A Punk Punk
genre of Speculative Fiction
based on the 1920s
- 1950s period, spiced up with retro-futuristic innovations and
occult elements. The dieselpunk narrative is characterized by conflict vs the undefeatable
), strong use of technology, and Grey and Gray Morality
. The protagonists are often Heroic Neutral
and have low social status.
Generally, dieselpunk can take inspiration from 1920s German Expressionist films
, Film Noir
, 1930s Pulp Magazines
and Radio Dramas
and wartime comics
, period propaganda films and newsreels, wartime pinups, and other entertainment of the early 20th century
. As this covers a broad spectrum, the precise sources of inspiration can vary greatly between dieselpunk works. Like Steampunk
, Dieselpunk is a genre dictated primarily by its aesthetics rather than by its thematic content. Both grime and glamour have their place in dieselpunk.
Dieselpunk overlaps with Two Fisted Tales
and Raygun Gothic
, but differs mostly in its Punk Punk
theme. Two Fisted Tales
explore settings such as Heroic Fantasy
, Space Opera
, etc that are not properly a part of Dieselpunk, and Raygun Gothic
tends to describe a period both chronologically and technologically later. Typically, Dieselpunk roots itself in urban and wartime settings of the 1920s to the late 1940s, both literally and figuratively 'down to earth'.
A common point of divergence from our timeline is that The Great Depression
never happened, leading to further economic and technological growth and less of the warmongering typical of the inter-war era. World War II
may still happen in some Dieselpunk settings, see below.
The term Dieselpunk was popularized by Lewis Pollak and Dan Ross in 2001 as the genre for their RPG Children of the Sun
. Pollak stated that it was intended to be on the "darker, dirtier side of Steampunk
" and should be considered a "continuum between steampunk and Cyber Punk
. (On the other hand, noted reviewer Ken Hite
as "Not really diesel, and not really punk.")
To be noted
: unlike the 2000s
, the Diesel-powered car in the 1930s was a rare curiosity, only a single model being put into small-scale production in Germany
during that age (and almost exclusively used as a taxi), but on the other side the vast majority of the population could not afford cars back then
. The life of an ordinary citizen was far deeper influenced by the oil-burning locomotive
, bus, ocean liner
or neighborhood power plant. Still, during this period steam engines were
gradually being replaced by diesel engines in many areas.
Vastness is key. This was the age of the Zeppelin,
the ocean liner,
the flying-boat airliner,
and the skyscraper. It also saw the first multinational corporations, large-scale social engineering, and mass political movements. World War I
was still fresh in memory as the Great War, the most colossal conflict in the history of mankind. Man is dwarfed by his creations and things are subsumed into abstractions.
Period technology encompasses everything found in Steampunk
internal combustion and electric power in combination with new materials
(better alloys, plastics, etc) makes machinery lighter, stronger, and more
versatile. The airliner is the prime example of this, but cars, trucks,
tractors, and diesel-powered electrical generators are even more important
in reshaping the world. Armored vehicles and useable submarines are less
common but still important innovations. Wireless radio leads to the rise of
broadcasting as an information medium. Anachronistic super-advanced
technology, often of the Awesome, but Impractical
variety, such as Giant Flyer
, Disintegrator Ray
might occur. Such technology might be secret
super weapons of a villain, or Homemade Inventions
by the hero or his friends.
Although the dieselpunk aesthetic can overlap with Raygun Gothic
, and though dieselpunk is known for featuring Tesla technology and Wunderwaffen-style super-weapons, dieselpunk typically does not
include transistor-based technology, other electronics or atomic power. In fact, another Punk Punk
genre, Atompunk, was coined to describe fiction in this mode. Atompunk (such as the Fallout
series and the comic book Fear Agent) takes inspiration from 1950s-era aesthetics and fashions such as Googie architecture and Jetsons-style technology, which typically lie outside the bounds of dieselpunk. The analogue sci-fi of Metropolis and Things To Come are closer to the dieselpunk tradition as it stands.
Dieselpunk often focuses upon air travel and combat, including such ideas as literal "flying fortresses
", air pirates
, early UFOs, hotshot flyboy pilots
, etc. Fascination for military hardware, weaponry and uniforms of the early 20th century is also often in evidence and a great amount of dieselpunk media is concerned with war, especially the Second World War and and fictional variations upon it. Owing to its pulp roots, dieselpunk is often very adventure-based, full of exotic locales such as
, Hollow Earth
etc. Some Geographic Flexibility
is to be expected.
