Dieselpunk shares a common ancestor with its cousin cyberpunk. Cyberpunk fiction is all about the dark side of human nature, technology and how the two intermingle. One of the earliest works in the genre is William Gibson's novel "Neuromancer." Gibson also wrote a short story that may be the earliest example of dieselpunk fiction. The story is called "The Gernsback Continuum." The narrator of the story is a photographer sent to capture images of famous Streamline Moderne buildings, statues and artifacts. As he travels around taking pictures he begins to hallucinate an alternate present day. The parallel universe he glimpses is one based off the vision of the future conjured up by Streamline Moderne architects and artists. What if the Streamline Moderne style became the basis for all our architectural and design decisions moving forward? The world would look very different today, covered in chrome and marble.
Gibson wasn't necessarily setting out to define a new genre. But his story is an example of what dieselpunk artists strive to do -- take the design aesthetics of a bygone era and apply them to modern applications and gadgets. What if today's world were based on the styles of the 1920s to 1950s? What would computers look like? What about jets, televisions, houses and weapons?
There aren't as many examples of dieselpunk novels and short stories as other subgenres of speculative fiction. But you can find dieselpunk aesthetics in films like "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" and "The Rocketeer," modern adaptations of pulp series like "Flash Gordon" and "Doc Savage" and video games like "Bioshock." Flash Gordon and Doc Savage are pulp heroes who first appeared in magazines in the 1930s. Later adaptations of the characters could arguably fit into the dieselpunk genre. The "Bioshock" games are set in an alternate Earth in which fantastical cities exist in the sky and underwater. As you play the game you encounter numerous environments that rely heavily on Art Deco and Streamline Moderne styles.
While dieselpunk may not have a lot of representation in fiction, it has become a popular subculture among costumers, prop designers and other enthusiasts. Next, we'll take a look at the types of tools and materials these people use to create their dieselpunk works of art.