Last week I was bombarded by dieselpunk themed books, comics, films, music and even beer. This onslaught eventually inspired me to dig a little deeper into the subgenre. For those who don’t know, dieselpunk is a cyberpunk-derivative similar to steampunk. Stories are usually set in or inspired by the technology, art and culture of the interwar period. Another way to think of it is a world where the Jazz Age never ended.
As I studied the subgenre I found myself building my own dieselpunk universe. I am not here, however, to talk about that. As I did my research I came across a lot of interesting technologies that could be useful in your own dieselpunk story. These are real ideas that for one reason or another never got off the ground (no pun intended), but their realism could be a benefit to your story. In my humble opinion, the best punk fiction grounds its fantastical technology in real world inventions. So without further ado…
Flying Aircraft Carriers
The S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier from the Marvel comic universe easily follows the rule of cool, even if it is ridiculously implausible. The concept, however, of a flying (or airborne) aircraft carrier is a real thing. Take the USS Akron for example. It was a helium filled rigid airship that carried 4 Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk fighter bi-planes designed specifically to be launched from airships. The planes not only protected the slow-moving airship, but could also scout deep into enemy territory. Despite being safer than hydrogen filled airships like the infamous Hidenburg, the Akron still crashed in 1933 after encountering severe weather and it spelled the end of the program.
In a dieselpunk universe, however, the Akron not only wouldn’t have crashed, but would be one of many ships of its classes protecting the airways. Larger and more advanced air carriers could conduct missions deep into war-torn lands, like a longer lasting Warlord Era China or Civil War Russia. You still might have to encourage readers to suspend disbelief because of how vulnerable these craft are, but its still a cool bit of dieselpunk technology.
Weird and Wonderful Tanks
When I originally started outlining this article I wanted to focus on just one type of tank, but I just couldn’t focus on one type of tank. There were just so many amazing (if impracticable) vehicles produced in this era. The Russians/Soviets had some great designs. For example, there was the Tsar Tank with its huge front wheels that was in service during World War I. Decades later the Soviets used drone tanks in the 1930s and 40s. Yes, you heard me right, drones. They were radio-controlled tanks called Teletanks and even saw action in World War II. The Americans also made a curious tank that ran on steam, which is useful if your fictional world is going through a transition from a steampunk to a dieselpunk technology base.
Of course when speaking of tanks you can’t forget about dieselpunk inspired mecha. A quick look on Pinterest brings up several examples of this trope. But this is silly, right? No one had the technology to make such vehicles in the early twentieth century. Wrong! Take a look at the Iron Dobbin, a mechanical horse designed for the Italian military. Although rejected, think about what would happen if some government put some serious funding into such a project. We could see quadruped and biped tanks duking it out on the battlefield.
The flying car is the holy grail of science fiction, and like many subgenres, there are dieselpunk variants. Although the idea of a car that transforms into a plane might be a tad far-fetched, the idea of aircraft for the average consumer is actually an old idea. It was first suggested in the 1920s by Henry Ford himself. It was called the Ford Flivver and was meant to be the “Model T of the Air”, but like the previously mentioned Akron, a fatal crash of the prototype halted production.
But what if it didn’t crash? Could there be a timeline out there where regular people have their own personal airplane? Probably not, considering the damage such vehicles could cause when (not if) they fall out the sky over heavily populated areas, but in your dieselpunk universe they may be useful in rural areas to get to travel between places quickly or for your dashing spy to make a quick getaway.
Are there any other vehicles I forgot about? Let me know in the comments below.