Dieselpunk fiction can encompass the supernatural as well. In Diesel Punk
adventure, occult practices are Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane
maybe Magicians Are Wizards
. The works of H. P. Lovecraft
, tales of Nazi occult research, contemporary expeditions to 'mystical' places such as Egypt, and early research into relativity and quantum physics have greatly contributed to the occult mystique that informs Dieselpunk. This tends to contrast with the 19th-century Gothic
themes and spiritualism that show up in Steampunk
As Dieselpunk is a post-modern look at the past, it is not limited to the tropes and stereotypes that characterized fiction of the day — instead, it can use these tropes to comment upon the past and reinvent it. Dieselpunk (along with steampunk) can encompass a range of authorial voices and themes. Female characters in Dieselpunk tend to be strong, encompassing flappers
to pin-up girls and much more, and can include Rosie the Riveter
-type action heroines
, glamourous femme fatales
, costumed crusaders
, archaeologist badasses
, dragon ladies
, tough-talking reporters
and other types common to pulp fiction of the era. Both male and female characters are typically Badass Normals
with universal drivers' licenses
Sub-subgenres are listed below as possible options of exploration, but as these categorizations may only describe one or two works, if any, they should be taken with a grain of salt.
Diesel Deco/Deco Punk
Also called "Ottensian" Dieselpunk after Nick Ottens, some guy on the Internet, who postulated it. This is the most optimistic form of Diesel Punk
. Progress seems unstoppable
and the future is bright. Things are designed to be stylish and opulent, ornamental and
efficient at the same time. Think Bauhaus architecture and design, Art Deco
, Expressionism, the 1939 New York World Fair. A good setting for a Science Hero
Similar to Diesel Deco, but generally Darker and Edgier
. Emphasizes the
downside of economic and technological progress. Society is plagued by
crime and corruption, technology seems to be at its most effective in
producing increasingly effective weaponry. The occult basically amounts to
(including exotic religions
Sealed Evil in a Can
might turn up in an archeological dig and subsequently
have to be stopped to avoid The End of the World as We Know It
Diesel Weird War
World War II
is being waged (or World War I
in some instances), but one or both sides are introducing superweapons
, alien technology
and/or occult forces
into the mix, often with one or more Mad Scientists
behind it all. For a less extreme variant, something like the real-life exploits of the nascent Special Air Service in collaboration with the Long Range Desert Group (briefly, Lawrence of Arabia
upgraded with blast-incendiary explosives and "gunship jeeps").
Also called "Piecraftian" Diesel Punk, again named for some guy on the Internet. World War II
did start and may still be in progress; if it isn't, either some kind of Cold War
is being waged, or a One World Order
has been established. Either way, The Government
, ostensibly to protect the citizens. The political ideology might be any kind of totalitarianism, either one of the many real life examples of the period, a mashup
of those, or a completely fictional analogue
World War II
did start and ended because there isn't anything left to fight
over, and very few resources left to fight with, or even to sustain
civilization. It's essentially a post-apocalyptic milieu, and certainly not a very common Diesel Punk
See also the article How Dieselpunk Works
Dieselpunk is a modern genre, but some of the films and books of the period fit well, in the same fashion that Jules Verne
's books can be posed as Steampunk
Films not specifically dieselpunk, but which are related or inspirational to the genre:
- The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) is either very early Diesel Punk or very late Pulp Horror.
- J Men Forever (1979) by the The Firesign Theatre parodies this style.
- The Indiana Jones films. In fact, if you want to explain dieselpunk to someone, the Indy films are probably the best place to start.
- The Element Of Crime (1984) combines Diesel Noir and Diesel Desolation, for very grim results.
- Brazil (1985)
- Batman (1989)
- The Rocketeer (1991)
- Cast A Deadly Spell (1991)
- The Hudsucker Proxy (1994).
- The Shadow (1994)
- The City of Lost Children (1995) is heavily dieselpunkish in design, in a dark and ominous way. The same goes for the Playstation game based on it.
- The 1995 film adaptation of Richard III by William Shakespeare. It is set in 1930s Britain (coupling Diesel Dystopia with Putting on the Reich and numerous Shout Outs to 1984)
- The Phantom (1996)
- Dark City (1998)
- The Mummy Trilogy
- The Mummy (1999)
- The Mummy Returns (2001)
- The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)
- Similarly to the above Richard III, 1999's Titus adapts the play Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare to a surreal version of Fascist Italy, that seems trapped between dieselpunk and Ancient Rome.
