What is Dieselpunk? (Plus 5 Examples)
If you’re curious about this exciting and somewhat retro-futuristic genre, you’ve come to the right place. Dieselpunk is like taking a cool journey back in time but with a twist of awesome technology. In this blog, we’re going to explore this fantastic world of what is Dieselpunk and introduce you to five famous examples that you’ll absolutely love. So, get ready to rev up your curiosity engines and dive into the thrilling universe of Dieselpunk!
What is Dieselpunk?
Dieselpunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that mixes sci-fi with the styles and technology from the 1920s to the 1950s. The name comes from diesel engines, which were popular back then.
In dieselpunk stories, you might see things like:
- Old-fashioned cars, planes, and trains powered by diesel fuel instead of gas
- Clunky robots and machines made of steel and gears
- Futuristic ray guns and technology imagined in the 1920s-1940s
- Tough detectives in fedora hats and trench coats
- Cities with towering skyscrapers and neon lights
- Adventures set in fictional worlds inspired by World War 1 and World War 2
In short, dieselpunk blends old-timey factories, machines and fashion with imaginative science fiction elements. It’s like steampunk but with diesel power instead of steam power. The stories often have a dark and gritty mood compared to other sci-fi genres.
In the next section, we’ll dive deeper into the characteristics that define Dieselpunk and showcase some amazing examples to get your imagination soaring.
What are the characteristics of dieselpunk?
So what exactly makes up the dieselpunk aesthetic? What are the key ingredients that give this genre its distinct retro-futuristic flavour? Let’s break it down…
- Powered by Diesel: Right off the bat, the name tells us that technology is fueled by diesel engines rather than steam or electricity. We’re talking colossal tanks, submarines, airships, mechs and more powered by the hardworking diesel motor. This gritty, oil-stained technology is central to the dieselpunk vibe.
- 1920s-1940s Inspired World: Like its steampunk cousin, dieselpunk is retro-futurism at its finest. But instead of Victorian, dieselpunk draws inspiration from the interwar period of the 1920s-1940s. Expect to see jazz halls, art deco skyscrapers, monochromatic film noir cityscapes and more. The fashion is also vintage, full of suspenders, newsboy caps, pin curls and bold red lipstick.
- Strong noir influences: With its darker atmosphere, dieselpunk incorporates plenty of noir influences. The genre often features stoic detectives, femme fatales, mobsters, dark alleyways and an overall mood of cynicism and moral ambiguity. Rain-slicked streets also abound in proper noir fashion.
- Fictional Technology: Like any good retro-futurist genre, dieselpunk features fictional technologies that both feel ahead of their time yet rooted in the past. These might include imaginary new weapons, vehicles, robots and inventions that speculate how tech could have evolved if diesel reigned supreme.
- Gritty, Action-Packed Stories: Finally, dieselpunk tales usually take place in a gloomy, dystopian world filled with danger and adventure. The protagonists are tough-as-nails antiheroes who must use their wits and grit to survive in this diesel-fueled landscape. The degree of optimism may vary!
Origins of the Dieselpunk Genre
Where did dieselpunk come from? Let’s explore the origins of this retro-futuristic genre.
Many pinpoint the exact coining of the term “dieselpunk” to Children of the Sun-game designer Lewis Pollak in 2001. However, the genre has roots stretching back decades earlier to the era it draws inspiration from.
In the 1920s and 30s, the growing prevalence of diesel engines, the onset of mass production, and the emergence of the Art Deco style seemed to embody a new modern mechanical era. This served as the backdrop for pioneering works of science fiction that captured this cultural zeitgeist.
The most famous is arguably Fritz Lang’s groundbreaking 1927 film Metropolis. With its dystopian city, industrial aesthetic, and futuristic vision, Metropolis codified key dieselpunk elements and visual language. Other influential precursors were the 1920s writings of Franz Kafka and the 1920-30s art of Edward Hopper.
Post-WWII retro-future fiction and comics also kept the dieselpunk spirit alive. Works like Dick Tracy comics and the 1991 film The Rocketeer channelled two-fisted heroes in gritty dieselpunk worlds.
It wasn’t until later years that Lewis Pollak and other fans coined “dieselpunk” as a distinct genre branching off from steampunk’s retro-futurism. But its roots stretch back to diesel-era works that pioneered this imaginative twist on technology and history.
Dieselpunk continues evolving today with books, films, games, and more set in immersive diesel-powered worlds that channel retro-futuristic possibilities.
5 Examples of Dieselpunk
Let’s look at some popular books, movies and games that showcase the dieselpunk genre:
- Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004 movie)
This cinematic adventure stands as a prime example of Dieselpunk due to its expert blending of World War II-era technology and retro-futuristic inventions. The film transports you to an alternate 1930s where Art Deco aesthetics reign supreme, and aeroplanes and zeppelins powered by roaring diesel engines take centre stage. What truly cements it in the Dieselpunk genre is the clunky robots that hark back to the hypothetical diesel-fueled mechs that innovators of the interwar era could only dream of. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow masterfully captures the essence of Dieselpunk by infusing it with a noir grit, a retro alternate history, and a world filled with diesel-driven machines.
- Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (2009 novel)
In the world of young adult literature, “Leviathan” takes Dieselpunk to new heights. This novel reimagines World War I, a core historical touchstone for the Dieselpunk genre. Instead of traditional tanks and planes, Germany and Britain wage war with fictional diesel-powered mechs and biologically engineered beasts. The world-building is remarkable, clearly taking inspiration from the fashions, politics, and technology of the 1910s and 1920s. While it may have a foot in the steampunk realm, “Leviathan” shifts towards budding diesel technologies, making it a compelling and innovative Dieselpunk tale.
- Crimson Skies (PC game series)
The Crimson Skies game series catapults players into a 1920s-30s-inspired Dieselpunk world with diesel-guzzling planes, zeppelins, and Art Deco stylings. As an air pirate, you get to take the controls of iconic Dieselpunk vehicles and engage in cinematic battles against the backdrop of an alternate history. This game perfectly showcases how Dieselpunk can create immersive retro-futuristic worlds powered by the relentless roar of diesel engines, where every dogfight feels like a step back in time.
- The Rocketeer (1991 movie)
“The Rocketeer” is a Dieselpunk gem, embodying the genre’s noir sensibilities. Set in the gritty 1930s Los Angeles, it delivers all the classic elements of the era: mobsters, femme fatales, and high-flying action. What sets it apart is the diesel-powered jetpack technology, an epitome of the genre’s speculative inventions. The Golden Age Hollywood vibe adds a layer of retro allure to the film, from the worn leather jackets to the Art Deco dreams, encapsulating the spirit of Dieselpunk in every frame.
- Full Metal Alchemist (anime series)
This popular Japanese anime seamlessly blends magic and early 20th-century aesthetics while wearing its Dieselpunk influences with pride. Villains in the series drive diesel-powered vehicles and utilize hypothetical diesel-era weapons and technology, offering a unique twist on the genre. The European-inspired architecture and wartime setting feel as if they were plucked straight from the interwar period, underscoring how Dieselpunk can be adapted across cultures and mediums, making it a genre with truly global appeal.
What is the difference between steampunk and dieselpunk?
Though they may seem similar, steampunk and dieselpunk are distinct retro-futurist genres:
- Steampunk is set in a fictional 19th-century Victorian-era world powered by steam technology, like airships, mechanical computers and steam-powered robots. Think brass gears, corsets, and top hats. The stories usually have an adventurous tone and an optimistic view of technology.
- Dieselpunk is set later in the 20th century, blending science fiction elements with aesthetics from the interwar period of the 1920s-1940s. The technology is driven by diesel power instead of steam. Stories are often set in gritty film noir settings and have a darker, more dystopian mood compared to steampunk.
While steampunk revels in Victorian elegance, dieselpunk embodies Jazz Age grit. Both celebrate speculative technology, but steampunk uses steam while dieselpunk uses…you guessed it, diesel. Yet they share a spirit of retro-futurism that fires the imagination.
The table below illustrates the key differences between the steampunk and dieselpunk genres:
12 Dieselpunk Story Ideas
To help inspire you to write your own dieselpunk story, here are 12 story ideas to help you:
- A hard-boiled private eye investigates a murder in a 1930s diesel-powered city where zeppelins fill the skies.
- A WWI veteran turned mechanic soups up diesel vehicles and enters high-stakes underground road rallies.
- A plucky young pilot and her trusty dogfight Nazis in souped-up diesel biplanes.
- Racing to stop a villain from deploying a doomsday device, a special agent navigates a huge diesel-powered mech through a war-torn 1940s cityscape.
- A scientist, gangster and detective form an unlikely alliance to investigate mysterious creatures attacking Art Deco-styled airships.
- In an alternate 1920s, a young flapper signs up as the radio operator on a diesel-powered airship and gets caught up in espionage.
- A veteran of the Great War uses her knowledge of machines and vehicles to start a business customizing sleek diesel cars.
- Siblings exploring a junkyard stumble upon a hidden tunnel that leads them to a massive submarine powered by a strange glowing diesel engine.
- In 1930s Hollywood, a stunt pilot and special effects whiz come up with some increasingly daring film tricks with modified diesel-powered planes.
- After aliens invade a 1940s city, a ragtag resistance group fights back with a hulking patchwork diesel mech cobbled together from scrap parts.
- A seafaring captain retrofits his old vessel into a diesel-powered ship to hunt massive mechanized sea creatures.
- In an alternate WWI, countries battle with heavily armoured diesel-powered mechanical walkers towering over soldiers on the battlefield.
So there you have it – a quick tour through the gritty, diesel-fueled world of dieselpunk. This retro-futuristic genre blends science fiction with the technologies and aesthetics of the 1920s-1940s era. We explored dieselpunk’s origins, key characteristics, relationship to steampunk, and some prime examples in books, films and games.
While not as widely known as other sci-fi genres, dieselpunk offers imaginative worlds powered by retro hydraulics and diesel engines. With its mix of two-fisted action, hard-boiled detectives, and gritty diesel machines, diesel punk stories offer thrilling adventures through retro-futuristic landscapes.
Let us know your thoughts on this unique genre and your favourite diesel-punk books or movies in the comments! As we’ve seen, dieselpunk is more than just an aesthetic – it’s an entire creative ethos and take on speculative technology born out of a unique diesel-powered era.