Welcome to the next post from Sarah Zama and this week she explores the origins and the definitions of Dieselpunk… something I was not really familiar with but it certainly sounds fascinating. She posted this originally in 2015.
International Dieselpunk Day by Sarah Zama
12th November is International Dieselpunk Day. You can read last year’s celebration post on the Happy International Dieselpunk Day 2014 and how Larry Amyet jnr came up with the date on Dieselpunk forums. And while you’re there, read Tome Wilson’s celebrating post for 2013, because it says a lot about what dieselpunk is and is becoming.
International Dieselpunk Day Manifesto
The day is finally here! From the spark of a small discussion on Facebook arose a worldwide movement that turned into a wildfire. The idea was to set aside a day, a special day, for dieselpunks around the world to join together to celebrate this young and growing phenomenon we call Dieselpunk.
In Dieselpunk, we capture the sophistication and elegance of the fashion of the 1920s, 30s and 40s and then incorporate it with modern tastes.
Dieselpunks pays tribute to the Greatest Generation that sacrificed so much to save the world from Evil incarnate and we relish the liberty they gave us with the knowledge that freedom isn’t free.
In Dieselpunk, we revel in the technological, architectural and scientific achievements of that golden era that still shape our world today.
Dieselpunk remembers the pain and suffering of our ancestors who struggled against poverty, pestilence and famine from events such as the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl and we thereby draw strength from them to help us make it through the hard times that we experience.
In Dieselpunk, we find inspiration from leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt to help guide us in decisions that we must make that affect our personal and social lives.
Dieselpunks are realists and acknowledge the dark side of humanity by refusing to shy away from the despotism found in the Diesel Era such the resurgence of the Klan, the rise of totalitarian despots, and the growth of organized crime for we know the truth of the axiom that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.
In Dieselpunk, we find an appreciation of the beauty and artistic wonder of the Fine Arts through remembering the Diesel Era renaissance with its Golden Age of Motion Pictures, the Jazz Age, and Art Deco.
Therefore, this is our day for us to celebrate. Today is the day for us all to stand proud and declare to the world that we are dieselpunks!
I stumbled upon the term dieselpunk the first time a couple of years ago, I’m not sure how anymore. But I remember the moment I read the word I was fascinated with it. It talked of stories set in the same period I was writing and stories with clear speculative elements like mine. Finding a home for my story was so exciting I wanted to tell everybody on the writing community I was part of at the time… where I was told, calm down sister, your story isn’t dieselpunk.
It was sad, but I accepted it. This didn’t mean I put the question to rest, though. The fascination I still felt for dieselpunk spurred me to researching it and it didn’t take me long to stumble upon Tome Wilson’s Dieselpunk Community which is possibly the biggest such community in the world. I discovered people writing and reading and otherwise enjoying this genre. I started reading those stories myself. And of course, I started trying to determine by myself whether what I was writing really wasn’t dieselpunk.
Dieselpunk is a very young genre. The awareness of it is truly very recent. And it’s true that, at this stage, it is mainly a visual genre. People is becoming acquainted with it through illustrations, films, and costumes, so maybe is natural that the ones involved in the definition of the genre are those not involved in visual arts, like writers and musicians.
It’s hard not to see a proximity between Dieselpunk and its bigger brother Steampunk. They are both ‘punk’ genres. They are near in terms of historical era. The inner workings of the genre dieselpunk cityare very similar. Personally, I think the differences are possibly more accentuated than the similarities, but this is just me. In fact, in spite of the brotherly antagonism between the two communities, some dieselpunks define the genre in relation with Steampunk: while technology in Steampunk is fueled by steam, technology in Dieselpunk is fueled by internal combustion – which I’m very sorry but sounds like an extremely unsatisfactory definition of the genre for me. Other authors, like Charles A. Cornell, see Dieselpunk as mainly Retrofuturism.
Retrofuturism is the future as it would be seen from a specific point in time in the past. So, being Dieselpunk linked to the aesthetics, mores and events of the period between the very late 1910s to the very early 1950s, what we experience in these stories would be the future as seen from that standing point. If you think to the film Metropolis and its vision of the future with highways spanning among tall building and planes flying like cars in between them, that’s pretty much what it means. That was the actual vision of the future of a 1920s person. Retrofuturism envision the same kind of future by an author that actually knows what the future ended up being.
Retrofuturism is an adequate definition of Dieselpunk in my opinion – if we’re just talking SF dieselpunk. I just think there is more to the genre than that.
There’s one thing that’s very tricky about genre fiction, and I mean about any genre fiction: pinning down the aesthetics is a lot easier than pinning down the essence. This is the difference between good genre fiction and clichéd genre fiction in my opinion. And because genre needs aesthetics and stereotypes to be recognizable, you’ll understand how tricky this may become.
