Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Astor House of Old Shanghai (steampunk) featured in Issue 5 of Science Fiction Freedom E'Zine

Science Fiction Freedom Issue 5 Cover
A steampunk short story I wrote entitled, The Astor House of Old Shanghai, which was beautifully illustrated by Wayne Haag of The Fifth Element, The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Rings and The Two Towers) and Superman Returns fame was featured in Issue 5 of Science Fiction Freedom E'Zine. The E'Zine is free so be sure to check it out at:

Peter Saga, the Art Director for Science Fiction Freedom, had contacted me at the end of May (or early June if I remember correctly) through Twitter. At that time I was linking up my Twitter account with several steampunk Twitter accounts and as a result Peter discovered my book and website. He offered me the incredible opportunity to write a steampunk short story for his publication that had to be completed by the end of June. But with the month of June comes final exams and the massive amounts of grading to end the academic year at the international high school I teach at. I foolishly considered turning him down but soon decided to take on the chance to get a work published via a new medium - an E'Zine.

Since I had never worked within the realm of steampunk I was nervous as to what I could come up with, but then I remembered a small literary work I had written while I was in the internet and reading lounge of The Astor House in Shanghai back in 2004. I decided to work with what I had written and add onto it to make it fit within the genre of steampunk. At the same time I was teaching my 8th grade students about the Spanish-American War, American imperialism, and the Boxer Rebellion, which all became elements I used for the story. While I researched and began working on what would become, The Astor House of Old Shanghai, I needed a character to compliment the protagonist in the story and the character of Sir Vernon George Waldegrave Kell fell perfectly into place. The story was to take place in Shanghai in 1899 on the eve of what was to become The Boxer Rebellion. The idea of writing an espionage story provided an interesting angle and when I looked up MI5 (the British intelligence service) I was very pleased to discover that Kell was one of its founders and that he had lived in China, spoke Chinese, and fought in The Boxer Rebellion. It was perfect synchronicity. Thus from there the story took a life of its own.

I was able to finish the story about a week before deadline and then it was off to Peter at SFF. Next came the ultimate surprise. Peter soon explained to me that my story had been picked up by famed production designer, matte painter, photographer, and artist, Wayne Haag! I was completely floored. Wayne had worked not only on the films The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Rings and The Two Towers) but on The Fifth ElementThe Fifth Element was such a visually stunning and ground breaking film that to this day I still remember what I was doing the first time I saw the trailer for the film. Never had I seen anything like it and my friends and I were so excited that we counted down the days to it theatrical release. One image that I absolutely loved when I saw the film was the futuristic depiction of New York City, which you can see below.

NYC city-scape by Wayne Haag for The Fifth Element 
This image of New York was so unique that I still remember it clearly fourteen years after first seeing it. What I found so interesting about this depiction of NYC was that the sea levels had fallen with the city stretching out further into what had once been covered by the ocean. This was at a time when the dangers of global warming was initially being raised and the possibility of sea levels rising. I found it "cool" that Wayne's depiction of NYC went against the grain as to what was to occur in the future and that instead of sea levels rising, they had fallen.

Kell portrait by Wayne Haag
Working with Wayne on what was to become a beautiful portrait of the character of Kell was a dream come true for a major science fiction film fan. Wayne is, in so many ways, my hero as to what he can accomplish through the medium of his art in creating futuristic and fantastic worlds, city-scapes, and landscapes. I had always wanted to gain the ability of becoming an artist in bringing to life what I could imagine, but gave it up once I took a very good look at the competition and pursued music and later writing instead. Wayne was very supportive and constantly encouraging me and has inspired me to continue work on The Astor House of Old Shanghai storyline to develop it into a full-length espionage, steampunk novel.

As a result, while I was in Chicago in August, I stocked up on as many books as I could find on the topics of espionage, The Boxer Rebellion, British imperialism, and Chinese history in the late 1800s to early 1900s. While I work on Dark Legacy: Book II - Travels I will also be working on this steampunk story.

I am incredibly grateful to Wayne Haag and Peter Saga for giving me such an unforgettable experience over the summer. I invite you to check out Wayne's website at and Peter Saga's amazing Science Fiction Freedom E'Zine at

Domenico Italo Composto-Hart