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 (nature, society, cosmic), 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 '20s German Expressionist films, film noir, 1930s pulp magazines and radio dramas, crime 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 Cyberpunk.". (On the other hand, noted reviewer Ken Hite described Children 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, 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, but 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, Spider Tank, 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, dirigibles, 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 Mysterious Antarctica, Shangri La, 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, and 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.
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 Black Magic (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 is intrusive and ruthless, 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 flavor.
See also the article How Dieselpunk Works.
- Metropolis (1927), also a novel
- The Shape of Things to Come (1933) by H. G. Wells and its 1936 film adaptation Things To Come
- Pretty much any Film Noir or crime film of the period
- Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
- James Whale's Frankenstein films of the 1930s
- The surreal dystopian writing of Franz Kafka
- RUR and War with the Newts by Karel Čapek
- HP Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos crop up frequently in dieselpunk.
- The Biggles books
- The earlier Tintin graphic novels
- The Phantom comic.
- Dick Tracy comic.
- The Mandrake the Magician comic.
- The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin (a.k.a. The Garin Death Ray) by Alexey Tolstoy
- Max Fleischer's Superman cartoons of the 1930s, also instrumental in solidifying the Raygun Gothic aesthetic.
- Non-Stop New York (1937): Noir intrigue Twenty Minutes Into the Future on a futuristic Streamline Moderne Flying Boat.
- The Luft '46 and UnrealAircraft websites offer some pretty stunning examples of the aviation technology innovations that inspired futurists of that time and dieselpunk authors of our time.
- The Indiana Jones films
- Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow (2004)
- The Rocketeer (1991)
- The Shadow (1994)
- The Phantom (1996)
- The Call of Cthulhu (2005)
- The Mummy Trilogy
- Dark City
- Batman (1989)
- Cast a Deadly Spell
- The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) is either very early Diesel Punk or very late Pulp Horror.
- The 1995 film adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III, set in 1930s Britain (coupling Diesel Dystopia with Putting on the Reich and numerous Shout Outs to 1984)
- Similarly to the above, 1999's Titus adapts Shakespeare's play to a surreal version of Fascist Italy, that seems trapped between dieselpunk and ancient Rome.
- The Element of Crime combines Diesel Noir and Diesel Desolation, for very grim results.
- 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 is heavy on the dieselpunk.
- The titular city in City of Ember (at least in the film) is hinted to have significant dieselpunk influences in its heyday. Of course, it's all decaying now...
- Captain America: The First Avenger arguably qualifies under the Diesel Weird War heading, as it is set during the 1940's 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.
- The Firesign Theater's J-Men Forver parodies this.
- The Hudsucker Proxy.
- In Tin Man, parts of the O.Z. (especially Central City) have a strongly dieselpunk aesthetic.
- Mutant Chronicles
- Watchmen - the parts set in the 1930s and 1940s.
- The City of Lost Children is heavily dieselpunkish in design, in a dark and ominous way. The same goes for the Playstation game based on it.
- An upcoming Hungarian film starring Mark Hamill, Thelomeris, is a mix of dieselpunk and Clock Punk.
Films not specifically dieselpunk, but which are related or inspirational to the genre:
- Inglourious Basterds
- 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.
- O Brother, Where Art Thou? - Does to the interbellum/Depression period what other dieselpunk films do to the deco and war periods.
- Elements of Up, especially the younger days of Carl and his hero, explorer Charles F. Muntz.
- Some of the Studio Ghibli films take place in a mythical Diesel Deco-style Europe: Kiki's Delivery Service and Howl's Moving Castle, for example. Porco Rosso takes place in a fictionalized Mediterranean setting between WWI and WWII. Besides (possibly) fictional use of air pirates and the magical realist-style presentation of Porco's being a pig, Porco Rosso incorporates historically accurate cues that indicate Italy is about to come under Benito Mussolini's leadership.
- Metropolis (2001), also the manga by Osamu Tezuka.
- Baccano!!, also the book.
- Fullmetal Alchemist, a rare combination of Diesel Punk and Magitek.
- Last Exile combines Diesel Punk with Steampunk.
- The Sky Crawlers
- Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
- Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise shows a post-World War II-flavoured version of this trope.
- The Big O
- Xamd Lost Memories
- Black Cat has modern technology pop up, but the setting overall has a very Diesel Punk aesthetic and feel to it.
- Red Line is a mix of Space Opera and a load of Diesel Punk elements.
- Hellboy and its spinoffs such as Lobster Johnson.
- Dick Tracy, even at the time of its creation, included sci-fi elements that made it influential on dieselpunk.
- Astro City
- Ignition City
- Iron and the Maiden
- Yoshitoshi Abe's current project Despera seems to be taking place in a setting like this.
- Several comics by Dean Motter including Mister X, Terminal City, and Elektropolis.
- Atomic Robo 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.
- The Nevermen features mechanically enhanced '40s-era fighters keeping the city safe from crazed supervillains.
- Sandman Mystery Theater brought us a Grimdark pulp superhero fighting serial killers and bizarre menaces in a 1930s City Noir.
- Iron Man Noir, 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.
- Super Atragon: The undersea-battleship Ra is a superbly rendered piece of Diesel Punk technology and style, plowing the seas of the modern world.
- First Wave DCU 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.
