Introduction to Dieselpunk

Short Version

It's Steampunk – with internal combustion.
But from there, you extrapolate what effect that tech level has on your society.

The Tech

The tech in Steampunk is more often a new thing, or if not new, something wondrous that few people have access to, while in Dieselpunk, the tech is frequently ever-present, and the average person is likely to have ridden on some form of mass transit at some point in their lives. The technology is no longer new, and mass production increases accessibility. You have trams and subways, trains, and other public transportation.
     You can have cars and motorcycles, and snowmobiles, and jetskis ("Waterworld") if you want. The horse has been, or is in the process of being replaced in all but the most, shall we say, traditional communities.
     That last one's pretty huge. The horse has been around as transportation for a long time - thousands of years longer than mechanical vehicles, and that shift is a major turning point in history.   
     And of course, the weaponry.  
     You're looking at WWI and WWII level tech, with planes, tanks and machine guns. They took all that innovation that inspires Steampunk, and turn it into mechanized death. Machine guns were one of the reasons the first great war was so bloody. People suddenly have more ways of killing larger numbers of people faster than ever before, and this tends to mean that Dieselpunk is less often about discovery and invention and more often about social struggle. Even in video games.


Post Apocalyptic stuff is often Dieselpunk, and I can tell you why it usually ends up Dieselpunk and not Steampunk. It's because why would we get thrown back to steam level tech, if we had internal combustion? If there's a loss of tech, it's likely to go back to the last level where the average person had access to the technology and could do routine maintenance on it, and find someone who can fix it if it breaks down. 

Dieselpunk Fashion

It's really wide open. I wouldn't dare try to define it, only throw out of couple of ideas to start you off.
     Military is a popular motif – uniforms from the WWI to WWII period show up at cons. Army boots and dog tags are great accessories. The era saw the birth of the classic pinup girl, and victory rolls. Short hair on women became more common. Cuban stockings, and bright colours all around.
     But then there's the post apocalypse aspect that opens it up wide to where anything goes. If you're going the post apocalypse route, feel free to go grungy, with lots of rips. Fishnet is a go.
     One thing I notice is the style of goggles is very different.
     The Steampunk goggles are generally round lenses, the sort that might have attachments for magnifying things like clockwork gears, or for welding, perhaps. Dieselpunk goggles are generally driving goggles, to protect one's eyes from the wind when driving a motorcycle or car, or aviator goggles, for flying. They have a bigger lens, and more side visibility. You gotta be able to see them bandits when they're flying up from your six o'clock, huh?

The Period

On top of the tech level, there's also the vibe of the era it represents. Part of the appeal of Steampunk is the romanticism of the Victorian era. Dieselpunk, though, we're looking at an era of social upheaval. The world was faced with two world wars, and entire countries had to choose sides and fight. Young men coming home from war came home to their jobs having been filled by women, and their women demanding the vote. People of colour, too, demanding to be treated the same as everyone else.
     Huge shifts in social responsibility and equality. It was a time when people weren't yet jaded by the lies told by politicians, and and it was worth fighting for a cause you believed in. People still believed that they could make a difference in the world.
     That's why I think Dieselpunk fiction and movies tend to be ones that delve into those sorts of themes. It's what draws me to it, and why I write it, myself. I hope it will be what draws people to my writing.
                                           --Lindsay Kitson, The Dieselpunkette


  1. Thanks I needed that.

  2. The diesels in my life have centred around agricultural machinery. I suspect they are too prosaic to be a motif for dieselpunk.


  3. The punk part comes of the machinery, or some part of the world, being re-imagined, often in some over the top way. I don't see why one couldn't do that with agricultural machinery. I can imagine a story with walking robotic threshers and ploughs.

  4. Seems to me that I would fit in in the time period of around world war II when people weren't afraid to stand up and fight when some one made fun of them!

  5. Romanticizing the Diesel Punk Age (1918-1950) is harder to do than usual Steam Punk settings, for a quickly-overlooked reason: it's too close to us in time. Therefore are too many people in their 80s or 90s still around to point out the fakes.

    The Steam Age thankfully ended around the eve of WWI and many aspects which people are uncomfortable with (the most common one: filth. The thing which killed more Civil War wounded than bullets and shells. And killed the lightly-wounded President Garfield) could be ignored or swept under rug.

  6. Honestly, I like that Dieselpunk has people still around who remember the era it invokes. It's a resource that you don't have for steampunk. I definitely agree that it makes it more difficult to romanticize, but I don't have a problem with that at all. I think that's why Dieselpunk often tends to be more gritty and realistic than steampunk, and it's one of the reasons I like it.

  7. You ladies need to find an Atompunkette to round out your ranks.

  8. Diesel ladies are missing the most important silhouette of the 20th century- the girdle and brassiere. Leave the corset and bustle to steampunk- they were D.O.A. the moment the first shot was fired in WW1. Who says the girdle can't come out from under the dress uniform.

    1. That's very true, I should throw that into the fashion section - especially the bullet bra!

  9. I find it really cool when people mix their dieslepunk clothes with steampunk, although ive seen some blogs and some people say it is a poor choice because of the difference in time and ideas, but i like to think that clockpunk, steampunk, and dieslepunk are sister-genres.

    1. Pft - I laugh at anyone who complains about costumes in the -punk subgenres being historically inaccurate. Anachronism is pretty much part of the definition. Mix away, I say. :D

  10. I think I prefer the more decopunk side of dieselpunk, which can also be used in conjunction with solarpunk. That way, you can have the technological goodness without all the pollution.

    I haven't built too much on that setting and story, yet. I think rock music could still exist in that setting, but the instruments would probably be a bit different.

    I'm still trying to figure out what the biggest differences would be between dieselpunk and atompunk. So far, this is what I understand: dieselpunk/decopunk is the future as extrapolated from the wake of WW1; atompunk is the future as extrapolated from the wake of WW2. George Orwell's 1984 would probably be the most dystopian version of atompunk (book was written in the wake of WW2).

    Since I'd be going with the decopunk variant, both The Great Depression and WW2 would be averted.

    More on that here:

    1. 1984 is generally not considered any type of punk - it's dystopian science fiction, and while it has a social commentary, it doesn't so much have the over-the-top touch of world-building generally associated with the -punks. I don't think there's any need to try and categorize all spec fic according to where it fits among the -punk subgenres - cramming things in where they don't belong dilutes the meaning of the terms we use to describe them.

      I clicked on your link, but sadly, the blue text on the starry background of your blog made it nearly impossible to read.