Authors of science fiction and fantasy often ground their writing in real-life history and social issues. Star Hall, a Chicago author who writes under the pen name Stella Atrium, became so immersed in her research for a science-fiction novel about six years ago, she created a DePaul University class out of it.
"It grew out of a novel about displaced persons and going into a culture you don't understand," says Hall, whose pseudonym is a Latin translation of her real name. Hall is an adjunct professor at DePaul, where she has been teaching in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric and Discourse since 2005. At the time, she was researching for "HeartStone," the second book in her Dolvia Saga fantasy series. "In it, people are pushed off their land and received onto the savanna."
Hall has since taught her Global Perspectives on Undocumented Workers in America class every spring. "It changes every time I teach it," she says. "The topic itself changes — it's not like accounting."
The novels Hall has written as Atrium are also richly varied, populated by characters, heritages and embattled environments derived from all corners of the globe. Reviewer Bob Brinkman from Goodreads aptly calls her work, "anthropological fiction set against a sci-fi backdrop." The Dolvia Saga, which includes "SufferStone," "HeartStone" and "StrikeStone," will eventually total six novels ("ClearStone" is coming out next year). And she has a new stand-alone fantasy novel out now called "Seven Beyond."
Always a fan of science fiction, Hall says she started writing in part to shake one dominant trend in the genre. "I would read these books and realize that the heroes were (always) boys," she says. "And that didn't make sense to me. Why write in a genre with such wide open space in cultures but still use an orphan boy as the protagonist?"
Providing the science-fiction genre with female protagonists was Hall's first reason to write, but she didn't just populate her books with stock-character heroes who now happened to be women. She approaches all her plots with the intent to show her readers problems women face in the real world and how they uniquely solve them.
Hall, whose favorite authors include Margaret Atwood, Robin Hobb and Elizabeth Moon, says she always puzzled over the solitude of female characters in typical fantasy or sci-fi books. "In the fantasy genre, women are a member of the team," she says. "She is (often) an unusual foreign woman. We know nothing about her." Looking to upend this trend, Hall makes sure her strong female characters aren't singular. "They know aunts, cousins and sisters and other women in community," she says. "I am very interested in women in groups."
"What impresses me most about Stella's writing is her use of rigorous academic research to inform fantasy," says Peter Vandenberg, professor and chair of Writing, Rhetoric and Discourse at DePaul University. "She has a keen sense of the inseparable relationship between inquiry and good storytelling." He says that Hall's love for research is apparent in her novels — and inspiring in the classroom. "Stella's expertise as a fantasy writer, rhetorician and researcher allows her to help students break through some tired old ideas about the 'creative writer.'"
Kristin Kloberdanz is a freelance writer.
By Stella Atrium, self-published, 295 pages, 99 cents
Copyright © 2014, Chicago Tribune