One of my earliest memories is when my parents took me to the London Transport Museum – and among the trains and buses, I was enchanted by a series of Art Deco underground posters along the walls.
Perhaps that’s where my interest in Dieselpunk started. Before the genre existed, it was present inside me, as an answer that hadn’t heard the question yet. Now the question has been asked, and people around the world are aware of the genre and are creating art associated with it; but trying to find logical reasons for a gut reaction and an aesthetic admiration has, for me, been unexpectedly difficult.
Still, here goes!
One … At the time of writing, Dieselpunk is a genre almost within living memory. For my parents, those Art Deco posters were memories of childhood. Theirs was the war generation, because I was born when my father was forty-seven, and my mother was thirty-eight. Dad’s earliest memory was watching the troops arriving at the local train station, coming home from the war. The First World War. In contrast, Steampunk, for all its charm and inventiveness, seems sometimes like fantasy adventures set on a distant planet, with a race of people inscrutable and eccentric.
Two – the optimism. Let’s not forget we’re discussing Dieselpunk, and what sets it apart from Steampunk is – the internal combustion engine, the skyscraper, the airship, the huge sealiners – with emphasis on scale and speed. Upward, and ever faster, faster. Before pollution, before global warming, before food allergies, there was the glowing sense that the progress of science would lead us into a brave tomorrow. It now seems almost childish in its innocence, despite the image of two-fisted masculinity.
Three – the visual element. Damn, Dieselpunk looks good! Not only do you have Art Deco and Art Nouveaux as stylistic inspirations, but you also have the art world exploding in the early 20th Century. Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, Constructivism and Suprematism … all of them can be employed in the creation of striking, unforgettable images today, to grace a book cover, gallery wall, or film screen.
Four – the concepts. Victorian England might have ridden a wave of invention that has never been surpassed, such as the steam engine, the locomotive, man-powered flight, the telegraph and electricity, but the early 20th Century gave us abstract concepts that revolutionized not the physical landscape, but the mental one. Freud broke the ice with ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’. Einstein and the other scientists extended this fascinating instability to the entire structure of space and time, exploding the mechanical Victorian paradigm, and making the Universe a fascinating, baffling place to live in. This gave us the cultural milestones of “The Waste Land” and “Mrs. Dalloway” – and carrying this to extremes led to the realms of cosmic horror envisioned by H. P. Lovecraft, where “the most merciful thing in the world … is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”
Holy Moses! Just writing this article has clarified my thoughts and made me appreciate what a remarkable genre I’m working in. Say it loud, I’m Dieselpunk and I’m proud …
Er, no. That’s not a good sentence to conclude with. In fact, I shall never write that above sentence again. Instead, I shall mosey on over to Goodreads, and go through the ‘Best Dieselpunk Books’ list again to remind myself how lucky I am.
Well, there’s a lot to share with John’s feelings about the genre… at least on my side..
If you enjoyed John Catton’s article, there’s a few things you may want to do
- Check my review on one of his dieselpunk story here and/or read an excerpt from the same story here
- Have a look to the collection of his dieselpunk stories which is just out, Tales from Beyond Tomorrow
- And after all, why not leave a comment in the comment box below? It’s easy and it doesn’t hart