Moiya McTier (she/her) is an astrophysicist who studies how the motion of the Milky Way galaxy affects the possibility of life on planets. She's also a folklorist who specializes in creating fictional worlds.
How do you describe Exolore?
When you spend enough time thinking about something—analyzing it from every angle and trying to make it the best version of itself—it becomes nearly impossible to describe. That’s how I feel about Exolore. I’m too close to it to describe well, but I’ll do my best. At its core, Exolore is a show that helps people imagine other worlds, with the help of facts and science.
I do that by exploring different aspects of fictional worldbuilding in different episode formats of the show: collaborative fictional worldbuilding with expert guests, interviews with other professional worldbuilders, and analyses of worlds that other people have created.
But beyond its practical purpose of teaching worldbuilding as a skill, Exolore also demonstrates that creativity and knowledge work best when they work together. It explores other ways of living in the extreme (what can be more different than an alien world?) without judgement. And my biggest hope is that Exolore provides an escape for people who, for whatever reason, might need one.
Why did you want to create Exolore?
Exolore the podcast may only be about 6 months old, but Exolore the concept has been with me for years in various forms. At first, it was the idea—inspired by my double major in astrophysics and folklore-and-mythology*—that space influences culture in interesting and oft-ignored ways. That morphed into a series of workshops where I used fictional worldbuilding to teach tolerance and empathy, or to help people jumpstart the creative process. To improve the workshops, I started reading more worldbuilding tutorials online and realized that no one else approached worldbuilding the way I do, by making decisions in a certain order and then basing those decisions on facts. Or at least, no one was talking about it and teaching it online. So Exolore was born … as a live, in-person show that got shut down because of COVID. And then Exolore the podcast was born.
It’s been a long journey, but I guess it’s always been about teaching people how science** impacts their everyday lives.
*In fact, the name “Exolore” is a portmanteau of “exoplanet” and “folklore.”
**My definition of science is pretty broad. It includes any kind of research that is done in a rigorous way.
For a new listener, what's one episode you'd recommend starting with, and why?
I’d recommend starting with "Episode 16: The World of Partying Birds" because it’s the first world I built on the show that I’d be happy to live on! Also, the guests are great and I remember thinking, “They really get this whole facts-based worldbuilding thing” while we were recording, so I think it’s the episode that gives you the best idea of what I want the show to be. No shade to my other guests, though! They’ve all been great. It’s just taken me a while to hit my stride as a host, and I still have so much to learn.
Has there been anything challenging or surprising about making Exolore?
Yes, making this podcast has been such a steep learning curve! I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to find guests for episodes, or how long it would take to edit them (I could spend up to 8 hours editing a really difficult one), or how hard it would be to stay on top of a fortnightly schedule (I have mad respect for the weekly podcasters out there!). Podcasting, unless it’s your full-time job, is really difficult unless you have lots of time and/or money. But it’s also been really rewarding to hear feedback from listeners, and the most surprising thing is that those listeners come from all over the world. Last time I checked, there were people listening to Exolore in 48 different countries, which just blows my mind!
What would you like LGBTQ+ scientists in particular to know about the podcast?
Unfortunately, I think a lot of LGBTQ+ scientists know how it feels to exist in a space that wasn’t built for us. Many of us have felt like we don’t belong, or we’ve been told that we don’t belong, and that hurts! It absolutely sucks. But Exolore is all about building new worlds—worlds that we control, where we can rest assured that we do belong. I’ve done a few “by us, for us” episodes of the show (episodes 6 and 10) and I always find them to be super cathartic. I have a queer world episode in the works, and hopefully that will be a nice place for people to escape to. If not, I’d hope that anyone listening to the show could learn how to build their own worlds where they feel safe and comfortable.
Also, worldbuilding doesn’t have to be fictional. We can use the skill of facts-based worldbuilding to make our reality more like the worlds we imagine.
I also always encourage listeners to submit art about the worlds we build on the show! Every episode ends with a creative prompt based on the discussion.