Well, another review of mine has gone up on Strange Horizons, this time for Sean Wallace’s 2015 anthology The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. I confess I had a personal motive for reviewing this book. Way back in the wild and wooly days of 2005, I used to write for The Gatehouse Gazette, a small ezine focusing on steampunk and dieselpunk culture. It was one of the first places I tried out online criticism, and I certainly had a lot of fun writing about obscure books and games, but after a while I began feel a disconnect between how I viewed “dieselpunk” and what everyone else wanted from it. I’m not a fighter by nature, so I eventually decided to leave the ‘zine rather than argue my case, but I get into some of my issues with the current state of dieselpunk in my Strange Horizons piece.
Ultimately, I think my main issues with both steampunk and dieselpunk is that I came to them from my interest in alternate history, rather than from pulp scifi or fantasy. I certainly love the aesthetics of early 20th century Europe, even if my tastes run more towards the militaristic and autocratic, but what I love most of all is translating these images and styles into different contexts, something alternate history excels at doing. There’s just something so fascinating about taking images that have been recorded and mass-produced and studied exhaustively, then reworking them into a different context. I love seeing things like the naval combat sim Enigma: Rising Tide, which ends with the American navy launching an Pearl-Harbor-style attack against the Imperial German navy at Scapa Flow, or things like Resistance: Fall of Man which had mocked-up photos of Americans engaging in a D-Day style landing on the British coast with period-styled VTOLs hovering over the beach. My favorite story in the collection, “Dragonfire is Brighter than 10,000 Suns,” is pretty much built on this concept, with communist Romans in a conventional standoff with the capitalist Chinese in central Asia. Aside from the uncanniness of seeing familiar images translated into new forms, there’s also a great opportunity to come at situations and problems from a different angle, where the same event becomes something different when the characters have been recast and the background has been altered.
(As an aside, I’d like to apologize for the lack of new writing recently. January has not proven to be a productive month. I’ll have something up at some point in February. I promise.)