Dieselpunks

Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Strolling through the web I've run into many definitions od Dieselpunk. They're not all the same, as you may suppose. It came to my awareness, that the moot point of it is the question of when the diesel era has ended. Some claim that the ending border of that setting is the begginning of the 50s, the others, that the truce in 1945 was such point. I'd like you to ask: what do you think?

Personally I find "dieselpunk" period of time to end in the late 50s. The culture, the art, the fashion of this decade also fits in the terms of the diesel era, and moreover it's enlarging it by adding, for instance, the "rebellious" new generation of teenagers, who though still retain the class and style of previous decades.

Some of the most recognisable elements of Dieselpunk culture such as Bioshock, Mafia II (maybe not exactly dieselpunk, still considered to be set in the diesel era) or upcoming The Bureau set their action in the late 50s. It's enough proof for me.

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The oldest debate in DP is when it begins & ends.  The general consensus seems to be from the end of WW1 to "some time in the fifties", with some picking specific points like the end of the Korean war, the detonation of the Soviet atomic bomb, the launch of Sputnik, etc.  Complicating matters are that the pre-WW1 and post-Sputnik eras both show very diesel-like cultural trends with things we would recognize as "Diesel" appearing as early as the 1900's and as late as the mid 1960s.  You could argue that the era culturally starts with the art revolutions of 1912/1913 (Stravinski, Picasso, Marinetti, etc. - some start the era at the sinking of the Titanic for this reason) and ends in 1963 with the major cultural shift that occured that year (some date the end from the Cuban Missile Crisis or Kenedy Assassination). 

Frankly I just prefer a fuzzy "roughly the 1910s-1950s" and consider c1900-1918 to be the "Edwardian Transition Phase" between Steam and Diesel that encompasses both Steam and Diesel sensibilities and 1945-1963 to be the "Early Atomic Transition Phase" between Diesel and Atomic.

Didn't know there had been plenty debates upon this. It seems to me, that the main problem is the collision of two settings - diesel and atomic punk - as no one can easily point the moment in the history which tends to be a well-defined end of one and the beginning of another. Therefore there occurs this moot point I was talking about.

The idea of diesel era being the period from the sinking of Titanic to the launch of Sputnik appears interesting to me. The monumentalism of Titanic might be easily concerned as appealing to the diesel era. Also, the wide range of variations about the Great War, as presented in Iron Storm for example, also can be counted into this setting for me.

I'd rather lean to the idea of launching of the Sputnik to be the closing point. The Soviet atomic bomb project may be too imprecise to be defined as the end of some era. I mean, the Americans had done such tests, and even detonated the bomb during the II World War, so why would we concentrate more on the Soviet one?

I personally think that we should look on the following settings more like on a continuous stream of time, rather than separated periods of history. Steampunk for example may include the Great War, as it does, with its conservative savoir-vivre and steam powered weaponry. But, on the other hand, if we put diesel powered machinery and more XX-century mentality in it, this conflict may also be descripted as the part of Dieselpunk.

There are all sorts of positions that can be taken about when Dieselpunk chronology begins and ends. I avoid getting too attached to any of them because one can never know what the human imagination will create, In cultural terms I like the time periods that correspond to hot jazz and swing music, modernist painting and art deco/streamline design. I Can certainly see argument s to start with the cubists and futurists, but I think an argument could eve be made that powered flight inaugurates it. I prefer to keep the distinction between the Edwardian/ Chappist period and Dieselpunk. Regarding the end, it is important to bear in mind that there can be a lot of overlap between Dieselpunk and Atompunk. Attention to the soviets is relevant because although they were not first with the A-bomb, the work they were doing terrified the west because they seemed to be turning orbital space into an arena of nuclear war. When we were struggling to launch rockets, they appeared poised to threaten us with ICBMs and orbital nukes. This fear was a significant driver of a renewed commitment to math and science education in the late '50s, especially after Sputnik. But the Atomic age was well underway before then, by the EARLY '50s, nuclear proliferation was proceeding apace, and the worldview of creative optimism that informed the dieselpunk era, even through the "Great" Depression, was supplanted by a global sense of cataclysmic dread that would have been unimaginable to most as late as 1947.  It seems to me that the beginning of the cold war spells the end of the jazz age, and the styles that went with it. The phenomenal middle class prosperity of the 1950s also created a divide that ended the political dominance of the New Deal.

