Dieselpunks

Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Several of the discussions here reminded me of this article at The Gatehouse,"The Two Flavors of Dieselpunk." In an excerpt from the article:
Elaborating upon the observations of The Flying Fortress about the genre, we have established two kinds of dieselpunk, differing in setting, style and influence. The “Ottensian,” of which Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) is representative, is typically set in a 1930s that was never bothered by a Great Depression and is therefore more of a continuation of the Roaring Twenties; its optimism and excitement only strengthened by further progress. This buoyant and most pervasive of “Ottensian” dieselpunk shares its era with more film noir-styled, hard-boiled detective stories such as The Shadow (1994) and The Big O, which depict the negative effects of the era’s laissez-faire attitude: the rise of totalitarianism, technocratic perception, and the “grit and oil [and] dust and mud”5 of pollution.

On the other side of World War II we find the “Piecraftian” dieselpunk, shaped by an alternate outcome of the war: often Axis victory but sometimes a three-way Cold War reminiscent of Nineteen-Eighty-Four. Either way, the war is typically depicted as having been prolonged with advanced technologies based upon real-world Nazi experiments with rocketry, jet aircraft, and eugenics and the occult. Sometimes the “Piecraftian” is set during the later stages of the war, as is the case with video games like Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001) and War Front: Turning Point (2007). Often, however, it is characterized by dystopia and nuclear paranoia, and the development of evermore agressive technologies of war and the conquest of space by Nazi-Germany—in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962) and Energia Productions’s Iron Sky (2008).

Finally, the darker side of the “Piecraftian” is truly hopeless, for in the post-apocalyptic environments of Mad Max (1979), Radioactive Dreams (1985), Yukito Kishiro’s Battle Angel Alita and Kevin Costner’s Waterworld (1995), there is no chance of recovery, no hope for a better future; only an everlasting struggle for survival.


I consider myself Ottensian Dieselpunk. I was wondering in which category other's considered themselves.

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Very good points. You're right that it's more complicated than the article presented. 

 

In my blog I wrote that the two flavors are actually broken down into subclasses: Hopeful Ottensian, Dark Ottensian, Dystopian Piecraftian and Post-apocalyptic Piecraftian. So you are very much on target that dieselpunk is more than just the dichotomy of two flavors.

 

Also, these flavors and subclasses are simply trends within the genre that have so far been documented. I think there are more trends already developing in the genre, which I suspect we'll be reading about over the next few months.

 

One other important point. In the first article on this in my blog I wrote, "Just like a recipe includes a variety of flavors from many ingredients most dieselpunks mix the different flavors and sub-classes into what the genre means to each person."  Once again, you and I agree what dieselpunk means to each of us is more complicated than just these flavors and subclasses.


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J.R. said:

What the article calls 'Piecraftian dieselpunk' seems to me to be a brand of alternate history (some of it extrapolated from plausible scenarios), whereas Ottensian is more like a retro fantasy-land where history got broken in shipping. But there's so much overlap that most dieselpunk visions (such as Sky Captain) can be said to embrace both.

 

I love it in either form, but I'm not convinced there is a clear dichotomy, at least not with the provided examples...

From my understanding, early 20th century retro aesthetics are heavily intertwined with -- even inextricable from -- dieselpunk per se. Which would disqualify Mad Max, Waterworld, and definitely Battle Angel Alita. Certain dystopian visions like Brazil and Dark City would still qualify, though.

 

I'm wondering where wartime espionage fiction, colonial pulp adventures far removed from urban settings (like Doc Savage and Indiana Jones), dystopianism of a pre-war sort (like Zamyatin or Kafka), and Lovecraftian occult / Cthulhu Mythos fiction fit into this scheme. They seem to muddle any clear dichotomy, don't they? They've certainly influenced both camps. For my part, I've always melded it all together in my mind.

 

Ottens' initial article about the definition of dieselpunk seems spot-on but 'Piecraftian' doesn't seem like a big enough thing to represent half of a split...

Excellent point, J.R. I share your concern about Mad Max, Waterworld, etc... To me there needs to be decodence, in other words a feel of the diesel era, in the production. The term "diesel" doesn't mean simply the presence of an internal combustion engine. Otherwise we would have to classify movies like Cannon Ball Run as some form of "dieselpunk" simply because it involved a car race.

 

You've raised a good question also. Some of the those would fit into the sub-class of Dark Ottensian, such as the Lovecraft Mythos. I think the same for Indiana Jones. I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know enough about Doc Savage to have an opinion.


J.R. said:

I'm wondering where wartime espionage fiction, colonial pulp adventures far removed from urban settings (like Doc Savage and Indiana Jones), dystopianism of a pre-war sort (like Zamyatin or Kafka), and Lovecraftian occult / Cthulhu Mythos fiction fit into this scheme. They seem to muddle any clear dichotomy, don't they? They've certainly influenced both camps. For my part, I've always melded it all together in my mind.

Hahaha, now that I think about it, I could live in a world where 'Every Which Way But Loose' is considered dieselpunk, if only because this genre could use more orangutan buddy comedies.


