A few nights back I was talking about dieselpunk with a friend.
Now, I’m getting rather tired of the -punk subgenres – which are certainly effective commercially, but often are just new names for well-established fare.
And dieselpunk is in this sense a heavy offender, as basically an awful lot (if not all) dieselpunk is just pulp adventure with the number plates changed.
Anyway, we were discussing dieselpunk, and one thing led to another, and talk turned to baroque esthetics, brass fittings, engines as objecct d’art, 1940s style pinups, black scary uniforms and Soviet architechture, and a lot of other stuff, all of which, to me, is not indispensable in defining dieselpunk as literature – it might define dieselpunk as an aesthetics, but not as a narrative genre.
So, what does?
Even better, what, in the dieselpunk subgenre, allows me to write stories I could not write in any other subgenre?
To me, a dieselpunk setting is one in which there is a book, or even better, a monthly magazine, which is called, say, Modern Mechanics*.
Cheap stuff – a dime a month, less for subscribers.
And anyone reading that magazine regularly can acquire the necessary know-how to do technology.
From fixing sewing-machines and alarm clocks to synchronizing the engines of a Zeppelin, the know-how is the same, the tech is the same.
So, yes, a world where mechanics is really popular.
I imagine a world where mechanical technology is commonplace and it is an hands-on pursuit for a vast number of individuals.
A world where engineering is a basic set of skills one acquires as a kid reading the pulps and listening to radio shows.
Where manual labor on mechanical, low tech contraptions is empowering.
Where the guy fixing pick-up trucks somewhere in the country could – should the need arise – set straight the gearbox of an underground mole machine or the drive of a rocketship.
That would be a gateway for adventure!
And I’d love to write something set in a world like that.
*Actually, there was a mag called Modern Mechanix, and you can find an archive online of scanned issues. Great stuff.