Are Steampunk and Dieselpunk intertwined?

Sky Captain
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

On 20th May, there was a special big screen showing of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Frequently, this can be misconstrued as a steampunk title on Facebook pages.

In keeping with my recent project on creating boundaries and guidelines for steampunk, it has to be said that Sky Captain doesn’t fall into the steampunk genre. It’s a lot more Dieselpunk from the era that it’s set in, to the technology and science fiction elements that are created. It was released 11 years ago in 2004 and slipped under the radar, but I always enjoyed watching it.

The screening in Denver was part of the A.V. Club’s Science Friction series and also featured a talk by Anomalycon founder Kondra Seibert. She talked about the link between steampunk and Dieselpunk. In it, she said: “Dieselpunk is steampunk’s door to zeppelins, airships, ray guns and goggles. Our love of alternate-history technology also comes from a conglomerate understanding of the revolutionary era that really blurs the lines between specific advancements of technology. Unlike the ancient eras where we can say, “Bam, the wheel was invented, and then boom, chariots happened,” the pre-modern steampunk/industrial revolution was a whole lot of stuff happening simultaneously, so that we can’t really say, “That element is too modern for steam” without giving up all the features we hold dear. That’s really why we call it steam-“punk,” so that we can utilize the best inventions of other times and shake things up a bit. AnomalyCon is about merging a lot of different -punk elements with alternate history for a higher level of creative literacy.”

I’m not entirely sure what to think about that statement. Steampunk is a genre in it’s own right and I can’t say that I’ve ever been aware of Dieselpunk lending it’s inspiration to steampunk. Dieselpunk as a term wasn’t recognised until 2001, but does that matter though? Just because it wasn’t called Dieselpunk, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t being written about or that steampunk authors were taking inspiration.

Still, in this instance, I think that the speaker – a renowned author – has got too caught up in the Victorian inspired themes and punk outlook. She’s seemingly forgotten that steampunk has a strong element of science fiction on its own. Then again, the two genres can meet successfully as seen in friend of the Journal Constance Bashford’s images. She recognises herself as a steampunk/dieselpunk model and it is entirely possible to be interested in both cultures.

Has Kondra Seibert got this right? Does her statement make sense and fit into your perception of steampunk?

2 thoughts on “Are Steampunk and Dieselpunk intertwined?

  1. I think she’s about on the money.
    While I think they are separate genres, given that they’re punking historical eras, I think there is a fair amount of overlap where diesel was coming in but hadn’t popularly superseded steam yet and that some overlap in the genres is fair and allowable.

    1. 🙂 I think that’s what I love the most about Steampunk. Everyone has a different interpretation. I think she’s wrong on a lot of it. The punk bit isn’t to utilise different eras, it’s because we use the punk ethos of a DIY ethic, non-conformity and not selling out (buying from big brands). There’s also the anti-authoritarian attitude that we ignore because we’re too fabulous, but it’s not to plunder. I’ve spoken to diesel punks who get annoyed at steam punks saying anything can be Steampunk. They think we should just have our own bit of history and stay there. I don’t think that’s a bad idea 😉

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