The Old Shelter

Dieselpunk Roaring Twenties. Sarah Zama's Author Blog

Archive for the tag “WWI”

John Paul Catton – Why I Write Dieselpunk – Guest Post

91t9Sx50cJL._SL1500_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

  1. Check my review on one of his dieselpunk story here and/or read an excerpt from the same story here
  2. Have a look to the collection of his dieselpunk stories which is just out, Tales from Beyond Tomorrow
  3. And after all, why not leave a comment in the comment box below? It’s easy and it doesn’t hart

Thusday Quotables – Dulce et Decorum Est

The hideous miasma rolled along the shattered landscape. The Germans tried to outrun it, but they were too slow. The mist enveloped them. They floundered, limbs waving, their twisted, mannered figures reeling through it, the sound of their screaming voices growing more and more distant, until they disappeared.

“You told me that’s a German secret weapon,” Kelsey said.


“So why are they killing their own troops?”

Blake stared ahead, thinking. He’d been wondering the same thing himself. “The wind must have changed.”

Kelsey gave a quizzical look.

“Now look. Over there,” Blake said.

In No-Man’s Land, materializing at the heart of the swirling yellow cloud, was the figure that haunted Blake and his men. Shining metal, barely recognizable as human. It seemed to be composed of metal surfaces, moving in small jerks, grouping together, then splitting apart and reforming, diminishing and enlarging, forming columns and lines. The armored shape was surrounded by a brilliant glow that illuminated the churned-up mud.

“Good God,” Kelsey whispered.

quotation-marks4This is my favourite passage from Ducle at Decorum Est, the most haunting episode of the entire story. We see the unimaginable, and still we don’t see it, and the ambiguity is what evokes the stronger feeling for me.

In other passages, you get a very vivid impression of what the life in the trenches must have been, a very realistic portrayal of it. Here, you get a transfigured image of it, but the impression is just as strong. This is the power of speculative fiction, for me. Giving reality a new form, so that it speaks more freely about itself.


Did you like this quote? Here’s a few things you might want to do.

  1. Head over to Bookshelf Fantasies, who sponsors the Thursday Quotables, and join in the fun.
  2. Post a quote on your blog and make sure to leave a link in the comment box below. I’ll be sure to visit and comment.
  3. Maybe you’ve read this author too and would love to share your opinion. By all means do it in the comment box below. I’ll never object.

Dulce at Decorum Est

One morsel review: a dieselpunk story set right on the fields of WWI, with a great atmosphere, a definitely noir mood, but maybe too distant characters.


Dulce et Decorum Est

John Paul Catton

Genre: dieselpunk
On the fields of WWI, an unexpected, mysterious and deadly enemy appears, changing everything. The soldiers call them Angels.

If you have ever read anything dieselpunk, or watched any dieselpunk film or enjoyed any diesepunk art, you’ll know: WWI setting is the classic of classics for this genre.
This story is set right on the fields of WWI, in a wasteland that resembles Hell more than any place on earth, where angels walk.

Angels. This is how soldiers call the mysterious enemy they face. Supernatural beings that changed war and the people involved in it.
There’s a strong sense of foreboding about these angels. Nobody knows what they are, where they came from, or why they are here. Everybody knows their destructive power. All the story revolves around the mystery surrounding them, which kept me reading. But, if I may be honest, I found the resolution a bit too cryptic. Well, at least for me. Which may or may not be a problem, since the ending stays in the same mood as the rest of the story. I just felt there was more I could (and should) have grasped.

The characters are also right into the tradition of noir disillusioned characters. Their sense of disempowerment invest the entire story. This is particularly true for Captain Blake, the main character, who’s a men who feels trapped and unable to save the men he’s responsible for.

I had kind of an issue with Captain Blake, though. He’s the main character, still I could never come close enough to him to really identify. I live all the story through him. I see the trenches though his eyes, I feel the foul, sticky air through his senses, I can read his every dark thoughts on what’s happening to him and his man. The narration is very vivid. And still, there is always a distance between me and Captain Blake, as it seems to be a distance between him and the story unfolding before his eyes. It’s like he’s a witness more than an actor, as if the actual story happened to someone else.
So, because of this distance of the main character from the story, I also felt detached, which in a way didnt’ allow me to become involved as deep as I could have.
Bit of a shame, because all the other elements – atmosphere, historical details, dark mood – are very vivid. It was still an enjoyable read.

This is part of a collection of stories. Each story had been available individually, but a collection is coming out now gathering all of them, Tales From Beyond Tomorrow – Volume 1
Keep an eye out for it.

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