What the heck is this crazy hillbilly talking about, anyway?

You’re back! Great! Come on in and sit a spell!

So anyway, today I was planning to sort out exactly what I mean when I am talking about Steampunk, Dieselpunk and New Pulp. I’m sure y’all have at least an idea of what they are, but not everybody. New Pulp, particularly, is so new that very few have heard of it. But whether you’re an old hand, or the greenest noob, it’s going to make all our lives easier if we’re all on the same page with definitions. Fair warning: I’m not going to get into huge detail; there’s just not enough room within the confines of a blog post. But I’ll be including links to places where you can get more information, okay?

Might as well dive right in, huh?


Steampunk novel: Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter
Steampunk movie: Sherlock Holmes (2010 version)
Steampunk comic book: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Steampunk video game: Elder Scrolls
Steampunk music: anything by Abney Park
Steampunk anime: Howl’s Moving Castle

Steampunk is probably the most well-known of the three genres. Goggles, clockwork gears, corsets and parasols, steam-driven every-damned-thing, absinthe and high tea, zeppelins, those are the icons of Steampunk. If you’ve been internet-savvy for more than ten minutes, you’ve seen pictures of people dressed up in top hats, goggles, bustles and cog jewelry.

The word “steampunk” was coined in 1987 by K.W. Jeter, who wrote Morlock Night. According to Steampunk.com, “Steampunk has always been first and foremost a literary genre, or least a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy that includes social or technological aspects of the 19th century (the steam) usually with some deconstruction of, reimagining of, or rebellion against parts of it (the punk).”

The movement arguably started as a distinct literary genre with the publication of The Difference Engine by William Gibson (who also started the cyberpunk genre with his debut novel, Neuromancer) and Bruce Sterling. In that book, he posited a setting that is the backbone of the genre: what if the difference engine had been successfully built?* From that he designed a world where steam, not electricity, was what powered the world. He was deeply influenced by the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, the fathers of science fiction.

*for those who don’t know, a difference engine was the first computer ever designed, by Charles Babbage, in the mid 1800’s. It proved too expensive and complex to be built in his lifetime, but it was eventually successfully built, in 1991, by London’s Science Museum. And it works! He really did design a working computer!

It’s a classic mashup: a Victorianesque setting and technology combined with a post-modern mindset and approach. Within those parameters, there is SO much wriggle room. You want Wild West cowboys riding robotic horses? You got it. How about classic James Bond, but with zeppelins? You can do that, too. Science fiction, monsters and magic, romance, murder mystery, war stories, time travel, humor, gritty realism, you name it, it’s out there.

Steampunk has grown beyond the books in your library, though. Video games and movies are set in the steampunk world, musicians have been influenced by it, and cosplayers have run wild with it. You can’t turn around online without finding somebody doing the steampunk lifestyle in some capacity. In future weeks I’ll be giving you links where you can find some of the best available online.

For more information: http://www.steampunk.com


Dieselpunk novel: Grimnoir by Larry Correia
Dieselpunk movie: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Dieselpunk comic book: 19XX by Paul Roman Martinez (webcomic)
Dieselpunk video game: Bioshock
Dieselpunk music: anything by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Dieselpunk anime: Full Metal Alchemist

Dieselpunk is much newer and less well known than its older brother, steampunk. In fact, it started as an offshoot of the steampunk movement. The term came from game creator Lewis Pollak to describe his own RPG, Children of the Sun. Dieselpunk combines the modern “punk” mindset with the “diesel” era, the 1920’s to the 1950’s, from the end of WWI to the beginning of the Cold War. So you’re going to see things like Al Capone style gangsters riding the Hindenburg and WWI biplanes strafing zombie armies. This is also the default setting of most classic comic book heroes, Superman, Batman, etc.

Where Steampunk was inspired and influenced by the classic books of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, Dieselpunk was inspired by the pulp novels and magazines, comic books and radio dramas of the first half of the 20th century. The Shadow, Doc Savage, Superman, Weird Tales, Astounding Science Fiction, John Campbell, H.P. Lovecraft, Lester Dent, all of them are the “fathers” of modern dieselpunk.

The exciting thing about Dieselpunk is the wide variety of creative potential in the setting. You have the end of World War I, Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II, and the beginnings of the Atomic Era and the Cold War. This is the era of Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde and John Dillinger, The Rosenbergs, Joe McCarthy, Winston Churchill and George Patton, and J. Edgar Hoover. Combining those with science fiction, horror, fantasy? As-yet untapped riches, I’m telling ya.

While much smaller than Steampunk, Dieselpunk has also spawned a tiny army of cosplayers, musicians, game designers, and artists. I particularly enjoy the art, which is a beautiful combination of modern tastes and Art Deco styles. Again, i’ll be sharing links in coming weeks.

For more information: The Dieselpunk Encyclopedia

New Pulp

New Pulp novel: The Takers by Jerry Ahern
New Pulp movie: Indiana Jones series
New Pulp comic book: The Rocketeer
New Pulp video game: L.A. Noire
New Pulp anime: Chrono Crusade

New Pulp (also called Neo Noire or Pulp Noir) is different from both Steampunk and Dieselpunk, though it can have elements of both in it. Where both Steampunk and Dieselpunk are essentially settings, New Pulp is more a literary style. To quote New Pulp Fiction, “New Pulp is fiction written with the same sensibilities, linear storytelling, pattern of conflict, and creative use of words and phrases of original Pulp, but crafted by modern writers, artists, and publishers.”

So basically New Pulp can be any sort of story, as long as it mimics the writing conventions of the classic pulps: quick, spare writing, square jawed heroes, straightforward plots, etc. Science fiction, horror, fantasy, mystery, you name it, as long as it’s told in the pulp style, it counts as New Pulp. Moreover, the time frame isn’t as limited as Steampunk and Dieselpunk. Stories can be set in the modern day, in the far flung future, in the past; the only rule is the style.

I’m having to resist the urge to dump a list of classic pulp works on you, poor reader, because there’s such a huge volume of it. Much more than the -punk genres, New Pulp has an ENORMOUS body of work that it homages. Doc Savage, The Shadow, Conan the Barbarian, the radio heroes of the thirties, Astounding Science Fiction, Weird Tales, the old Republic serials (one of my personal favorites), the list is practically endless. Lots of it is forgettable (and forgotten), but there is gold in them thar hills, I guarantee.

There is a huge amount of overlap between New Pulp and Dieselpunk. Lots of stories in the New Pulp style are set in the Dieselpunk world. It makes sense, considering that the books that fathered New Pulp were mostly written in the time frame that Dieselpunk encompasses. Lester Dent and H.P. Lovecraft are among the Godfathers of Dieselpunk. In New Pulp, they are joined by Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Dashiel Hammett.

There’s not really a community of artists, musicians or cosplayers specific to New Pulp; they are generally encompassed by Dieselpunk. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of good stuff out there to be had. I’ll be sharing links soon. In the meantime, check out http://www.newpulpfiction.com/

Okay, that pretty much covers it for today. Told you it was going to be just a brief overview. I’ll get into more details as the weeks wear on. I’m watching my inbox for your Fun Friday links and pictures; send them, along with your name and a brief description, to ajwriter(at)ajclarkson(dot)net. Our first Fun Friday is in two days, and I’m really excited about it! I’m also looking forward to your comments, questions and recommendations, which you can share below in the comment section, or send to the email addy I listed above. In the meantime, you can still follow me on Facebook and Twitter!

The illusion which exalts us is dearer to us than ten thousand truths. —Alexander Pushkin


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