Autumn Mondays, Part 2: The Spectrum of Retro-Futurism

Autumn Mondays continues, albeit belatedly, with a blog post about how with steampunk, dieselpunk, and even atomicpunk, all are one. May contain semi-coherent philosophical/literary rambling.

Steampunk, Dieselpunk, and Atomicpunk: The Spectrum of Retro-Futurism

Recently, a discussion came up on the Dieselpunk forums about atomicpunk and whether or not it belonged on the site (the consensus, of course, was that it did, since there is plenty of overlap between the two – that, and people on the site tend to be extremely nice and accommodating, not to mention tolerant of would-be writers bouncing ideas off of people and/or pestering them about a novel coming out in the near future). A second, unrelated discussion was about defining the timeline for exactly where steampunk ends and dieselpunk begins. Yet another discussion, started by someone else with some excellent ideas writing a dieselpunk-style novel, was about the progress of technology into more atomicpunk stylings.

All of these tied in thematically with some of the thoughts I’ve had about dieselpunk, steampunk, and related motifs (as well as my plans for future Autumn projects). The truth is, steampunk (which, as the eldest sibling of the three, has gotten the most exposure) and all aren’t so much discrete, separate genres as they are one continuous spectrum, tied together by themes of looking at yesterday’s visions of the future through today’s eyes. Whichever time period, such as the 1890s or 1930s, the *punk genre is about taking the motifs, design stylings, and events of the past, reinterpreting them, exaggerating them, and using them to illuminate our present. The core idea – the core identity, if you will – and the themes of dealing with an increasingly industrialized society, the progress of technology, and so forth remain the same. The specific trappings naturally flow one from the other, the same way technology and fashions evolve in the real world (and did in the eras inspiring retrofuturist motifs – nobody simply woke up one day and threw out the trappings of the Victorian period in favor of Art Deco. The transition was, in the real world, gradual and the same can be expected in fiction.

While I’ve seen a few settings that combine elements of one or more periods on the spectrum (Last Exile, for example, combines Victorian steampunk-inspired flying dreadnoughts and social strata with fightercraft modeled on 1930s automobiles and air racers, for example), these are still somewhat rare (of course, for that matter, outside of the steampunk end of the spectrum, these things are rare – atomicpunk 1950s and early 1960s-inspired work has made it into a few video games, like the Fallout series, however).

One thing I would like to try to do with the world I’m creating is to gradually build up a picture of that transition, to link one motif to the next and to the next. Among my notes is an idea for a prequel to Iron Heart, depicting Thule’s version of Bismarck uniting the scattered kingdoms of the Old Empire’s center into a new, strong nation. Along the way, he would make an alliance with Count von Zeppelin-like noble, who would supply him with the “advanced” technology of airships, thus explicitly linking the dieselpunk “future” of Iron Heart with the world’s steampunk “past”. Who knows – I may even branch out into the world’s version of the 1950s – there’s certainly enough potential there for Red Scare atomicpunk to be included.

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