When the buzz began about the release of Mockingjay, I started thinking about the growing popularity of dystopian novels. I’m reading two now. One is a provocative work-in-progress titledHive, by my student Heather Zenzen. The other is A Crack in the Sky, by Mark Peter Hughes. (Mark and Kelly and I teach at Rhode Island College’s ASTAL Institute every June.) Mark’s novel is both funny and frightening. He projects the known dangers of global warming into a bleak future. His world seems completely possible, given our current inability to deal with climate change.

I hope Hughes is not as prescient as other dystopian writers have been. A few years after I read M.T. Anderson’s Feed, a neighbor with early-stage Alzeheimer’s had a computer chip embedded in his arm so that his family could find him when he wandered off. Access to the Internet through a chip in our brains no longer seemed far-fetched. But why the sudden explosion of dystopian novels? Is it as simple as a current fad and the pull of the marketplace? That’s not true for Hughes, who says he “didn’t know they were all the rage” until someone else informed him, and he has been working on his trilogy for a long time. Is it a commentary on the difficult times we live in? Or are we always drawn to a good story with strong characters, a great premise, and a fast-paced plot, no matter the genre?

I tossed these questions out to a few pals. Kelly said:It’s an interesting topic. Teens are so trendy for one thing. If nothing else, they like to belong…It could be their increased reliance on technology and the increased mythic violence with some of those games, like Halo.

Ron, of course, had a different take: I would like to see a dystopian picture book set in a bleak forest and featuring an angst-ridden vole. But that’s just me.

While Mary Logue responded with a good question:Whatever happened to Utopian novels?

If you read or write about dystopia—or angst-ridden voles—what draws you? Meanwhile, I’m returning to Eli and his sentient mongoose, Marilyn. They live in the domed city of Providence where something has gone terribly wrong…