrate our third season starting, we're hosting a giveaway!

Enter to win a fantastic bundle of prizes from your WFM hosts, including:

  • Signed copies of Rowenna Miller's Torn, Cass Morris's Give Way to Night, and Marshall Ryan Maresca's The Velocity of Revolution, A Murder of Mages, and An Import of Intrigue
  • An Audible code for your choice of The Thorn of Dentonhill/The Alchemy of Chaos or A Murder of Mages/An Import of Intrigue
  • An Audible code for a book of your choice (Any book at all! Excellent if you've been intending to check out some of our guests' amazing work!)
  • Bookmarks handmade by Rowenna
  • Aven Cycle stickers from Cass

For shipping purposes, please note that all physical prizes are available to US addresses only.

This contest is open for one week, until June 30th. We will select three winners, each of whom gets that bundle of goodies, and announce those winners in Episode 55!

June 9, 2021  

Episode 52: Pot4ri

We close out our second year of the podcast with another listener Q&A episode! Thanks to all of our wonderful listeners who supplied us with themes to riff on, from military ranks to looms to particular tools of worldbuilding.

Transcript for Episode 52 (Thank you, wonderful scribes!)

May 26, 2021  

Episode 51: Gender, Equality, & Gender Equality ft. E.J. BEATON

Gender is a construct -- so how is it built in your fantasy world? There's hardly a better place to interrogate our assumptions about societies, from ideas about marriage and family to established power structures to fashion and fripperies. E. J. Beaton joins us for a wide-ranging discussion about how we can examine, investigate, challenge, and reimagine gender and gender relations in our worldbuilding.

Our Guest: E. J. Beaton is the author of the fantasy novel The Councillor, to be published by DAW Books on March 2, 2021. She has previously published a poetry collection, Unbroken Circle (Melbourne Poets Union), and has been shortlisted for the ACU Prize for Poetry and the Ada Cambridge Poetry Prize. She studied literature and writing at university, and her PhD thesis included analysis of Machiavellian politics in Shakespearean drama and fantasy literature. She lives in Melbourne, Australia. 

Transcript for Episode 51, with thanks to our scribes! If you would like to join the scribe team, send us a line at worldbuildcast (at) and we'll get you set up! Volunteering for the team comes with perks like early access to episodes and fancy Discord swag.

May 12, 2021  

Episode 50: Playing in Somebody Else’s Sandbox, ft. DELILAH DAWSON, TINI HOWARD, DAVID MACK, and MIKE CHEN

For our fiftieth episode, we welcome an all-star panel of guests who write in major franchises! Delilah Dawson, Tini Howard, David Mack, and Mike Chen tell us what it's like to write for Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel comics, and other IP worlds, from having seventeen editors to bringing their own perspectives and values to established universes.

Transcript for Episode 50 (with special kudos to our scribes for taking on the challenge of differentiating seven different voices!)


Our Guests: 

Delilah Dawson: Delilah S. Dawson is the New York Times bestselling writer of Star Wars: PHASMA, plus Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire, The Secrets of Long Snoot, The Perfect Weapon, and Scorched; the Blud series, Servants of the Storm, the HIT series, Wake of Vultures and the Shadow series (as Lila Bowen), and a variety of short stories in anthologies such as Death & Honey, Robots vs. Fairies, Hellboy: an Assortment of Horrors, Violent Ends, Carniepunk, Three Slices, and Last Night a Superhero Saved My Life. With Kevin Hearne, she is the co-writer of the Tales of Pell series.

Her next projects are MINE, a middle grade horror novel with Delacorte in Fall 2021 and THE VIOLENCE, a generational trauma tale set during a pandemic of random outbreaks of violence, out with Del Rey in 2022.

Her comics credits include the creator-owned Ladycastle #1-4, Sparrowhawk #1-5, Star Pig #1-4, Firefly: The Sting, The X-Files Case Files: Florida Man #1-2, Adventure Time comics #66-69, Rick and Morty Presents: Pickle Rick, and Jim Henson's Labyrinth 2017 Special from BOOM! Studios, as well as stories in Star Wars Adventures #5, #6, #18, #25, and Star Wars: Forces of Destiny: Rose and Paige for IDW. Her most recent comics project is WELLINGTON, written with Aaron Mahnke of the Lore podcast.

Delilah is the winner of the 2015 Fantasy Book of the Year from RT Book Reviews for WAKE OF VULTURES and the 2013 Steampunk Book of the Year and May Seal of Excellence for WICKED AS SHE WANTS. Her work has earned multiple stars from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal.

She lives in Florida with her family.


Tini Howard: Tini Howard is an American writer of comic books, essays, and at least one upcoming novel. Since 2018, she has been writing comics exclusively for Marvel, including Thanos: Zero Sanctuary, Strikeforce, and Excalibur from the best-selling Dawn of X. 

Tini's other graphic novel work spans several beloved properties, including Rick and Morty, GLOW, and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. She has produced two graphic novels with IDW's Black Crown imprint — the critically-acclaimed Euthanauts with Nick Roblesand Assassinistas with Eisner Hall of Fame-inductee Gilbert Hernandez. She broke into comics in 2014 as a winner of the Top Cow Talent Hunt, which saw the publication of her first comic, Magdalena: Seventh Sacrament. 

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Blake, and their two sons Orlando and General Hugs, who are cats. 


