Dieselpunks

Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Please bear with me for what may be a kind of rambling, stream-of-consciousness post, but that's how the idea came to me.

As I understand it, steampunk started as a visual genre, and it just now making strong inroads into the world of fiction. Dieselpunk is a younger genre, so there doesn't seem to be as much fiction yet. I've noticed that quite a bit to steampunk (at least the stuff my wife is drawn to) has fantasy elements: magic, werewolves, vampires. But this stuff was it it's heyday in the Victorian Era (Dracula & Frankenstein published, the founding of the Theosophy Society, etc.), so it make sense.

Do you think these elements would work as well in a dieselpunk/decopunk setting? Or would a scifi feel be more appropriate. Like, instead of monsters like werewolves, use aliens or "lost creatures" like the gill-man from Creature of the Black Lagoon? Or does it even matter?

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Good question. Sara Zama mixes dieselpunk with supernatural elements in her novel A Ghostly Smell Around, which should be available soon.

Personally, I haven't found a way to blend diesel with fantasy, but sci fi is naturally easy. Still, if you look at how Star Wars and games like Final Fantasy have effortlessly blended genres, there should be a dieselpunk/fantasy hybrid out there, or coming soon.

I have started writing a series of shortstories and novellas taking place in the Patchwork World setting. I did not originally label them "diesel fantasy", but one reviewer referred to one of the stories, "The Road", as fantasy. They contain humans with extraordinary abilities, such as "Sarumanic" persuasion or pattern-sensing. Mundanes view such matters as a natural, though unsettling, quality that some individuals possess. The societal responses vary from wariness to persecution. I think that approach fits reasonably well with the western mindset of the inter-war decades.

When I wrote the Rocket Molly Syndicate for the DPES 2, I used scientifically created pterodactyls as a story element. I think "Lost World" scenarios  and Lovecraftian themes of awakening ancient evils work well in Dieselpunk fantasy. Though in terms of fantastic creatures, think Creature from the Black Lagoon or freaks of science/proto-robotics. One theme of the Diesel/Jazz age seems to be the death of magic and rise of science, or the rebirth of magic in defiance of technology. Dieselpunk seems to work better as a low fantasy setting (say, without wizards that can cast fireballs, ect.). But in terms of Dieselpunk fantasy, a lot of ground is yet to be broken. I think the real issue will be community acceptance, namely will the grittier, Piecraftian portion of the community be accepting of a more fantastic approach to Dieselpunk fiction? I believe so, but I'm not sure.

The Hard Magic/Grimnoir Chronicles series is a very dieselpunk, very fantasy heavy bunch of books set in the years right before the WWII. Zombies, tesla guns, demons - it has a lot, and was a decently entertaining read.

I've been messing around with the idea of dieselpunk monsters in some of my writing, though they tend to skew towards the pseudo-science angle than they do straight magic. I used Frankenstein-esque zombies when I wrote Whispers From The Trench, myself.

Using straight fantasy themes can work, the Hard Magic series proves it, but I'm a lazy writer, and always found it easier to go a sci-fi route when making weird creatures in my diesel punk settings. I think it's only a matter of time till we see all sorts of dieselpunk, though, just like we're seeing all kinds of steampunk from everyone from Gail Carriger to Jim Butcher, now. 

I've been meaning to answer to this thread for a long time now. Yes I think these elements can work quite well in a dieselpunk setting. I mean when writing about horror, I remember a series of games called Alone in the Dark (technically, the series is ongoing, but the more recent ones are a very different than the original setting in the 90s).

The original trilogy was based in the 1920s and had very strong fantasy themes to it. The first game was a Lovecraftian horror set in a mansion, the second game involved heavy voodoo, the third game had more science in it, but still had a strong undead theme to it.

If you're looking for a dieselpunk fantasy... well then, allow me to plug my work. I've written a novella, my first in a series of planned books, and it takes place in an entirely fantasy universe with a dieselpunk overlay.

Basically, imagine Lord of the Rings, except with less obvious magic (it does have magic, but it's very different and subtle) and fantasy races, an entirely different geography and planet to our earth, and you have my world.

The biggest problem I have in making it is creating the societies. In your typical fantasy and sci-fi settings, creating fictional civilizations is fairly simple, since the settings are far removed from us to allow that kind of difference... but when you're making a society that has basically a souped up version of the 1940s and 50s, it's much harder to do, and I'm still trying to pull it off.



