As I get back into dieselpunk writing, I thought I’d reflect on what dieselpunk means to me. The definition found at the Dieselpunk Encyclopedia: “Dieselpunk is a style and a budding sub-culture that combines the zeitgeist of the interbellum period through World War II and ending before or at the early 1950s with postmodern sensibilities from a counter-cultural viewpoint.”
That’s a very broad definition that can cover many things. Personally, I think of it in much narrower terms. I prefer to consider dieselpunk a culture that combines elements of wartime style and customs with in a present-day or future setting, or with speculative elements like fantasy or sci-fi. I think that’s what separates dieselpunk from historical for alternate history settings. If I write a story about a spy in WWII, that’s not dieselpunk to me. If I write a story about a spy in WWII that boards an alien ship, that’s dieselpunk.
I spend a lot of time on Pinterest, perusing different boards and pinning to my own boards of different topics, one of which is dieselpunk. At first I would pin anything that had an airship or WW uniform, but then I thought about what really applies as dieselpunk. It changed how I pinned the images to my boards. A man or woman in uniform doesn’t make the image dieselpunk, nor did a WW bomber plane or tank. That’s historical imagery, in my opinion. No shortage of such images, history is overflowing with them. I search for pins that display that special blend of old and new, wartime and modern, diesel and sci fi, etc.
When think dieselpunk film, I think Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. When I think of dieselpunk literature, I think of Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan series. (which can be arguably steampunk as well) When I think of dieselpunk art, the works of Stefan spring to mind. Those are just examples of the perfect blend of wartime era/sensibilities with speculative aspects. There are many others.
I was writing in the dieselpunk genre before I knew the culture existed. I called my writing style for the Troubleshooter series ‘dystopian noir’ at the time. Through networking with other enthusiasts I came to know more about dieselpunk and what it encompasses. Everyone has their own interpretation, but to me, it’s the ‘punk’ in dieselpunk that infers an addition to the wartime era style and setting. When you add the speculative aspect, blend the old with new, link past to present to future; you get something that stands apart from its historical counterparts.
You get dieselpunk.