The Flying Fortress

Dieselpunk: for the war effort!

Posted in Definitions, Site News by flyingfortress on June 3, 2008

Welcome to The Flying Fortress.

TFF is dedicated exclusively to dieselpunk, a subgenre of retro-futurism styled on the 1930s and 1940s. That sounds good, but what exactly is dieselpunk?

Fortunately, I won’t be the first to tackle this question:

Mr. N. Ottens offers a thoroughly researched exploration of the genre;

Wikipedia user Piecraft has an exhaustive explanation and collection of resources relating to dieselpunk;

Gearing Up, a mixed steampunk and dieselpunk blog, offers a quick personal interpretation;

And finally, various little snippets can be found elsewhere.

Update: Complex39 has spilled a few pixels on the subject, too.

One thing that draws me to dieselpunk is the spirit of the times.

No, not genocide and fascism, I mean the war effort-ish “let’s get together and do it!” spirit in America and elsewhere during this time. I mean the naive, utopian, and starry-eyed mantra: “technology… for a better tomorrow!” There is a sense of hope, of hard work, of stoicism, and of cooperation that I have only found again (in my short lifetime) in some communities on the internet. There is also the rise of new powers: The US, Russia, Japan, Germany, and Brazil, and the comeuppance of repressed groups: women in the workplace, black people in the military, and decolonization.

Next is the aesthetic.

As far as I’m concerned, everything looked better in the 1930s and 1930s. Men’s and women’s fashion is really stylish and snazzy, especially the military stuff. Workwear had a certain charm to it, too (note the goggles). But just look at those automobiles and manufactured goods, like typewriters and camerasbeautiful. When I look at the plastic crap we use today, I get the urge to head out to military surplus and vintage stores to try and get a piece of that period back. Don’t forget all that incredible illustration in the propaganda posters and advertisements at that time.

The DIY spirit is still going strong, but I think it would probably have moved toward enthusiasts modifying existing items rather than becoming mad scientists or inventors. We also don’t have to call things names like “aetheric dynamo.”

The war.

As far as warfare goes, we’ve got (post-prototype) submarines and tanks! Take that, steampunk! Don’t forget modern commando units, like the British SAS, and the resistance. We also get the birth of the modern spy and intelligence officer with the US’ OSS, the Russian NKVD, and the German Gestapo.

Now, everyone’s aware that some terrible parts of the human spirit arose during the 1930s and 1940s. As Dieselpunk is only fantasy and not a serious discussion of history or politics, I see no need to touch on such emotional and depressing subjects on TFF. History discussions are not really appropriate here, except in order to describe where you take an idea from, and hate speech will not be tolerated. That said, it is not hate speech to admire the aesthetic an Axis power’s style of uniform or piece of equipment, as long as it is not necessarily or overtly political (such as the swastika or the fascia).

Ultimately, it’s your fantasy.

My own and other people’s definitions aside, dieselpunk, like any subculture, is what you make it. You’ll notice that I didn’t mention nuclear power or jazz. Include and leave out anything you like, as long as you don’t stray too far into other genres (e.g. atomicpunk) without designating yourself as a hybrid or something. Pick and choose what you want from the time period and have fun.

Okay, now it’s your turn. What is your definition of dieselpunk? What draws you to it? What is your ratio of Diesel to punk? Uncle Sam wants YOU to post a comment (and buy war bonds, save aluminum, etc).

P.S.: if you were looking for steampunk, you’re off by at least 50 years. This is what you want.

7 Responses

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  1. [...] reading the first post, you might have thought that dieselpunk is all about progress, a brighter future, and cooperation [...]

  2. von Adler said, on June 5, 2008 at 7:04 am

    What draws me to dieselpunk are pretty much the same things as outlined above, the play of light and darkness during that era. Many things were new and exciting, yet the destruction of war loomed on both directions, in the recent past and the near future. The Great War caused great social upheaval especially in Europe, destroying the old world of aristocratic privilige (and an entire generation), yet accelerated technological change… all in all, it was a time of changes, for both good and bad; interesting times indeed, in the Chinese curse sense.

  3. FuelsourcePunk said, on June 6, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    I’ve been working on comic book plot variations with steampunk and dieselpunk flavours. I’m leaning towards starting with a dieselpunk story because of two things: 1) life long interest in wwii aviation which just fits better; 2) while I’m awed by the intricate beauty of steampunk technology, I’m not (yet) creative enough to build that fantastical steampunk look. Also, my aesthetic preference leans more towards deco-silver steamline moderne than golden-brass wood and glass.

    I like the definition of dieselpunk here better than most I’ve read. Others which I have read lean toward a 1950s Mad max post-apocolyptica (what people have now started referring to also as atomicpunk). I’d actually would have picked Pulppunk (i.e. Pulp Fiction) as the genre/era that fascinates me and has the virtues described in this post. However, pulppunk is not exactly sonorous so I could understand the choice of diesel. While I’m add it I’d personally favour decopunk as a term that perfectly describes the aesthetics of the era for me.

    To me the punk aspect of steam/diesel is always about controlled deviation from the norm of the technology, aesthetic, or attitudes of the era in question. So the German Me262 jetfighter is more punk than the P-40 warhawk which is a more iconic 1940s U.S. war plane. Giant Tesla death ray machines is also punk to me. I prefer no more than 50% punk by this method of reckoning. I like my punk as a modification to the mainstream reality than a complete fantasy.

  4. Perk said, on June 21, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    Ok how about this…Decopunk. I think the game Bioshock has a lot of decopunk in it. Also Sky Captain and the world of tomorrow. I also have a little Googiepunk in me.(jetsons style architecture/50′ish space-progress-rocket fins on cars type stuff). I have also heard it describes as “Raygun Gothic”.

  5. Steve Weintz said, on February 25, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    I’ve begun using “dieseltronic” as a way of stretching the concept;
    “Rockets! Zeppelins! Flying Boats!” is blurbular…

  6. Decodence | The Gatehouse said, on October 7, 2011 at 11:14 am

    [...] Fortress agrees that “everything looked better” in the 1930s. Men’s and women’s fashion is [...]


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