Salim Farhat said:


"The biggest problem I have in making it is creating the societies. In your typical fantasy and sci-fi settings, creating fictional civilizations is fairly simple, since the settings are far removed from us to allow that kind of difference... but when you're making a society that has basically a souped up version of the 1940s and 50s, it's much harder to do, and I'm still trying to pull it off." 

That, in my opinion, is the greatest limitation of Dieselpunk as a fantasy genre. Because it is totally grounded in the (alternate) history of our world, especially western societies in the early 20th century, Dieselpunk doesn't seem to work well in secondary world settings. Dieselpunk is bound to our world to a greater degree than Steampunk. Steampunk with elves and dwarves works, due to the western Eurpoean flavor of the genre, and the age of exploration themes that go with the era that lends itself to an "are fairies just waiting to be discovered?" approach to traditional fantasy elements. Dieselpunk, on the other hand, embodies an era when science had shattered as many dreams as it inspired, an era when humans realized they were alone in the world. Dieselpunk, at its heart, is rooted in a mix of nostalgia for a world of technological optimism and wishes that it had worked out better (i.e. the Holocaust hadn't happened, the rise of fascism hadn't swept through Europe in that era, etc.). Barring a robot protagonist, I'm not sure well a non human character will work in a Dieselpunk setting. But I encourage you to write this, Salim. Your work will help Dieselpunk grow as a literary genre. I would look to the Wizard of Oz books as a guide. L. Frank Baum did much what you are trying to do, bringing a traditional fantasy genre into the current century, and experimenting with new takes on character archtypes.

Good luck and keep writing!



John Taylor said:



Salim Farhat said:


"The biggest problem I have in making it is creating the societies. In your typical fantasy and sci-fi settings, creating fictional civilizations is fairly simple, since the settings are far removed from us to allow that kind of difference... but when you're making a society that has basically a souped up version of the 1940s and 50s, it's much harder to do, and I'm still trying to pull it off." 

That, in my opinion, is the greatest limitation of Dieselpunk as a fantasy genre. Because it is totally grounded in the (alternate) history of our world, especially western societies in the early 20th century, Dieselpunk doesn't seem to work well in secondary world settings. Dieselpunk is bound to our world to a greater degree than Steampunk. Steampunk with elves and dwarves works, due to the western Eurpoean flavor of the genre, and the age of exploration themes that go with the era that lends itself to an "are fairies just waiting to be discovered?" approach to traditional fantasy elements. Dieselpunk, on the other hand, embodies an era when science had shattered as many dreams as it inspired, an era when humans realized they were alone in the world. Dieselpunk, at its heart, is rooted in a mix of nostalgia for a world of technological optimism and wishes that it had worked out better (i.e. the Holocaust hadn't happened, the rise of fascism hadn't swept through Europe in that era, etc.). Barring a robot protagonist, I'm not sure well a non human character will work in a Dieselpunk setting. But I encourage you to write this, Salim. Your work will help Dieselpunk grow as a literary genre. I would look to the Wizard of Oz books as a guide. L. Frank Baum did much what you are trying to do, bringing a traditional fantasy genre into the current century, and experimenting with new takes on character archtypes.

Good luck and keep writing!

Thanks for the encouragement. Though the world I'm creating does have a heavy basis in WW2. In fact, the original idea that inspired it was a setting where I could use WW2 era technology, but not be restrained by real world geographic limitations.
The truth is, I'm a WW2 buff, and I can't look at a map and make up a fake country or make up fake operations that would have happened. Ditto for secret weapons that the Nazi war machine could never really put into action (even the soviets had tons of secret weapon programs... but gave up when they realized the war was going to be won by brute force and not . So as a way of working around it, I created this setting of mine.
Originally it wasn't even supposed to be Dieselpunk, but rather stay as close as possible to the real world, except for including non-human species and a completely different geography.
As time passed, I turned it into more dieselpunk, and while I haven't written much in it, I still struggle to really get the look and feel of my world right. I watch a lot of FROM the diesel era (mostly pre-WW2 stuff) but not enough of what we consider dieselpunk. It's something I need to change, since I've seen too much good stuff that could inspire me in many ways.
That being said, how I chose to make my setting is basically to make the world into multiple phases. The whole creation of my world has a magical basis, but magic died in an event in the distant (and unwritten) past of the world. This also explains the existence of non-human species. In fact, the protagonist of my first novella (and it's planned sequel) isn't human. I have other non-human protagonists, or at least important supporting characters, in much of my planned works.
Speaking of which, I really should stop this 'planned' works thing and turn them into finished works. I only have one novella that I finished last year. There must be more!

