So You Think You’re Dieselpunk?

A stubble faced man wearing a slept-in looking suit and bowler hat puffs on a smoke. ‘What brings a dame like you to a dive like this?’ he asks in a scratchy, cigarette-bathed voice.

The girl (hoop skirt, hand fan, cogs and sprockets on her violet fascinator), her eyes intent on the raggedy man, replies, ‘And why, pray, would that be any business of yours?’

Ding-ding-ding! And here folks, we kick off the second part of “So You Think You’re Steampunk?” with a little more clarification of this puzzling genre. Or possibly a little more muddying depending on your receptiveness to my introduction of another sub-genre – Dieselpunk.

What on Earth is Dieselpunk?

More digging and I’ve discovered an offshoot of Steampunk called “Dieselpunk”. Among a plethora of other “punks” this one resonated on account of summing up neatly movies like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Dark City, comics like V for Vendetta and games like Bioshock. That is, a World War 2 period style with noir qualities (makes sense, noir, a cheap by-product of little money following the wars was a style part created accidentally through budget constraints rather than actual thought to create a new genre). So we aren’t talking about a sex pistol doused in petrol. Also, as Wikipedia states, this sub-genre is sometimes known as Decopunk –

…referring to the Art Deco art style (including its Streamline Moderne variant). The genre combines the artistic and genre influences of the period (including pulp magazines, serial films, film noir, art deco, and wartime pinups) with postmodern technology and sensibilities. First coined in 2001 as a marketing term by game designer Lewis Pollak to describe his role-playing game Children of the Sun,[15] Dieselpunk has grown to describe a distinct style of visual art, music, motion pictures, fiction, and engineering. Examples include Crimson Skies, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Dark City, the BioShock series[16], and even Fisher-Price’s Imaginext Sky Racers toy airplanes for children (

I’d argue the world of Batman in its many incarnations and re-imaginings could often be classed as an example of Dieselpunk and also the world featured in many of Ed’s scrawlings on hotel coasters circa the last five years would certainly fall under the Steampunk/Dieselpunk umbrella. Interestingly these worlds can and will collide – for example Steampunk is often described as taking place in a Victorian setting but featuring alternate histories with “futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them” (to quote the Steampunk Wiki entry again – Then take a look at Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy which includes more than three separate worlds – Lyra’s alternate Steampunk-y Oxford and Will’s modern/present world (our own).

So You think You’re Steampunk?

Today girls and boys, I’d like to kick off my research on “Steampunk” – well you call it Steampunk, many call it a way of life, but to each her own.

so what is steampunk? A silly game of adult dress-up? High fashion for grown-ups? Or maybe it’s all about movies and video games, books and television? As it turns out, lots of things fall under the steampunk umbrella.

Wikipedia states:

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s.[1] Specifically, steampunk involves an era or world where steam power is still widely used – usually the 19th century and often Victorian era Britain – that incorporates prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them; in other words, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc. This technology may include such fictional machines as those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne or real technologies like the computer but developed earlier in an alternate history.

Other examples of steampunk contain alternate history-style presentations of “the path not taken” for such technology as dirigibles, analog computers, or such digital mechanical computers as Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace’s Analytical engine.

Steampunk is often associated with cyberpunk. They have considerable influence on each other and share a similar fan base, but steampunk developed as a separate movement. Apart from time period and level of technology, the main difference is that steampunk settings tend to be less dystopian.

But then all sorts of things fall under steampunk for their atmosphere if nothing else – literature like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and perhaps more interestingly (as it doesn’t really fit the mold of that wiki quote), Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Also movies like Spirited Away and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, comic books like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and video games like Bioshock. Even Batman – and I’ll argue this (if I even need to) in an upcoming post.

My job, with my interest in both history and fantasy is to seek out this peculiar genre in and out of games, literature and film, analyse it, give it a bash and examine the cogs that fall out when I do so.