Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Waterworld is a 1995 post-apocalyptic science fiction film. The film was directed by Kevin Reynolds, co-written by Peter Rader and David Twohy based on Rader's original 1986 screenplay and stars Kevin Costner, who also produced it. It was distributed by Universal Pictures.

After the doomsday event of flooding caused by global warming melting the ice caps and end of civilization, the ramshackle remnants of the human race who survived the deluge now live in large floating constructs made up of various rusty junk and grimy debris found floating on the ocean; these watery settlements are called atolls after the similar type of island which no longer exist. The dwellers of atolls are a nautical society, albeit a gritty, primitive and superstitious one, with a patriarchal structure.

The atollers refer to anybody outside their atoll as "outwaters", and are very suspicious of them. On occasion, however, drifters are permitted entry in to the atolls, but only temporarily, and only if they can show the guards and/or enforcers they have something of value to trade with, such as food, plants, seeds, cigarettes, paper, dirt, and "hydro" (fresh water).

Due to the extreme limitation of living space in the settlements, and also the sparse resources, the atoll elders limit the number of citizens to a steady and constant number, thus avoiding the issue of overpopulation. Since there is no ground to bury the dead in, the dead are placed in a yellow brine pool, whereupon they are "recycled". Occasionally, drifters are asked to mate with the women of the atolls to expand on the shallow gene pool of the inhabitants, in an attempt to avoid inbreeding and also a population bottleneck situation, meaning they are an exogamous society. However, the only time women are permitted to try for a child is when a citizen of the atoll dies, thus keeping the population number steady.

Pirates are known commonly as "smokers" because of the smoke from oil-power machines, such as personal water craft and aeroplanes, which they make use of. They also apply great cultural significance to the smoking of cigarettes, even to the point of giving their children cigarettes, and trade in a brand of cigarettes referred to as "Black Death".

The base of the smokers is the rusted old carcass of an oil tanker, referred to as the Deez, which is revealed to be the Exxon Valdez in a brief shot. Although the tanker no longer has any functional engines, the smokers still have a large supply of crude oil aboard the tanker, and apparently a small oil refinery, as they are able to refine the crude oil into gasoline to power the jet skis and planes they make use of. The Deacon also mentions refining but states that they are running out of "the black stuff" and the "go-juice" rapidly, and that they only have "two lunars" (or months) left of it. The smokers have also hoarded large quantities of firearms, heavy artillery, ammunition, spam, paper, tobacco, cigarettes and whiskey aboard the tanker. The smokers move the tanker by use of dozens of oars that stick out of the barnacle-encrusted hull.

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Overall the feel of the movie is very similar to Mad Max, and several aspects of it, just like in Max Max, remind me of Fallout 3 and its slavers, raiders and overall chaotic mayhem. Since their whole technology is still based on diesel, I think it's a good example of a dystopian dieselpunk story.

Here's the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEp382HIisE

What'ya think?

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Unfortunately, the look of the movie is pretty important since it's a visual media. You make good arguments for why the story should be classified as Dieselpunk, but you can make the same arguments about a lot of stories. The setting is what makes them Dieselpunk. The story of King Arthur could be Dieselpunk if it was set in a world inspired visually by the 20's to 50's, but since most tellings of it stick it in the Dark Ages it isn't Dieselpunk. Wizards and Blade Runner can be argued that they are Dieselpunk as well as post-apocalyptic and cyberpunk because of the 20's - 50's visual elements, but they cross genres. You're welcome to your opinions and your definition of Dieselpunk, but I think this is one movie that fails the main lithmus test of Dieselpunk by not having any Dieselpunk visual elements.


All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.

Well said, Virgil.

The first time I've ever heard of "dieselpunk", years ago, was exactly to define "Mad Max", and even with not much explanation, it got me right away: apocalyptical social nightmare (punk) where fossil fuel (diesel) was key to survive. Just another expression for the much-anticipated derailing of society/total degradation of costumes, back then. The 70's and 80's have movies on this, from Warriors and Escape of New York to Death Wish III. If not by the Third World War, by those damn hippies, I think.


