What is Dieselpunk?

What is Dieselpunk? Dieselpunk is an aesthetic and literary genre that blends diesel technology with the attitudes of the 1920s-1950s. It typically reflects a nostalgic viewpoint of science, a fear or distrust of new technology, a necessity to defend traditional modes of living against modernity, and embraces old-fashioned values such as hard work, self-reliance, individualism (within reason), and healthful living. Its roots can be traced back as far as 1825 when Jules Verne published “Paris in the Twentieth Century. ” In the 1920s and 1930s, the New Visionaries — a group of mostly British writers who rejected modernity in favour of more familiar structures and values — codified the genre with their own writings.

Where does Dieselpunk Originate?

“Dieselpunk” (given the acronym by Thomas M. Disch, 1982) is a portmanteau coined by Disch from “diesel engine” and “Victorianism.” He defines it as “a literary mode essentially literary in which diesel engines (or other 20th-century technology) are featured prominently.”

The term may be used as shorthand for any work that uses dieselpunk themes or settings.

Dieselpunk draws upon the dieselpunk zeitgeist and is frequently, but not always, set in an alternative version of the inter-war period. It may incorporate additional elements from the 1950s and the Cold War era (e.g. atomic age America), from which it finds its characteristically optimistic retro-futuristic aesthetic. The genre began with works that generally adopt the style and period setting of either science fiction or “hard” magic-based fantasy, but with later works tending to explicitly foreground their steampunk nature; for example, K. W. Jeter’s “Morlock Night” (1979) imagines a scenario in which H. G. Wells’s “Morlock” race is the result of a eugenics experiment gone awry.

Other examples of the genre blend disparate elements from earlier eras; for example, the settings and plot elements of Philip K. Dick’s aforementioned “The Man in the High Castle” (1962) — in which Germany and Japan prevailed in World War II and occupy a divided United States — are incorporated into James P. Blaylock’s “Homunculus” (1986), which is set during an alternative interwar period similar to that in Dick’s novel, but with airships instead of jet aircraft.

Anthologies are particularly important in the development of the dieselpunk genre, since many of them publish stories that feature characters in an alternative 1930s or 1940s. Most anthologies take place in alternate versions of the interwar period.

Dieselpunk and Steampunk

The term dieselpunk has sometimes been applied to steampunk and other forms of maverick retro-futuristic fiction which are based on alternative technologies and historical settings to those commonly associated with the term.

In May 2009, a dieselpunk community website called “dieselpunks.org” was launched, inspired by the earlier steampunk genre message board “steampunk.com”. Occasionally, the term “dieselpunk” is replaced with “clockwork punk” or simply “cpunk”.

Dieselpunk Music

The music of The Wombats can be described as dieselpunk with their album artwork and themes of retro-futurism and technology in their lyrics.

The music video “Chronicles of a Fallen Love” by The Wombats is a prime example of dieselpunk style with its use of retro-futuristic technology and imagery.
The band Björn Olsson’s Dieselpunks released their self-titled debut album on April 29, 2007. It was mixed by Tore Johansson at Studio Decibel in Sweden.

Cinema also has been influenced by the genre, with films like “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow”, “The Rocketeer”, “Iron Sky”, and “Steam Boys”. The film television series’ “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

If you enjoyed this article you might also like to read about What is Cyberpunk?

Hi I’m Amy — travel blogger, dog lover, digital marketer. I write mainly about Europe, Middle East and Southeast Asia. Getting into drones!

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store