Nevertheless Dieselpunk can transcend the philosophical and chronological limits we might try to put on it. Who would argue that Iron Sky is not a manifestation of Dieselpunk, as well as Atompunk?

This is actually a very good question. I did originally just think of it as simply being from 1920ish to 1960ish. The end would probably go beyond the Sputnik launch in my mind since the culture of the time was still going strong. The 1960s were an interesting time, made even more so that the things we frequently associate with the 60s didn't come about until sometime towards the end of the decade. There wasn't as much drug use as people think in colleges (in fact, a survey made at the time showed that 36% of all students had no idea what Marijuana was, and only around 5% actually used it), and the anti-war movements didn't start until the around 1968ish. Most American media was pro-war up until that point, and bizarre as it may seem, there was more opposition to the war from older folks than young students at the time.

I don't know where I would set a hard deadline, to be honest, but I personally think that the assassination of JFK was probably the most concrete I can think of. Given what type of person he was, and what he was planning on doing, his death probably was the most significant of any US president other than Lincoln..

My own personal interest in the diesel era is a bit sooner than that. I have a huge love of aviation, particularly the Golden Age of Aviation, particularly the 1930s to the 1940s. After WW2, the arrival of jet aircraft, as well as the incredible amount of airfields that were constructed for the war, and the increased corporate control of the aviation industry, basically put an end to the Golden Age. The most awesome thing about it though was that the people of that time were fully aware they were living in the most glamorous age of aviation.

The one area where there's little contention is that the Core Dieselpunk years are the 20s-40s when Art Deco, Streamline design, jazz, noir, and pulp were at their zenith.  That core definatly informs the culture and aestetic of the DP movement.

And for me it's that aestetic that's more important than the date.  Some of the best DP work isn't even set in the Diesel era.  Take Bard's Troubleshooter series, set in a dystopian future, or Iron Sky, set "Next Sunday, AD."  My own World of Manana is set at present day, but in an alternate timeline where technology has progressed differently. 

Regarding the Edwardian era, we have to bear in mind, that even though these aestethics were present in most of the European countries, it didn't appear worldwide at such scale. In America or so there were equivalent movements which didn't exactly match the fashion and culture of Edwardian Europe. That's why in my humble opinion there is a clean distinction between Diesel and so-called Edwardian era.

More I ponder about it, the more interesting conclusions and arguments come to my mind. I did a little reaserch and found that, as I had thought, the 1910s period was called "the first Great Age" with regard to it's architecture. That's when the first monumental, great skyscrapers emerged, such as Woolworth Building, still being placed among the highest buildings in the USA. Previously I mentioned the monumental Titanic, which can be concerned as one of the symbols of new aestethic never seen before.

And what about the development of modern cinema? New innovative technologies appeared, many of the most important movies hit the screens, it all began to prosper.

As for me it all proves that even though you may not want to label this period as the zenith od Diesel era, it surely is the beggining of it.

Diesel and atomic era indeed blend and share some ideas. For me the main distinction between these two settings is, apart from obvious interest in nuclear technology and related occuring in atomic era, the cosmos attitude. In diesel era it is rather a curiosity or perhaps not-so-important case to engage in, whereas the space race is omnipresent in the second setting. That's why the launch of Sputnik seems a good ending point for me.

Speaking of pulp fiction I have to disagree with you. It was a literary genere present in the culture from the end of the XIX century through the 50s, so we can't say the late 50s wouldn't fit in.

Alas, editing post after a few days isn't possible, so I'm forced to add a new reply.

Since Monday I've analyzed it all one more time and eventually came to some kind of consensus with myself. I guess I kind of withdraw from my prior idea of the 1910s being the starting point. Picking the end of the Great War seems more reasonable. People returning home from battlefields, having high hopes in their hearts, eager to live and create a whole new society are more likely to initiate a new era. It all works for me.