- Hellboy (2004)
- ''Hellboy II: The Golden Army" (2008)
- Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow (2004)
- The Call of Cthulhu (2005)
- In Tin Man (2007), parts of the O.Z. (especially Central City) have a strongly dieselpunk aesthetic.
- The titular city in City of Ember (2008), at least in the film, is hinted to have significant dieselpunk influences in its heyday. Of course, it's all decaying now...
- Watchmen (2009) - the parts set in the 1930s and 1940s.
- Mutant Chronicles (2009)
- Yesterday Was A Lie - Dark City meets Sin City meets quantum physics and the nature of reality.
- Daybreakers - even though it's set in the future, it has substantial Diesel Punk aestethics.
- The film Sucker Punch (2011) is heavy on the dieselpunk.
- Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) arguably qualifies under the Diesel Weird War heading, as it is set during the 1940s and plays the original comic (Cap versus Nazis) straight. It plays straight the trope in regards to technology used - creations of the 1940s blown Up to Eleven.
- The Polish film Hardkor 44, currently in development, is heavily dieselpunk. Set in Warsaw in the summer of 1944, as the Soviet army bears down on Warsaw, it recounts the Warsaw Uprising by the Polish Resistance, to liberate the city before the Russians get there. Then things get weird. As in "The Nazis have cyborgs and mecha" weird.
- An upcoming Hungarian film starring Mark Hamill, Thelomeris, is a mix of dieselpunk and clockpunk.
- The live-action adaptation of Casshern (2004) takes place in an effectively-portrayed Diesel Weird War/Diesel Desolation setting.
- Iron Sky (2012) contrasts the Dieselpunk of the Moon Nazis against the white plastic/metal iTechnology of Twenty Minutes into the Future.
- O Brother, Where Art Thou? does to the interbellum/Depression period what other dieselpunk films do to the deco and war periods.
- Sin City doesn't actually include dieselpunk tech elements (although an incredibly high-tech medical science is at least hinted at), but as a revisionist neo-noir, it's definitely got a dieselpunk attitude.
- Elements of Up, especially the younger days of Carl and his hero, explorer Charles F. Muntz.
- Inglourious Basterds
- Dick Tracy (1931-), even at the time of its creation, included sci-fi elements that made it influential on dieselpunk.
- Several comics by Dean Motter including:
- Mister X (1984-1990)
- Terminal City (1996-1998)
- Electropolis (2001-2002)
- Sandman Mystery Theatre (1993-1999) brought us a Grim Dark pulp superhero fighting serial killers and bizarre menaces in a 1930s City Noir.
- Hellboy (1993-) and its spinoffs such as Lobster Johnson.
- Astro City (1995-2010)
- The Nevermen (2000, 2003) features mechanically enhanced '40s-era fighters keeping the city safe from crazed supervillains.
- Iron and the Maiden (2007)
- Atomic Robo (2007-) is a walking incarnation of this trope who's matured over the decades (he's been punching all kinds of strangeness in the face since the 30's) into an all-around Science Hero.
- Ignition City (2009)
- First Wave DCU (2009-2010) is a cross between dieselnoir and Two Fisted Tales, with many of the Pulp Magazine heroes crossing over with newspaper comics' The Spirit and another guy from the Thirties.
- Iron Man Noir (2010), featuring Tony Stark's "repulsor pump" pacemaker, the Iron Man armor itself, and Baron Stucker's lightning-hurling Power Fist - not to mention background stuff like the sleek super zeppelins. It's unique among the Noir stories for not even trying to be realistic.
- X-Man Noir is the least fantastic of the Marvel Noir settings, but introduces one dieselpunk element in the story Mark of Cain, the Office of National Emergency's Dirigi-Carrier.
- Carbon Grey (2011-)
- Arguably, Atlas Shrugged (1957) which seems to be taking place in an Alternate Universe 1940s where WWII never happened, most of the world went Communist, and someone invented, then destroyed, a futuristic power generator that converts atmospheric static electricity into direct current. The setting qualifies, but the theme is D'Punk inside out, with typical protagonist/antagonist roles reversed.
