What is Dieselpunk?
Dieselpunk is an aesthetic current, and a subculture, which promotes sort of a "revival" of the Zeitgeist of the so called “Diesel era” by either introducing exogenous contemporary elements or reviving the dreams and speculations of its science fiction through recent, cutting edge technologies and theories.
The term "Diesel era" can refer to the years going from the end of the First World War to the beginning of the Cold War and what is sometimes referred as the Atomic era. Others like to expand even more, with a fuzzier focus that goes from the end of the 18th Century to the later '50s, including the Belle Epoque period and so on.
Notice that there are movements analogue to dieselpunk that, while focusing on different eras as sources of enthusiasm and inspiration apply the same process of contamination with the modern sensibility. Dieselpunk collides with Steampunk, which focuses on the Victorian Era, and Atompunk, focusing on the Atomic era.
Theoretically, any historical era may become a primary source for aestethics and still be recognizable as a *punk movement and the dynamic nature of such movements makes it difficult if not impossible to point what can be legitimately considered a -punk movement.
Pre-industrial eras fall under the lack of the typical fascination of *punk movements with machinery and any modern reinterpretation of them would probably fall into the “Fantasy” cathegory.
On the other hand, post-cyberpunk eras are still too near to make other than science-fiction material; besides, those years see the rise of the computer age and the affirmation of the service economy relegates the whirling of mechanical contraptions to secondary roles in the imagination of future dreamers.
The suffix' -Punk, when it is put near to another suggestive technological era, identifies cultural movements of people who, while are attracted to the core tropes of a given era, are not or not only interested in historical accuracy.
Often considered a side-view of Retro-Futurism, they count a few fans who express themselves not only with writings and fantasy, but also hand-crafting, customizing, creating outfits.
Such movements are like insect exoskeletons: as soon as these become too small for further development, they become empty shells as the living creature breaks free and flies away. This makes both precisely defining them and pigeon-holing their members impossible.
Obviously, the bigger their base become the more interesting they become as a market. This creates a tension between those who consider expansion a threat and those who see it as an opportunity.
Main features in Dieselpunk culture
FUTURISM AND THE RISE OF THE MACHINE
In the early 20th century, new technologies had made work easier than ever. The internal combustion engine had all but killed steam's usage in industry. Machines incorporating this astounding new creation were not far behind. Soon, it seemed, humans would be on the sidelines of everything from manufacturing to warfare. While a robotic arm put the lids on tubes of toothpaste, an army of steel men would walk through a burning field, firing flamethrowers and rocket launchers at the opposing automatons. Indeed, the galaxy was the limit with science!
Of course, many who feared these advances worked day and night to prevent them from ever seeing the light of day. A robot in the wrong hands could package toothpaste without lids, or wreak havoc thoughout the streets of an unsuspecting city! Space was a domain in which mankind was never meant to travel; after all, what horrors might await up there?
This is a typical feature of any Dieselpunk setting--shiny steel soldiers patrolling the streets, rockets blelching black smoke as they streak for the dark unknown, people living in luxury catered to by robotic butlers, the wonders and terrors of the age of technology!
Last but not least, some authors imagine the rise of computer technology in this era. However, it is not the PC as we mean it today, with electronic components and so on, but it is not hard to find a Dieselpunk fantasy stream provided with metal computers, big thinking machines and maybe even a prehistoric form of media comminucations, always to be realized with means of the time.
JAZZ AGE CULTURE
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Pulp is a magazine typical of the Diesel Era and one of its sources of inspiration, both for visual arts and for heroic characters and stories, not to say the Chtulhu mythos.
Such a heroic vision of the world is shunned by the post-modernist ethos of looser glorification that was prevalent in Europe after the Second World War. It is bought back either as a source of tongue-in-cheek humour or as a reaction to more relativist world depictions.
The Diesel Era sees the rise of totalitarian visions of the world. While previous eras saw the rise of mass movements, nationalism and new, modern forms of association only the post-WWI society has the needed elements for this way of rebuilding Europe: a population accustomed to organized acts of violence, new means of mass communication to which the population had not yet developed antibodies, positive philosophies focusing on achievement, and conflict such as nationalism and Darwinism. It was such a powerful thread in those times that democracy, struggling to survive, often seemed on the losing side of history, with the USA abandoning its traditional liberalism in favor of New Deal policies while Balbo teased the pride of Italy with its transoceanic flights, the Third Reich showed the world its new found pride and order with the images of the “Triumph of Will” and the USSR stood, closed and enigmatic, at the gates of Europe, ready to engulf it with the revolutionary flame.
The Diesel Era is both the son, and the victim, of world wars, which is to say the last industrialised conflicts in Europe. The aftermath of a world war, the preparations for another, and the conflict itself are all part of the picture. The years between 1939 and 1945 are probably the most covered by academic studies and pop culture which generated three genres so akin to dieselpunk that they may be considered part of it.
The first is “Weird War,” which is the inclusion in the historic events of the war of elements of science fiction, horror, paranormal and otherwise weird elements.
The second is “Alternate War,” which stems from modification of the war course, generally explained by the alteration of a single, important event such as Churchill's death in New York due to a cab accident. Many of these stories feature a partial or total victory of the Axis.
The third is “Prototype War,” a form of alternate war where prototypes, limited production weapons, or similarly strategically ineffective weapons dominate the battlefields. These kind of production often feature 1946 scenarios, such as Ted Nomura's comic “Luftwaffe 1946” or the wargame “1946: Storm Of Eagles.” It differs from the Weird War genre in the lack or scarcity of unrealistic elements but, unlike the “Alternate War,” it focuses on tactical and technical elements instead of political and social questions.