I was a bit surprised when I met this word again, this time associated with a close relation to "steampunk", just moving forward it in some decades. The main difference, I think, it's the total lack of romantism/glamour Mad Max stories have, contrasting to the celebration of the 20's-50's the green side of this train line has. :) But the Piecraftian thing, ok, I got it.


I have that SeaWorld Mad Max, aside The Postman, are cause enough to produce a restraining order preventing Costner approaching science-fiction not less than 300 yards, but that's me.

I just can't accept the meaning of diesel in "Dieselpunk" as simply meaning "gas powered internal combustion." If we go down this path then Dieselpunk will lose any defining character.


I want to stress this because I feel strongly about it. If there is no "decodence," meaning an Diesel Era aesthetic, to the movie then it cannot be Dieselpunk. Mad Max, Waterworld, Escape From New York... none are Dieselpunk.

The problem may be, we are too far eager to label something. A literary genre should be something that, looking backwards, we could see and say, "we have a profile of sorts, let's name this or that" Now we want start from a label... or should it be classified, instead of a (sub)genre, a theme?
Very interesting comment, Luiz. Am I understanding correctly that you're saying we should start with a definition (i.e."profile") of the genre of Dieselpunk and then go from there when we describe something (movie, literature, etc.) as being "Dieselpunk"?
But then it goes by whose definition.  There are some people who believe that dieselpunk has already been defined.  Some groups believe that Mad Max fits into it, others believe that only things with a 20-50's nostalgia vibe belong, while others believe in the sci-fi alternate history belief, in the end as with most literary and cinematic labeling it would be what the majority decided to label it.  If tomorrow everyone dubbed Free Wily dieselpunk and that that was the example (yes I'm being absurd but it is a good way to make a point sometimes) that all dieselpunk was to be judge by then that would be the standard.  Happily I believe, that this community can agree that at times we will disagree, but in the end we accept that our love for the different styles in toto makes a stronger whole for the genera.
Larry: Yes, the problem then being, do we all agree on this profile? Not particularly this, but the problem being, is any prudent starting this way? As PANiestzsche said, it goes by whose definition. And I agree with him, when he says that it goes by majority: see what science-fiction stands for nowadays and compare it back to the golden age day. And ok, too, for what we do here in this blessed community. But then again, if a label goes too wide, it misses its purpose or meaning.

Both of you made some interesting comments. One of the wonderful aspects of Dieselpunk is indeed that the "punk" does allow for wide degree of individuality. Yet, while at the same time it seems to me that there needs to be something that unifies it and distinguishes it from other genres. If not then Dieselpunk loses its identity.


A good point was made about the majority setting the standard, which I agree. It seems to me that when one looks at majority of the sites and read the articles that uses the term "Dieselpunk" there seems to be one common denominator: "aesthetics / pop culture of the 1920s - 1950s," to quote Dieselpunks Forum Home page. The cars, the music, the art, the fashion... of that magical era is what we post about and would seem to be the place to start since it's a love that we all share.

What leads me on giving an example: Solarpunk.

It is suggested to start a whole new genre on that. Hum... it doesn't seem fit to me, for reasons explained above. I don't think it's just about semanthics, but you can't start a 'genre', but a theme. And, if it gets trendy, then maybe we can discuss.

I could see how how Dieselpunk started life refering to Post-Apocalyptic movies and relative to Cyberpunk. A lot of what we're doing is early 20th Century Pulp Fiction reenactment and was called all sorts of things until Steampunk came along and created a reference point. Without Steampunk, I don't think we would call what we do Dieselpunk. It could have been Pulp Fantasy, Historical Pulp, or whatever. Once Steampunk was established, Dieselpunk took on a new meaning using chronological power sources to identify the time period. This would be very similar to how Chinese and Japanese name their periods, except they started a long time ago. I'm not sure if Atomicpunk was ever used before Steampunk and Dieselpunk. If so, it now has a meaning that places it after Dieselpunk, chronologically. Like everything else in life, it's relative. Dieselpunk is a good way to describe what we do to people familiar with Steampunk and Science Fiction. I wouldn't use it over on a car forum with out a little explanation first.
Another good reason to get a new name for all this -punk stuff.

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