Just throwing this out there... I'm an optimist and normally like to look for the positive in people/events, but I don't ignre reality, either. And in reality, given the way we've treated pretty much EVERY minority in our society (but especially Black and Orientalss--especially the Japanese during the WWII era), how well do you think say elves and dwarves would have fared in our world? Would they have been put into segregated military units? Forced to use their own bathrooms/water fountains? Later on, would they have campaigned for their Civil Liberties?

Salim Farhat said:


The biggest problem I have in making it is creating the societies. In your typical fantasy and sci-fi settings, creating fictional civilizations is fairly simple, since the settings are far removed from us to allow that kind of difference... but when you're making a society that has basically a souped up version of the 1940s and 50s, it's much harder to do, and I'm still trying to pull it off.

Thanks for the interest/replies; most people seem to agree that many of the standard fantasy tropes are more suited to steampunk than dieselpunk, which seems geared more toward science fictiony (or at last science fantasy) beasties and powers. However, as I read through these, an idea struck me of how to (possibly) include fantasy races. Richard Shaver's "Shaver Mystery," written in 1943, claimed that a lost race, the Deros, still existed beneath the earth. That could just as easily work for dwarves, elves, gnomes, whatever....

Also, it occurs to me that a lot depends (obviously) on how things are handled and/or updated. Anyone see the original "Fright Night" movie (I never bothered w/the remake)? One of the bits I LOVED was the vampire wearing a long, billowy leather trench coat that he used in the same way Lugosi's Dracula used his cape. It was IMHO an incredibly clever way to marry the classic trope to modern sensibilities. That should be possible w/dieselpunk sensibilities, too, I think.

Hmm, an interesting if slightly puzzling discussion. There is absolutely no reason why fantasy could not work in a Dieselpunk setting just as much as it does in Steampunk. From video and board games such as Blood Rayne, the more recent Deadfall Adventures, Achtung! Cthulhu and Jacub Rozalski's Scythe, to films such as Indiana Jones, The Mummy and even the beginning of Hellboy, there are innumerable examples of fantasy Dieselpunk. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit in 1936, not in itself a Dieselpunk work admittedly, but there is very likely an alternate history/fantasy story that could be based around that fact. Perhaps it inspired the makers of Warhammer 40K, a science/fantasy game which features a great many DP elements, including as I recall an engine powered super Orc hehe. As for horror tropes, The Addams Family cartoons first appeared in the 1930s, Abbot and Costello met just about every Universal Monster going in the '40s and '50s. There are certainly a few old horror movies set in the Diesel era, Cat People and Son of Dracula being just two that spring to mind.

As for magic, there were of course psychics, magicians, Voodoo, Black Magic and occult practitioners including of course the "Great Beast" himself all hard at work in the Diesel era. I mean somebody had to buy those blues and Jazz players souls right? (btw if you haven't seen "Angel Heart", then I advise you rectify that asap). During WW2 Heinrich Himmler was famously searching for everything from the Holy Grail to Thor's Hammer and God knows what else.

I could go on and on but basically, fantasy in the Diesel era? scratch the surface and you're soaking in it.

You make some VERY interesting points, Argus, especially concerning the Nazi occult stuff. I've always been interested in that; I can't believe it TOTALLY slipped my mind when I started to think about dieselpunk and fantasy tropes!

The Nazi obsession with mystical artefacts, and supposedly also alternate sources of power such as Vril energy, was the inspiration for everything from Indiana Jones to Hellboy and some of the Castle Wolfenstein video games. Indeed director Richard Stanley described Otto Rahn, the infamous writer (and later Nazi Party member) who searched for the Holy Grail in the 1930s, as the original Man In Black. Stanley has made a documentary about him called The Secret Glory. I assume by now you have seen the trailer for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, based on J.K.Rowling's book of the same name. Needless to say it looks suitably fantastical, and I'm sure it'll work just fine.

It does seem many folks I talk to, are adamant about sticking to what I've come to call the holy trinity of Dieselpunk identifiers, contemporary, decodence and Punk. It seems the decodence can come from a relevant Diesel era period or period influenced setting (see Terry Gilliam's Brazil for example). The Punk can be any kind of unusual twist including alternate history and fantasy, and the contemporary part is easy because that's our perspective here and now. Tick those three boxes, it seems most folks will agree you have a Dieselpunk premise, which potentially offers a pretty broad scope.

Best of luck with your writing.

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