David Mack: David Mack is the award-winning and The New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty-six novels and numerous short works of science-fiction, fantasy, and adventure, including the Star Trek Destiny and Cold Equations trilogies.

Mack’s writing credits span television (for episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), film, and comic books. His latest novels are The Shadow Commission, the final volume of his Dark Arts trilogy published by Tor books; and his long-postponed Star Trek novel More Beautiful Than Death.

His newest projects include the short story “Fiasco” in the pulp-homage anthology Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2021, and a new novel, Star Trek: Coda, Book III: Oblivion’s Gate, coming November 30, 2021.

He currently works as a consultant on the upcoming animated television series Star Trek: Prodigy.

Mack resides in New York City with his wife, Kara.


Mike Chen: Mike Chen is the author of We Could Be Heroes, Here And Now And Then (a finalist for Goodreads Choice - Best Sci-Fi, CALIBA Golden Poppy, and the Compton Crook Award) and A Beginning At The End ("a brilliant, fragile path through the darkness" -- Library Journal). His short fiction is featured in Star Wars: From A Certain Point Of View -- The Empire Strikes Back, and he has covered geek culture for sites such as, The Mary Sue, and In a previous life, he covered the NHL for Fox Sports, SB Nation, and other outlets. A member of SFWA, Mike lives in the Bay Area with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals.

April 28, 2021  

Episode 49: An Immodest Proposal

Picture it: It's a sweltering summer day, ninety degrees in the shade, heat mirages glimmering on the horizon. Can your characters strip down to their skivvies? Roll up their sleeves? Hike up their skirts? Or might they be shamed for so much as unbuttoning their collar? What cultural factors of religion, economy, gender, and sexuality play into that decision?

In this episode, we discuss conventions of modesty, nudity, bragging, virtue-signalling, and other details of culture that you can use when building a multi-faceted and nuanced fantasy world! We also take a few moments to (immodestly) discuss our new status as Hugo Finalists for Best Fancast and to introduce ourselves to new listeners!

Transcript for Episode 49, with thanks as ever to our wonderful scribes!

April 14, 2021  

Episode 48: That Belongs in a Museum, ft. MARINA LOSTETTER

If your character finds an ancient mask half-buried in a field, is that just a cool remnant of an older culture, or are they about to unleash a demonic apocalypse? This week, Marina Lostetter joins us to talk about artefacts, archaeology, and the interpretation of material culture over time!

Some of the ancient artefacts in your world might be plot-driving vessels of magic, wonder, or absolute chaos, but the everyday objects that get preserved and protected --or not! -- can communicate a lot of information about your world's history, values, and cultural shifts.

Transcript for Episode 48 (with, as ever, great thanks to our scribes!)

Our Guest: The open skies and dense forests of the Pacific Northwest are ideal for growing speculative fiction authors–or, at least, Marina would like to think so. Originally from Oregon, she now resides in Arkansas with her spouse, Alex. In her spare time she enjoys globetrotting, board games, and all things art-related. Her original short fiction has appeared in venues such as LightspeedUncanny, and Shimmer Magazine.  Her debut novel, NOUMENON, and its sequels, NOUMENON INFINITY and NOUMENON ULTRA, are available from Harper Voyager.  Her first fantasy novel, THE HELM OF MIDNIGHT, is forthcoming from Tor. In addition, she has written tie-in materials for Star Citizen and the Aliens franchise. She is represented by DongWon Song of the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, and she tweets as @MarinaLostetter.

March 31, 2021  

Episode 47: The Timey-Wimey Episode

Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? Well... Yeah! If you're building a world, the concept of the passage of time is likely to matter. How long is your year? How do you name the months and days? How small or large are your units of measuring time? And how can you convey all of that to a reader without making it feel like a freshman year language course?

In this wibbly-wobbly episode, we discuss the ever-present yet often-arbitrary division and definition of time and how it can work in your fantasy worldbuilding!

Transcript for Episode 47, thanks to amazing scribes!

March 17, 2021  

Episode 46: Join in If You Know the Chorus, Ft. C. L. CLARK

From ballads to books to TikToks, how do the people in your world communicate their own stories and information? The consideration involves answering a lot of questions about literacy, technology, and your culture's values. C. L. Clark, author of The Unbroken, joins us to discuss the texts-within-texts and how to build them into your fantasy world!

Our Guest: Cherae graduated from Indiana University’s creative writing MFA and was a 2012 Lambda Literary Fellow. She’s been a personal trainer, an English teacher, and an editor, and is some combination thereof as she travels the world. When she’s not writing or working, she’s learning languages, doing P90something, or reading about war and [post-]colonial history. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in FIYAH, PodCastle, Uncanny and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Now she’s one of the co-editors at PodCastle. She’s represented by Mary C. Moore of Kimberley Cameron and Associates.

Transcript for Episode 46 (with great thanks to our scribes!)

March 3, 2021  

Episode 45: Let’s Be Diplomatic

When you're trying to solve a problem with minimal stabbing, call in the diplomats! In this episode, we discuss the above-board negotiations of formal diplomats, the social maneuverings of informal national representatives, and the super-shady dealings of spies.

How interconnected or isolationist are the nations of your world? How do tech and magic affect diplomatic relations or spycraft? We explore these questions and more!

Transcript for Episode 45 (thank you, scribes!)

Info on Hugo Award Nominations and the eligibility spreadsheet!

Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App