In his essay On Fairy Stories Tolkien argued that it isn’t enough for a story to contain magic to be considered fantasy. Magic should be a fundamental part of that story and world, it should be unconceivable for the reader to think to that world, those characters and that story without magic (it’s the theory of the green sun, if you have any familiarity with it). When the reader understands the story only with the inclusion of magic, that’s when a second reality is created, strong and convincing enough to challenge our own reality.
I wish to all genre lovers to find a definition for their favourite genre as strong as Tolkien’s for fantasy. I certainly hoped I could find one for Dieselpunk.
Then I stumbled upon the Diesel Powered Podcast, and if you are interested in the genre in the slightest I’ll sure recommend you go listening to it. Jonny Della Rocca chat about dieselpunk with many different guests roughly on a weekly basis. Larry Amyet is often on the pod cast and I’ll say those are the best conversations (they certainly are my favourite). One of the first podcasts I listened to was dedicated to the definition of dieselpunk. Jonny and Larry both agree that dieselpunk presents two different characteristics: the setting, which is diesel era or diesel era inspired, and the punk element. But while Jonny argued that the punk element is fantasy, meant in the broadest possible way, Larry counnight skyscrapertered that considering the punk element just ‘fantasy’ is very reductive and it leaves out a lot of what can be considered (and it is considered) dieselpunk, including lifestylers like himself. What about – he argued – music? Won’t we considered electro-swing to be dieselpunk? Still there is no element in electro-swing that can be considered fantasy.
Larry suggested then that the punk element is actually something subversive. It can be fantasy, because fantasy is inherently subversive to reality, it can also be anything else that ends up questioning life and history as we know it. In the case of electro-swing, for example, we have music that isn’t mere imitation of the music from the 1940s-1950s, but it’s a reinvention of it. It sounds like swing, bands often play the visual element too, but this music is plaid with modern instruments and technology and with modern understanding of audience and themes. That’s the punk element. The element that disturbs ‘reality and history’ as we know it.
To me, this is a satisfactory definition of dieselpunk, a definition that leaves a lot of space to creativity and expression, a lot of space to the evolution of the genre itself. Dieselpunk is still a young fella, but I’m sure it will grow strong.
©Sarah Zama 2015.
About Sarah Zama
Sarah Zama was born in Isola della scala (Verona – Italy) where she still lives. She started writing at nine – blame it over her teacher’s effort to turn her students into readers – and in the 1990s she contributed steadily to magazines and independent publishers on both sides of the Atlantic.
After a pause, in early 2010s she went back to writing with a new mindset. The internet allowed her to get in touch with fellow authors around the globe, hone her writing techniques in online workshops and finally find her home in the dieselpunk community.
Since 2010 she’s been working at a trilogy set in Chicago in 1926, historically as accurate as possible but also (as all her stories are) definitely fantasy. She’s currently seeking representation for the first book in the Ghost Trilogy, Ghostly Smell Around.
In 2016, her first book comes out, Give in to the Feeling.
She’s worked for QuiEdit, publisher and bookseller in Verona, for the last ten years.
She also maintain a blog, The Old Shelter, where she regularly blogs about the Roaring Twenties and anything dieselpunk.
Books by Sarah Zama available from Smashwords.
About Give in to the Feeling
EVEN IN SPARKLING JAZZ AGE CHICAGO, SPIRITS CAN TRICK YOU INTO BELIEVING THEY’RE MEN
When Susie comes to Jazz Age America, she knows her life will change. Back in China, spirits mingle in the mists of the rice fields and trick humans into believing they’re men so to steal their soul, and the expectations of a daughter are unimportant and ignore. Here in Chicago, Simon gives her the carefree life of the New American Woman, the freedom to dress daringly and do things once only reserved for men–drinking, smoking and dancing with strangers. It’s an exciting life and she considers the loyalty Simon demands of her a small price to pay.
Until she meets Blood.
Blood lets Susie speak her mind and listen to her heart. He commits himself to her and asks nothing in return. Through his eyes, Susie begins to see her loyalty to Simon as the bars around her “freedom”. But she knows Simon will never let her go.
Here in Chicago spirits can mingle in the smoke and jazz of speakeasies and trick humans into believing they’re men. They can still steal their soul. And if Susie doesn’t see the spirit behind the mask of the men fighting for her, she might lose much more than her freedom.
Buy the book from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/611064
About The Frozen Maze – Free from Smashwords.
A historical short story with magic.
Germany, 1924. Ingeborg goes back to the family estate for the first time after her father died at war. She doesn’t think she still care for the place, but when the maze where she used to wander with her father is threatened to be taken down, she starts wondering whether the place is really evil, as her stepmother says, or if it’s the place of magic, as her father always told her
Download the book from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/737173
Connect to Sarah
My thanks to Sarah for certainly educating me on Dieselpunk… fascinating Thanks for dropping in and we would love your feedback Thanks Sally