- The planet Saraksh in Prisoners of Power (1969), one of the Noon Universe novels of the Strugatsky Brothers. There are several Diesel Punk Human Aliens civilizations in the series. Practically all of them are Fantastic Aesop attempts at Getting Crap Past the Radar about the state of Soviet society and the military during the Cold War era. One particularly disturbing case was the ironically-codenamed planet "Hope", which suffered from a severely polluted environment for years and was struck one day by a mysterious Depopulation Bomb. It's been a Ruins of the Modern Age Scavenger World ever since.
- The Iron Dream (1972) by Norman Spinrad
- Ian McDonald's Desolation Road (1988) and Ares Express (2001) are a mix of this, Desert Punk and Cyberpunk with the non-city areas being Desert Punk and the cities being a mix of Diesel and Cyber.
- Doc Sidhe (1995, 2001) by Aaron Allston mixes Diesel Punk with Urban Fantasy
- Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen (2008-) series is this mixed with Ocean Punk. Its titular heroes are the crew of a World War II destroyer that gets transported via a time-space rift to the Pacific Ocean of an Earth where the dinosaur-killing asteroid never hit and evolution took a different course.
- Jonathan L. Howard's Johannes Cabal series straddles this and Steam Punk.
- Though Leviathan (2009) by Scott Westerfeld is definitely in the Steampunk genre by how it's presented and what kind of story it is, the Clanker technology is more Diesel Punk, as they frequently use gas, oil, kerosene, and diesel, not just steam. Also, the Darwist's "beasties" are a good example of Bio Punk.
- The novel Bitter Seeds (2010) by Ian Tregillis , which is set during a WW 2 where psychic Nazi supers fight demon-summoning British blood-sorcerers. Quite GrimDark.
- Dreadnought (2010) by Cherie Priest. Thanks to the Republic of Texas discovering oil fifty years early, the Confederates are quite proud of their 'walker' which runs on diesel as opposed to the steam-driven Union mecha. Coal-diesel engines are also used by paddlesteamers and the eponymous Cool Train.
- Ghosts Of Manhattan (2010) by George Mann takes place in a world that is moving from Steampunk (coal driven cars, airships) to this (biplanes with rocket boosters) with hints of Ray Gun Gothic (holographic statues and videophones).
- Iskriget (The Ice War) (2011) by Swedish SF author Anders Blixt is an "antarctic" spy adventure taking place in an alternate 1940, in which German and Czech republicans rebel against the heavy-handed rule of the Habsburg emperor. It includes, among other genre attributes, diesel-electric Miyazaki-style cloudships and ice juggernauts.
- Empire State (2012) by Adam Christopher is this taking place across several dimensions and times and combines Noir with Weird War as the eponymous Empire State is in a neverending war with a mysterious Enemy.
- The flashback segments of Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker have elements of this, particularly the train and submarine used by Edie's employers.
- Tales of the Gold Monkey (1982-1983), a single-season series from The Eighties of the Deco and Two Fisted Tales variety.
- In a Fringe (2008-) episode, Brown Betty had a world straight out of the 1920s, yet everyone was using (Retraux) cell phones and computers. And Walter's lap took it Up to Eleven.
- Caprica (2010): The SyFy channel's Battlestar Galactica spinoff is a mix of dieselpunk and cyberpunk. The in-story virtual game "New Cap City", which plays an important role in the series is pure Diesel Punk of the Noir variety.
- In 2010, Toyota created an ad series for their Avalon series that were decidedly dieselpunk. The first, "Train", was set in an art deco train station (complete with a Twentieth Century Limited-inspired locomotive), where the characters are wearing 1940s-inspired clothes and a cover of Mr. Sandman by Pomplamoose plays in the background. The second, "Plane", depicted men and women in 1940s-inspired aviation uniforms as a Douglas DC-3 flew in the background.
- The emerging musical genre known as electro-swing captures the essence of dieselpunk through remixing vintage jazz-style music and swing with modern technology and house beats.
- Call Of Cthulhu (1981)
- Daredevils (1982) by FGU.
- In Warhammer40000 (1987), thanks to its Schizo Tech setting, the machines and equipment of the Imperial forces can have a very dieselpunky feel to them. For example, the Imperial Guard Leman Russ battle tank◊ and the Imperial Navy Lightning◊ fighter.
- GURPS Cliffhangers (1989) by Steve Jackson Games.
- Crimson Skies (1998)
- Gear Krieg (2000), basically the same premise as Weird WWII
- Weird Wars (2001), a little-known World War II equivalent of Deadlands .