What still bothers me though, is the ending point. I'm highly convinced that diesel era lasts right to the end of the 50s. But what about the fashion, culture and music of that decade? May we label it all as DP, including such events like the birth of rock'n'roll? And can we call it Ottensian anymore? Or is it all Piecraftian with the looming Soviet threat and the horror of nuclear holocaust right ahead?

Part of the problem is that after the lapse of time, all periods tend to blend into a single undistinguished "past." It's also true that different parts of the world, different segments of society, and different areas of culture change at different rates, so that at any time one can still see elements of the past in a later generation and (conversely) elements of the future in the past. Certainly in the 1950s most adults had lived through the '30s and '40s and their views were shaped by their experiences of that period.

Nonetheless, we can point to fairly drastic changes in technology and material culture (the main concern of most here) taking place in the mid-late 1940s which set off the later period from the earlier. The atomic bomb and the Cold War are obvious touchpoints, but there are many others: rockets, jet aircraft, helicopters, the United Nations, penicillin, polio serum, suburban sprawl, television. These aren't small things; they do change the experienced world in which people lived.

Now I have no problem with taking dieselpunk inspiration from the 1950s or even later -- the concept is essentially anachronistic, after all -- but if it's going to be taken as part of a "dieselpunk period," then there will be circumstances in which it may be useful to talk about "early dieselpunk" or "later dieselpunk." But wasn't the word "atompunk" already used for this later period of approximately 1945-1963?

Anyone still considering these chronology questions?

It seems to me that the atomic age, not the space age, is the boundary between dieselpunk and atompunk. I think the cultural psyche and technology were far removed from the diesel sensibility by the advent of the cold war, especially once multiple countries had the bomb. It could be considered that the first H-Bomb explosion at Enewetak Atoll in 1952 is the dividing line, or perhaps even the (earlier) Bikini atomic tests, but if space is the dividing line, I would choose the change in consciousness that accompanied the public perception of events at Roswell, NM in 1947 as the boundary. If you need any evidence that things were different by then, just look at The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

1956 (Sputnik) seems too late to me, although it is the year Rock-n-Roll really started to take off commercially.

Where I run into trouble with my concept of Dieselpunk chronology is at the BEGINNING of it. Is it heavier than air powered flight?The Great War with its gas and tanks? The Jazz age/prohibition? If it isn't until the 1920s, does that mean that the Edwardian Era/Progressive Era is fair game for Steampunk? I had always thought that Steampunk had to be no later than the end of Victoria's reign. Lately it doesn't seem so however, with all the ragtime sensibilities blending into it.

I think the Edwardian era is included in steampunk as well. I mean a lot of the stuff that we associate with steampunk has some big crossover with the turn of the 20th century. Primitive cars? Flying ships? Widespread telegraph and early electronics? All of these are essentially Edwardian stuff. There was electricity in the very late 19th century, but it was the Edwardians produced a lot of really cool gadgetry (albeit with dubious safety precautions) that would fit in very nicely with steampunk aesthetics and fiction. Also many Sherlock Holmes stories were based during the Edwardian era, though most people would never notice (unless the suffragettes are brought up).

For me I will say it again, it really is after WW1 that Dieselpunk starts because it was during WW1 that the 19th century truly died and the 20th century was born. The 1950s still had some holdovers like Film Noir and a strong sense of adventure and progress that made the era so exciting. Once that spirit died is when I believe the era really ended.


Ed Lacy said:

It seems to me that the atomic age, not the space age, is the boundary between dieselpunk and atompunk. I think the cultural psyche and technology were far removed from the diesel sensibility by the advent of the cold war, especially once multiple countries had the bomb. It could be considered that the first H-Bomb explosion at Enewetak Atoll in 1952 is the dividing line, or perhaps even the (earlier) Bikini atomic tests, but if space is the dividing line, I would choose the change in consciousness that accompanied the public perception of events at Roswell, NM in 1947 as the boundary. If you need any evidence that things were different by then, just look at The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

1956 (Sputnik) seems too late to me, although it is the year Rock-n-Roll really started to take off commercially.

