Dieselpunk is a subgenre of science fiction, with two widely accepted definitions of style: Piecraftian, and Ottensian. The two are described as follows on Wikipedia:
“A feature that was first identified by the online magazine The Flying Fortress is that dieselpunk can be divided into two primary themes or styles: Ottensian and Piecraftian. The dividing line between the two themes is commonly acknowledged as the start of World War II.
One theme, named “Piecraftian” after its proponent author “Piecraft“, focuses on the aesthetics of the world wars and speculates on how human culture could theoretically cease to evolve due to constant, widespread warfare. According to Ottens and Piecraft this theme continues the aesthetics of the diesel era into later periods of history by describing a world where survival (largely based on a reliance on diesel power) is placed above aesthetical evolution (as seen in such dystopian movies as Mad Max).
A second theme, named “Ottensian” after its proponent author Nick Ottens, focuses on a setting where the decadent aesthetics and utopian philosophies of the American “Roaring Twenties” continued to evolve unhindered by war or economic collapse. Ottensian dieselpunk fiction is primarily concerned with a positive vision of technology, where the utopian ideals predicted by the World’s Fairs of the times came to light. As a result Ottensian dieselpunk incorporates “an enthusiasm for the predictions about the future,” and often shares elements with retro-futurism.[2“
I’ve leaned toward the Ottensian side in my retrofuture series in the works, “The Family Of Earth”. While researching the genre, I also discovered a more specialized ‘punk’ concept…’decopunk’. I’m a huge fan of art deco style and the relative historical periods, so I was naturally drawn to the idea. I’ve encountered mixed feedback and perspectives on its usage, and what it means. Some think it draws away from the emerging dieselpunk culture in general, in creating yet another unnecessary division. I tend to disagree, as ‘decopunk’ has become something unique unto itself the more I’ve played with the concept.
Do I consider decopunk to be a part of dieselpunk in general? Of course. The two are inseparably related. However, can decopunk be classified as a style unto itself? My attitude is yes, and why not? Formulas are boring. As an artist, I constantly seek to discover and imagine new territory. Repeating what’s already been done has its purpose, but it makes for remarkably dull art most of the time.
Decopunk currently seems to be explained like Ottensian dieselpunk–a more ‘positve, utopian perspective, shiny chrome and upbeat hopes for a bright tomorrow.’ That’s a great view, but I decided to get a little more specific. To me, for something to be specifically called decopunk, it needed to focus on just that. Art deco. The time period alone isn’t enough for me. It’s just dieselpunk without it. Art deco is a fascinating and very specific style of architecture, fashion, and culture. Many of the works I’ve seen labeled as decopunk barely hint at art deco, and show just a flavor of the time. I decided to take that a step further in my universe, and make the deco side an important element in setting and character appearance.
I first touched on this idea in my novel, “Perfect World Somewhere”. The art deco style is mostly found among the more elite echelons of society, especially in the largely affluent off-world colonies. When Lily Fairpoole and her family first arrive at the orbital habitat known as the Vestal Coil, I described the art deco style in several scenes. Here’s a brief description of the trade commission building, where they land after their harrowing escape from the ration camps of the Kaezer:
“They landed atop a high building, a cylindrical spire that glowed in the sun. Its central tower stood about thirty stories, with six smaller ones rising along the sides. They blossomed into white and silver terraces at the base, and the contrasting colors formed arched curls and chevron patterns across the ground.”
I merely experimented with the deco imagery in “Perfect World Somewhere”. When I started the second novel in the series, “Beauty In The Bones”, I decided to explore my interpretation of decopunk to the extreme. BITB is the story of Silas Blane, the antagonist of my upcoming novel, “Ruby Descent”. Silas dwells among the most affluent reaches of society, where art deco is literally dripping from every wall and textile. In an attempt to expand the concept, I’ve gone overkill on the descriptions of architecture and fashion, incorporating the bold patterns, colors, and symmetry every chance I get. Silas is a man who values appearances very highly, and he’s incredibly observant of detail. Thus his descriptions get much more involved than the other characters in the series.
Here’s a snippet describing the office of Silas’s father, Richard Blane.
“All of the heavy velvet curtains were tethered aside to let in the fresh air and sun. A stepped and fluted relief decorated the windows and door frames, hewn from solid black stone, and edged with glinting chrome accents. One entire side of the gently curved room rose in striated shelves, containing the collected volumes of Father’s cherished library.
His lacquered wooden desk dominated the center, a monumental fixture carved with geometric patterns, arcing in a sunburst along the front and sides. Two abstract bronze statues stood at either end, resembling nude young women with impossibly narrow and linear hips, their figures broadening at the shoulders, arms outstretched in a wide oval toward the ceiling. A lamp embellished with stained glass and parallel lines of brass molding dangled between their blunt, ridged fingers, casting a muted amber glow against the sunlight.”
Some of the most decopunk fashions in the story are worn by Silas’s mother, the haughty and manipulative Octavia Blane. I often use the exotic imagery of the famous designer Erte to create Mrs. Blane’s daring outifts. Here’s one of her more formal ensembles:
“A floor-length gown of pleated black satin spilled from the small of her back, secured there with a thin band of silver and rhinestones. Her sleeves trailed down the sides, ending in tasseled points. A panel of luminous white accented the front, with an archaic meander motif embroidered along the hem. Stockings and garters flashed as she walked to the car, revealed through the plunging slit at the front of the skirt. Three spritely black plumes curled from the rippled waves of her hair, which was set into a glossy roll at the nape of her neck. She pulled her fur-trimmed evening wrap around her shoulders as Crawford shut the door behind us.”
My goal is to break beyond the mere definitions of Ottensian dieselpunk, and present decopunk as something truly its own. I especially aim to emphasize the ‘punk’ element. To me, punk is a term that denotes rebellion, something contrary to the accepted norm, and provokes disapproval among the more stiff and stolid types who only follow convention. Punk attitude is a major driving point in “Beauty In The Bones”, as Silas overturns every social nicety and pursues his own desires for power and acclaim. If “Downton Abbey” and “Dynasty” had a love-child, and then added a gothic/punk soundtrack and atmosphere, the result would be BITB. I listen to goth, industrial, futurepop, and darkwave music by artists like Skinny Puppy, Phosphor, In Strict Confidence, and others while I write this decopunk drama, to help capture the edgy atmosphere I want. Darker styles like this were present in the early twentieth century. German expressionism, noir, cabaret culture, burlesque, silent cinema, and the in-your-face attitude of flappers and their gents all display the punk themes I’m trying to expand upon. I also include many elements of cyberpunk: high technology mixed with street culture, hackers, and wearable devices are all included in the fun.
I started an inspiration board on Pinterest several months ago, to help me narrow in on what decopunk fashion really could be. It’s become a fun obsession now, Check it out at: Decodence