- Children of the Sun (2002)
- GURPS WWII: Weird War II (2003), World War II with Mecha
- Eberron (2004) has a Magitek version.
- Lemuria (2004) by Rävspel (written for d20 Modern)
- Pulp Hero (2005) by Hero Games.
- Hollow Earth Expedition (2006) by Exile Games Studio. Two Fisted Tales meet The Lost World.
- Rocketship Empires 1936 (2008)
- Secrets Of The Third Reich (2008), a World War II wargame by Westwind Productions, which has, amongst other things, mecha, powered armour, and vampires. To say nothing of the werewolves.
- Operation: Fallen Reich (2009) by Fallen Publishing.
- Cosmopol(2010) ... and how.
- Mutant Chronicles which is set in a dystopian future where Earth is abandoned, and most of the solar system is colonized by mega corps who derive their style from old Earth cultures, from Feudal times, to Cold War era society.
- The various Wolfenstein games.
- Power Strike II (1993), a Sega Master System Vertical Scrolling Shooter by Compile, released only in Europe and Australia (not to be confused with the Game Gear title of the same name, also by Compile, which is a completely different, more conventional space shooter). The main character is a bounty hunter, whose job is to shoot down Sky Pirates in an alternate 1930s setting.
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert (1996)
- Fallout - Usually classified as Atompunk, but takes place in a retrograde enough world to qualify (a world with atomic power but without the transistornote ).
- Midgar from Final Fantasy VII (1997)
- Gadget Past As Future (1998)
- In Ross Smith's "Timeline" Half-Life mod trilogy (c. 1999-2002), rogue Black Mesa scientists adapt teleporter technology for time travel, specifically to help the Nazis complete their Sänger AmerikaBomber and heavy water projects and conquer the United States. Gordon Freeman must stop the Nazi invasion of time itself.
- Nocturne (1999) revolved around 1930s pulp heroes fighting off mad science and Lovecraftian monsters in a very dieselpunk mode.
- Airfix Dogfighter (2000)
- Crimson Skies (2000) all the way, to the point of being the Trope Codifier of this style in Video Games. Emphasis on dieselpunk Sky Pirates, Cool Planes and Cool Airships.
- IL-2 Sturmovik (2001) offers a more realistic than Rule Of Cool take on the aesthetic, justified by bits of actual WWII history.
- Progear (2001) has technology somewhere between World War One and World War II
- Iron Storm (2002)
- Silent Storm (2003)
- Pathologic (2005)
- Iron Grip (2006)
- Iron Brigade (2011), best described as "World War I with Mecha - against an invasion of television monsters."
- Outerlight Ltd.'s The Ship Murder Party (2006), a very warped tale set in an art deco cruise liner.
- The BioShock series take place in a very distinctly dieselpunk world, complete with analogue vacuum-tube computers/robots and a jaw-dropping Art Deco setting. It does not entirely fit any of the types above, as it is set in an abandoned (well, by anything we could reasonably call inhabitants) underwater Gulch (a la Galt) and we do not know how different the surface is. However, the setting does apply.
- Bio Shock (2007)
- Bio Shock 2 (2010)
- Bio Shock Infinite (scheduled for 2013) is set on an Flying City. In 1912. It is more of a straight-up steampunk vision, though Americanized as opposed to Victorian.
- The Nazi Zombies (2008, 2010) game mode of Call of Duty has some elements of World War 2 Dieselpunk, namely the Wunderwaffen and Teleporters developed by the Nazis.
- Turning Point Fall Of Liberty (2008)
- The Saboteur (2009)
- Akai Katana (2010) takes place before or during World War II
- Dino D Day (2011): World War 2 meets Jurassic Park.
- Skullgirls (2012) definitely draws on the Diesel Punk aesthetic, although the makers prefer to call it Dark Deco.
- Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor (2012) shifts to a WWII Punk setting...in 2082. Justified in that microprocessors are no longer in production due to silicon-eating microbes appearing as early as 2020, hence the technological regression.
- Dishonored (2012) has the rare In-Universe material Justifying the setting, a specially treated and processed "whale" oil known as trans, which would be identical to diesel if it didn't glow bright blue.
- Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-slick Precipice of Darkness is about an Occult Detective agency battling Eldritch Abomination Gods in an Anachronism Stew version of 1920s America overrun with oil-and-clockwork powered robots and mad cultists. It couldn't possibly be any more Diesel Punk!