Where I run into trouble with my concept of Dieselpunk chronology is at the BEGINNING of it. Is it heavier than air powered flight?The Great War with its gas and tanks? The Jazz age/prohibition? If it isn't until the 1920s, does that mean that the Edwardian Era/Progressive Era is fair game for Steampunk? I had always thought that Steampunk had to be no later than the end of Victoria's reign. Lately it doesn't seem so however, with all the ragtime sensibilities blending into it.

Your points about electrical gadgets are very cogent, especially if radio is considered. That was the real beginning of mass culture (The Jazz Age, Fireside Chats, Live concert broadcasts, etc) that is so conceptually intertwined with Dieselpunk. I do need to mention that nearly half of the original Sherlock Holmes stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle, including almost all of the ones that shaped and defined his image as a character in the public consciousness, were anthologized in books by 1893, and that even though some of the later ones are set during the Edwardian era, Doyle felt constrained not to deviate much from the formula and contexts that had already proved so popular to 19th Century readers.

Also, I must point out that the suffragist movement was not formed in the 20th Century, but in the 19th Century. The Women's Franchise League was founded in Britain by Emmeline Pankhurst and her husband in 1889. In America, the women's suffrage movement was set into motion by The Seneca Falls Convention in upstate New York in 1848, and suffragists made common cause with abolitionists on the voting rights issue for decades. However, they did not really become notorious until  British suffragists, led by the Pankhursts began resorting to direct action tactics, which may have something to do with their having been mentioned in Doyle's writings.

The alternate technologies of steampunk are perhaps partially rooted in early 20th century developments, but I think they are especially derived from Jules Vernes, and from H. G. Wells' 19th Century novels, which include The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, War of the Worlds, and The Island of Doctor Moreau. 

So I still am left wondering about the chronological delineation between Steampunk and Dieselpunk. I believe that by the end of the Dieselpunk era, change had become much more rapid than it had been in the early part of the century, so it is (a little) easier to draw the lines then. I usually revert to The Difference Engine  and The Peshawar Lancers when trying to pin down Steampunk sensibilities, and in those I find only oblique references to the 20th Century in the form of technological extrapolations. Conversely, other than the early avant-garde stirrings of modernist sensibilities, there is little direct link to Dieselpunk esthetics in the first two decades of the 20th Century, although technologies like armored tanks and powered flight pre-date the First World War.


Salim Farhat said:

I think the Edwardian era is included in steampunk as well. I mean a lot of the stuff that we associate with steampunk has some big crossover with the turn of the 20th century. Primitive cars? Flying ships? Widespread telegraph and early electronics? All of these are essentially Edwardian stuff. There was electricity in the very late 19th century, but it was the Edwardians produced a lot of really cool gadgetry (albeit with dubious safety precautions) that would fit in very nicely with steampunk aesthetics and fiction. Also many Sherlock Holmes stories were based during the Edwardian era, though most people would never notice (unless the suffragettes are brought up).

For me I will say it again, it really is after WW1 that Dieselpunk starts because it was during WW1 that the 19th century truly died and the 20th century was born. The 1950s still had some holdovers like Film Noir and a strong sense of adventure and progress that made the era so exciting. Once that spirit died is when I believe the era really ended.


Ed Lacy said:

It seems to me that the atomic age, not the space age, is the boundary between dieselpunk and atompunk. I think the cultural psyche and technology were far removed from the diesel sensibility by the advent of the cold war, especially once multiple countries had the bomb. It could be considered that the first H-Bomb explosion at Enewetak Atoll in 1952 is the dividing line, or perhaps even the (earlier) Bikini atomic tests, but if space is the dividing line, I would choose the change in consciousness that accompanied the public perception of events at Roswell, NM in 1947 as the boundary. If you need any evidence that things were different by then, just look at The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

1956 (Sputnik) seems too late to me, although it is the year Rock-n-Roll really started to take off commercially.

Where I run into trouble with my concept of Dieselpunk chronology is at the BEGINNING of it. Is it heavier than air powered flight?The Great War with its gas and tanks? The Jazz age/prohibition? If it isn't until the 1920s, does that mean that the Edwardian Era/Progressive Era is fair game for Steampunk? I had always thought that Steampunk had to be no later than the end of Victoria's reign. Lately it doesn't seem so however, with all the ragtime sensibilities blending into it.

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