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Steampunk, Dieselpunk, Retropolis & Me

Filed under Can't Stop Thinking

T-Shirts for the World of TomorrowMy recent banner ads have worked absolute wonders for me – especially the ones for the Retropolis Transit Authority, my retro-futuristic T-Shirt site.

On a good day, or in a good week, I can watch the traffic there snowball into a regular avalanche as those folks who’ve found me through the banners post about it in forums, at their blogs, and so on. Some of those sites are very popular – or a popular blogger may find one of those first generation posts, and it can build from there. Well. Sometimes. It’s not like that’s every day, or every week. But here are some highlights:

io9 Blog | Boing Boing Gadgets | AMCTV’s Sci Fi Scanner | Schlock Mercenary | Pharyngula | Livejournal’s Anachrotech Group | Steampunk Librarian

One thing that’s surprised me about some of my recent linkage, though, is the number of people who’ve described my work as Steampunk. Because although I’m not one to snap on my brass goggles and to holster my Aetheric Odds Equalizer before I go out, I’m pretty well aware that Steampunk is all about the retro future of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, which means it’s not really what I do. Mind you, I like the style well enough, and I have a couple of things in the Idea Closet that would certainly be steamy, but they’re digressions, for me. My Future That Never Was is really all about the 1920s and 1930s and our ideas, back then, of what Tomorrow might bring.

The inestimable Molly Porkshanks has brought another word to my attention – dieselpunk. Now that, with its allusion to early twentieth century technology, sounds nearer the mark; but even there it’s much more evocative of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow than it is of what I’m up to. My rockets and robots aren’t diesel powered and my retro future isn’t, either.

And, frankly, although I was all over the genre of “Cyberpunk” as soon as Neuromancer hit the shelves, the subsequent *punks have sort of made my eyes glaze over. There’s clockpunk, for example, and biopunk, dieselpunk, and even – I guess predictably – postcyberpunk.

There’s not a lot of punk in any of them, of course. The “punk” suffix has lost its meaning. At one game company where I worked, the owners’ pet project was a supposedly cyberpunk game in which they’d forgotten to put the punk in. It wasn’t anything more than a sort of direct-to-video science fiction idea. The word had lost its meaning.

Retropolis MonorailSo the names, styles, and labels aren’t really my own cup of tea. I’m always pleased when people like what I do and with a name like mine, you’ll understand that I long ago decided not to bother very much about names and their derivatives. So if people who like steampunk or dieselpunk also like what I do, I’m thrilled; and even if they attach a favorite label – rightly or wrongly – to it, I don’t suppose I mind very much, even if I’m not quite sure why they do it, and even though I suspect that they’re watering down their own terminology when they do it. So what the heck; I’m even using dieselpunk, at least, in tags on my web sites.

Now on the other hand, I’ve recently been reading Patrick O’Brian’s excellent seafaring novels about the Napoleonic period and I have this idea that something along those lines with sky pirates and fleets of airships would just be the bee’s knees. So, somebody, go write them! Odds are they’ll be something like Steampunk, or maybe Sailpunk. And I’ll certainly read them, even though what I’m up to is something else.

3 responses to “Steampunk, Dieselpunk, Retropolis & Me
rebecca says:
June 3rd, 2008 at 10:14 am

Great newsletter today! Thanks.

E C Brennan says:
July 17th, 2010 at 6:51 pm

I was thinking maybe retro-robo-punk. I kind of like saying it, anyway.

There is also “raygun gothic.” but raygun punk sounds more like it.


Bradley W. Schenck says:
July 17th, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Of all of them I like “Raygun Gothic” the best. It just sounds cool, even though I’m not sure it actually means anything :).

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