I'm wary of all this over-classification, though I find their rationales thought-provoking. Your blog goes a long way toward remedying the current lack of a 'dieselpunk bible' (as currently exists for steampunk in books by Jess Nevins and others), and it's that kind of academic basis that helps us define dieselpunk in the first place.  I just have the idea that this definition is still evolving  -- in a way that it isn't for, say, cyberpunk -- and that all these sub-taxonomies may be jumping the gun a little for a genre and community that's quite young yet.

 

Thanks, JR. I hope my blog is helpful in advancing dieselpunk.

 

I agree that dieselpunk is very much a growing, vibrant genre and I think these "sub-taxonomies" are a part of the natural growth of dieselpunk as it develops its identity. They can be helpful as long as we don't take them as dogma but use them to further our understanding of the genre. If they become a burden or restrictive then we would want to stop using them. 

Well, I don't know what to say. My kind of alternate history would be a world where Hitler dies in 42, Goring takes over, purges the really, really crazies in the SS, essentially vassilates the USSR and when peace comes with Britain one of the items is unrestricted Jewish immigration to Palestine. So Nazi victory without the genocide. And then of course seeing the Nazi system crack in the later stages of the Cold War. Happy Fatherland basically.

In my own project, Defender of the Reich is definitely Ottensian, in terms of advanced technology, radical female emancipation (at a price), techno music (The Tron Legacy soundtrack would fit right into the avant garde of Futurmusik), and the hope of a better world. On the other hand it involves lots of occult stuff, good people selling out to monsters (this is true on all sides), it takes a very dark look at the concept of Unconditional surrender and victory at any price and even has very dark scenes in Auschwitz IV (the extermination camp portion).

But I actually wonder about when Dieselpunk becomes absurd. My big thing is that part of me wants to have Defender of the Reich be the 80s in the 40s (except in fashion). That and Wilhelm II, the 80 something year old former Kaiser of Germany is a freaking shock jock. In this world he went public against Hitler in 1932, and ran a radio show in Holland from then on as a chief source of opposition to the Nazi regime which he deplores and will oppose it even if it means he will never be restored (historically he DID deplore the Nazis, but kept quiet so maybe his family would get the throne back). And because he's actually a learned and curious guy, his show is a call in and they discuss anything and everything. And when the war hits, he goes to London and broadcasts there to ferment anti-Nazi sentiment, only to be cruelly disillusioned that the Allies intend to brutalize Germany whether the Nazis rule or not. Like I said, potentially absurd. So I was wondering where approximately that line is.

Your idea reminds me of a book I read a few years ago, Harry Turtledove's "in the presence of mine enemies".

Charlotte Wolery said:

Well, I don't know what to say. My kind of alternate history would be a world where Hitler dies in 42, Goring takes over, purges the really, really crazies in the SS, essentially vassilates the USSR and when peace comes with Britain one of the items is unrestricted Jewish immigration to Palestine. So Nazi victory without the genocide. And then of course seeing the Nazi system crack in the later stages of the Cold War. Happy Fatherland basically.

Definitely Ottensian. I love the clothes, attitude ('we can do anything') and the overall look. Plus, I'm an optimist by nature.
More of Ottensian. There are many interesting ways the US could have gone if the Great Depression hadn't happened.
That's very true. While I think the Great Depression was inevitable because of the economics of the 20's it's absence would have had effects on both the 30's and 40's.

Chris Johnson said:
More of Ottensian. There are many interesting ways the US could have gone if the Great Depression hadn't happened.
I would have to go with Ottensian, but I like to think of the Great Depression as happening early and lasting longer. So I would be a dark Ottensian. I consider myself an optimistic dystopian who loves to get into the oil and dirt.

I've got to go with Ottensian, too--I'm just too naturally perky to abandon all hope. I'm the type of person who'd have a birthday party for a fellow survivor after worldwide nuclear holocaust. But I do have more than the recommended daily values of Irony running through my veins, so I would be serving cockroach casserole with a side of mutant mashed potatoes before we got around to the yellowcake with irradiated frosting. ;) So, maybe Ottensian with pinstripes of black humor along the back quarter panels.

 

My version of Dieselpunk (it's evolving--my main diesel fiction project is in the garage for a MAJOR rework of setting) carries a heavy theme of the machine being the great equalizer. There's a lot about the early 20th century that, for me at least, puts a little tarnish on the lustre (kind of underscored by the parallels I can't help seeing in American politics and the US economy today). It's probably why I'm not more Piecraftian--I can see enough of the apocalypse in reality, it's my imagination that needs a break. ;)

 

Where Dieselpunk departs from the baseline history for me is how The Machine *could have* overcome those inequalities of race and gender and social class and tradition-versus-progress, either by removing the significance of differences, or by creating a common enemy. Golden-age SF did this by holding up a distort-mirror to contemporary events, but spoken of in fantastical terms, underscoring the points people were supposed to get in a subconscious way.

 

Technology, for me, speaks to a part of our humanity that's greater than we are in the day-to-day, and the more I read up on the technology of the early 20th century, the more I see the things like politics and social class held it back. I have fun playing with removing those roadblocks.

 

But then again, I might just love Blimps and Hedy Lamarr. A lot. :D

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