Radio Free Dystopia show

Radio Free Dystopia

Summary: A podcast about what we learn when facts and dystopian fiction start to look the same. Join dystopian novelist Toby Ball, journalist Meg Heckman and assorted guests as they 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.


 Episode 9: The end... for now, plus thoughts on Charlottesville | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 1460

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. 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 talks about this a bit in the episode, but here are some links if you want to check them out right away:

 Episode 8: Young adult edition ... or why dystopian novels are so popular among teens and tweens | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 2913

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. #YA #reading #dystopia

 Episode 7: This Perfect Day and our imperfect real-life relationship with technology | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 3476

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 #data #privacy #dystopia

 Episode 6: A propaganda primer | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 3089

Propaganda 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. #dystopia #northkorea #propaganda 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 Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

 Episode 5: Is good journalism the antidote to dystopia? | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 2893

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 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. #journalism #dystopia #PressOn

 Episode 4: The Handmaid's Tale | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 3012

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 the perfect guest host. We also talk a little about the often-overlooked 1990 film adaptation and get additional 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. #handmaidstale, #feminism, #dystopia

 Episode 3: Going Rogue | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 2985

Secret messages and subversive communication are nothing new, but when social media gets added to the mix things get interesting. Toby and Meg get help understanding this phenomenon from Mark S. Luckie, the former head of media for Reddit and, before that, manager of journalism and media for Twitter. They discuss the real-life rise of rogue and alt Twitter accounts, plus how Toby uses secret messages in his own novels. Also: The beginning of what's sure to be a long and ongoing conversation about The Handmaid's Tale and what happened when a marketing campaign for Amazon's Man in the High Castle went just a little sideways. #handmaidstale #resistanceradio #altgov P.S. Mark Luckie has a really cool new project underway. Check it out at

 Episode 2: Funny math | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 2341

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. Also includes references to #hamilton, #pizzagate, #startrek and, to Toby's dismay, clocks.

 Episode 1: Welcome to the Resistance | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 2390

Toby, Meg and guest host Clark Knowles talk about how themes of resistance shape three very different dystopian novels and how fictional narratives are helping real-life protestors define their cause. Photo credits: (L) Alisdare Hickson via Flickr; (R) Sage Ross via Wikimedia. Both images used under Creative Commons 2.0. #dystopian #resist


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