- The planet Saraksh in Prisoners of Power, 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 by Norman Spinrad
- Ian MacDonald's Desolation Road and Ares Express 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.
- Arguably, Atlas Shrugged - which seems to be taking place in an Alternate Universe Forties 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.
- Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen series is this mixed with Ocean Punk. Its titular heroes are the crew of a World War Two 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.
- Ian Tregillis novel Bitter Seeds, which is set during a WW 2 where psychic Nazi supers fight demon-summoning British blood-sorcerers. Quite GrimDark.
- Ghosts of Manhattan takes place in a world that is moving from Steampunk (coal driven cars, airships) to this (biplanes with rocket boosters) with hints of Raygun Gothic (holographic statues and videophones).
- Though Leviathan 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 Biopunk.
- Dreadnought 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.
- Jonathan L. Howard's Johannes Cabal series straddles this and Steam Punk. The first book, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer is more Steam, the second, Johannes Cabal the Detective more Deco Diesel.
- Swedish SF author Anders Blixt's Iskriget (The Ice War) 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.
- Doc Sidhe
- Caprica : The Syfy channel's Battlestar Galactica Spin-Off 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 40's-inspired clothes and a cover of Mr. Sandman by Pomplamoose plays in the background. The second, "Plane", depicted men and women in 40's-inspired aviation uniforms as a Douglas DC-3 flew in the background.
- Tales of the Gold Monkey, a single-season series from The Eighties of the Deco and Two-Fisted Tales variety.
- Fringe 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.
- 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.
- Children of the Sun
- Eberron has a Magitek version.
- Call of Cthulhu (tabletop game)
- Cosmopol... and how.
- Daredevils by FGU.
- Pulp Hero by Hero Games.
- GURPS Cliffhangers by Steve Jackson Games.
- Operation: Fallen Reich by Fallen Publishing.
- Lemuria by Rävspel (written for d20 Modern)
- Secrets of the Third Reich, a World War Two wargame by Westwind Productions, which has, amongst other things, mecha, powered armour, and vampires. To say nothing of the werewolves.
- Weird Wars, a little-known World War Two equivalent of Deadlands .
- Weird WWII, World War Two with Mecha
- Gear Krieg, basically the same premise as Weird WWII
- Hollow Earth Expedition by Exile Games Studio. Two-Fisted Tales meet The Lost World.
- Rocketship Empires 1936
- Thanks to its Schizo-Tech setting, the machines and equipment of the Imperial forces in Warhammer 40,000 can have a very dieselpunky feel to them. For example, the Imperial Guard Leman Russ battle tank and the Imperial Navy Lightning fighter.
- BioShock (series) and Bioshock II 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.
- Bioshock : Infinite: is set on an Flying City. In 1912. It is more of a straight-up steampunk vision, though Americanized as opposed to Victorian.
- Crimson Skies 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.
- The various Wolfenstein games.
- Airfix Dogfighter
- Fallout - Usually classified as Atompunk, but takes place in a retrograde enough world to qualify (a world with atomic power but without the transistor).
- Iron Grip
- Iron Storm
- Il-2 Sturmovik offers a more realistic than Rule of Cool take on the aesthetic, justified by bits of actual WWII history.
- The Saboteur
- Silent Storm
- Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor 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.
- Command and Conquer : Red Alert
- Gadget : Past as Future
- Turning Point: Fall of Liberty
- In Ross Smith's "Timeline" Half-Life mod trilogy, 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.
- Call of Duty 's Nazi Zombies game mode has some elements of World War 2 Dieselpunk, namely the Wunderwaffen and Teleporters developed by the Nazis.
- Midgar from Final Fantasy VII
- Outerlight Ltd.'s The Ship, a very warped tale set in an art deco cruise liner.
- Nocturne revolved around 1930s pulp heroes fighting off mad science and Lovecraftian monsters in a very dieselpunk mode.
- Dino D-Day: World War 2 meets Jurassic Park.
- Progear has technology somewhere between World War I and World War Two
- Akai Katana takes place before or during World War Two
- Power Strike II, 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.
- Skullgirls definitely draws on the Diesel Punk aesthetic, although the makers prefer to call it Dark Deco.
- The Legend of Korra, a sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender, takes place in Republic City, a Culture Chop Suey of various depression-era metropolises and Asian aesthetics. The music has been described as "1920s New Orleans jazz but if it were invented in China".
- Batman: The Animated Series.
- George Shrinks nails the look, and is about as punk as a kids show gets.
- The Disney cartoon Tale Spin and its 1930s pulp adventure style was a high-flying, lighthearted brand of diesel.
- My Life as a Teenage Robot
- Adventures of the 19XX - A secret society protecting the world from occult villains.
- Athena Voltaire - A female Indiana Jones much cooler and better-dressed than Lara Croft.
- Captain Spectre and the Lightning Legion A Rocketeer-style hero done in a retro serial style.
- Femme Noir - A sexy P.I. solves mysteries in a shady neo-noir fashion.
- Strange Aeons - Nazis, Lovecraft, noir and pulpy intrigue set in a crazy-ass Art Deco Mega City.
- Warbirds of Mars - Diesel-fied America at war with Nazis, alien invaders and (maybe?) Nazi aliens.
- Anathema, hosted on Slipshine.