How Dystopias Influenced Dieselpunk

The dystopia is a familiar trope in the “Piecraftian”, darker side of dieselpunk.

Erika Gottlieb argues in Dystopian Fiction East and West: Universe of Terror and Trial (2001) that dystopian fiction looks at the totalitarian dictatorships of the dieselpunk era as its prototype: “a society that puts its whole population continuously on trial, a society that finds its essence in concentration camps, that is, in disenfranchising and enslaving entire classes of its own citizens, a society that, by glorifying and justifying violence by law, preys upon itself.”

The Sleeper Awakes illustration
Illustration from H.G. Wells, The Sleeper Awakes (1910)

One of the earliest dystopias comes from that great fountainhead of science-fiction, H.G. Wells. In his 1910 novel The Sleeper Wakes, our hero — a confirmed Marxist who falls asleep in Victorian Cornwall — wakes up in London two centuries later to discover that, owing to a trust-fund set up by his brother, he is now the ultimate capitalist and owner of half the planet. Wells describes a technological wonder world with aeroplanes, radios, televisions and automatic tailors. Old landmarks like the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s Cathedral are tucked away in the basement. The Thames has become an underground canal.

So far, so good — but we gradually discover that the corporation ruling in our hero’s name is far from benevolent and a third of the population lives in virtual enslavement to an organization descended from — wait for it — the Salvation Army!

Metropolis Tower of Babel
The New Tower of Babel in Metropolis (1927)

The urban dystopia more familiar to dieselpunks will be Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. A technocratic utopia on the surface, with sky scrapers the size of small cities and sky bridges crisscrossing the bottomless concrete canyons, the futuristic city only runs on the labor performed deep below by workers without rights nor any hope of a better life.

As Piecraft himself has written, the 1927 German film is really a precursor to the dieselpunk genre. The “large factories, big pumping machinery and other forms of radical technology and science that at the time of the film’s making were but pure fantasy” have inspired similarly depressing industrial landscapes in later dieselpunk fiction. Metropolis‘s theme — a world radically changed, and not for the better, by war or a cataclysm — is one that resonates in the darker side of the genre today.

In this case we recognize that Lang seeks to show us the dire consequences of a war out of which a totalitarian regime emerges victorious. This brings about a world in which the freedom and happiness of the masses are compensated in order to stabilize peace.

Which goes to the essence of the dystopia. Continue reading “How Dystopias Influenced Dieselpunk”

Brian Kesinger’s Online Published Illustrated Novel Takes Off!

Otto and Victoria Illustrated novel

Most people into steampunk will know Mr Brian Kesinger‘s beautifully illustrated tales of Otto and Victoria.

Many of these fine works of art have been combined in two beautiful books, but now the artist has turned author and has started publishing an illustrated novel about the adventures of these two unlikely best friends!

A joy to follow for sure and you can do so right here!

Collector’s Library: Books from the Past, Today

Collector's Library

Collector’s Library has been around for over a decade, but sadly it isn’t very widespread, so high time we give the series the attention it so highly deserves.

You will not find very new books in this particular series, it is devoted entirely to publishing practical pocket versions of well-known and often well-loved classics dating from the classical times to the twentieth century, both as single issues and box sets.

But it’s not just that, these aren’t just practical portable editions. No, these are pocket-sized hardcover editions in the style of books back in the day.

Every book has the same kind of thin (but in no way flimsy!) paper you would see in the olden days with gilt edges. The covers are linen-bound, with removeable flap cover with vintage prints. They have a page ribbon bookmark and if an edition was originally illustrated, the Collector’s Library edition will often contain those illustrations also, but that depends from book to book.

These are not just a perfect way to carry around your favourite classic, or to collect real books when you have a shortage of space, rather than buy e-book versions, but they are contemporary pieces of history, giving people the opportunity to own books made in the same style as decades ago. Continue reading “Collector’s Library: Books from the Past, Today”

The World of Tomorrow: 1939 New York World’s Fair

The eyes of the Fair are on the future — not in the sense of peering toward the unknown nor attempting to foretell the events of tomorrow and the shape of things to come, but in the sense of presenting a new and clearer view of today in preparation for tomorrow; a view of the forces and ideas that prevail as well as the machines.

From the official 1939 New York World’s Fair pamphlet.