East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Shanghai, Summer 1937


The Battle of Shanghai is the sort of big, fat chunk of history that somehow gets lost in the fury of the years just before the start of WW2. I learned about it doing research for my novel.
But for all its pulp trappings and Chinese fantasy elements, what I’m writing is still a historical fantasy.


To me, historical fantasy means that history as we know it stays in place, but fantasy happens in the dark corners and hollow places that history books don’t cover.
I can’t change the course of events and still call it historical fantasy – it can be pseudo-historical fantasy, it can become a form of uchronia*, but historical fantasy it can’t be anymore.

Anyway – my story is set in a very tight window, between the autumn of 1935 and the summer of ’37.
Before 1935, I miss the conditions to bring my main character to Shanghai.
And in the summer of 1937 Shanghai is a battleground.


The Battle of Shanghai pitted Chinese forces (both Republicans and Communists, fighting side-by-side) against the invading Japanese army, for over three months, between August and November 1937, in what was to be one of the earlier examples of “urban warfare” in the twentieth century.
Yes, they actually fought house-to-house.
And there were a number of those events that would be criticized as unlikely and over-the-top in a novel. Great heroism, great crimes, a catalog of extraordinary characters.

17171933Now this is the classic, dramatic backdrop that makes for great drama and adventure storytelling – and indeed it has been used as the setting for a number of novels and movies.
And yes, I’m taking notes for a second novel, a direct sequel to the one I’m writing, that will bring all the pulpishness and the Chinese magic of the first to what has been called “the Stalingrad on the Yangtze“.

But for the time being, I’m reading the excellent Shanghai 1937, by Peter Harmsen.
I love reading history books, and this is just a great historical essay.
Lots of background, lots of characters, lots of details.
It’s a good diversion after the long hours spent writing – I remain on-topic, I preserve the mood and the setting of my work, and I plan future adventures.
Nice and smooth.

* And yet, to me “uchronia” sounds like some kind of illness.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

3 thoughts on “Shanghai, Summer 1937

  1. “To me, historical fantasy means that history as we know it stays in place, but fantasy happens in the dark corners and hollow places that history books don’t cover.”

    I like this observation very much, it explains exactly why I don’t like some historical fantasy novels.
    I don’t like when there’s too much fantasy, every adventure is more interesting when is strongly tied to the real history.
    Of course is much more difficult writing consistently in such historical setting, but nobody says writing good stories is easy! 😉


  2. A lot of authors think :” My audiennce don’t know what actually happens. So why I should made accurate reserch?”


    • Yes, I know – and as a net result, you get Hesuit at the First Crusare, or the battle of Cannae taking place in 216 Anno Domini.
      Thank you – I like history, I like writing, and in the end, even if the readers would not know, what the hell, I would!


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