At the last BookCon panel of the day (4:15–5:15 p.m., in Room 1E07), Veronica Roth, bestselling author of the Divergent series, will moderate a discussion that asks, “Dystopia Futures: Are They Science Fact or Fiction?” Before they get together for the event, panelists Alaya Dawn Johnson (The Summer Prince, Scholastic), Marie Lu (Legend trilogy, Penguin) and Danielle Paige (Dorothy Must Die, HarperCollins) took a moment to share their thoughts on what makes dystopian stories so compelling—and hinted at what questions they might have for Roth, the queen of dystopia.
“Dystopia interests me because not only is it a fascinating exploration of ‘what if’—i.e., the future—but because it also is an exploration of the past and present,” says Lu. “I think that’s why many people find themselves drawn to it, too. We see both the familiar and strange in dystopian lit.”
Although Johnson does not regard The Summer Prince as dystopian (seeing it more as “social science fiction,” like Ursula Le Guin’s work), she says it does owe a great deal to the genre. As for the popularity of dystopian novels, she says, her best guess is that people are enticed by the “intrinsic joy of immersing themselves in a different world, coupled with the narrative satisfaction of a small but powerful good going against a large and terrible wrong.” Paige echoed a similar assessment of the readers’ attraction to the genre. “None of us live in a world where people are chosen for an annual televised fight to the death (Hunger Games) or a world where love is forbidden (Delirium), but dystopias call back to the very real senses of isolation, division, fears, etc., that kids may be feeling in real life,” says Paige. “It’s high school, only the cheerleaders are actually trying to kill you.
When it came to creating a fantasy world, Paige went back to one of the most recognized and popular fictional places ever. “Making Oz a dystopia was actually an easier leap than I expected,” she says. “Despite the gorgeous Technicolor of the movie, there was so much darkness in L. Frank Baum’s books. So I imagined Oz ravished by a now evil Dorothy.”
As the self-described newbie on the panel, Paige says that, sitting next to Roth, Johnson, and Lu, she will have to work hard to control her “inner fan-girl.” What she would most like to know from the panelists, she says, is how they do what they do.