A question of techniques and fuel

"We steampunkers" make a difference between steampunk and dieselpunk. Strictly technical, that is weird. Steam engines can very well be fueled by diesel. The diesel heats the water, thus making steam. Almost any fuel can be used to heat water and generate steam.

With a steam engine, it is possible to make electricity. With electricity, most aspects of cyberpunk are covered. Is it the absence of steam that makes the difference?

Or rather: what are the very (blurred) borders of steampunk and dieselpunk (and all other subgenres like sailpunk, cyberpunk, atompunk and so on)?


  • An excellent question, and one probably not easily answered with so many stories created and published every day that blur the lines ever further.

    Though if I was absolutely forced to make distinctions between the various punks, I'd go with something like:

    STEAMpunk is not so much an alternate history but visions of a modern world where the internal combustion engine never gained the popularity of efficiency of the steam engine. Either through mechanical invention or through some kind of new and/or magical means. Other things like imperialism and old country borders are just fluff for the various stories, the heart of steampunk is that the modern world is recreated with the power of boiling water and not burning oil.

    DIESELpunk, to me, is much more an alternate history. The world is usually an alternate WW2 or Cold War with either real technology or fanciful depictions of said real world stuff. I'm not too well versed on Diesel stuff, so that's all I really know on the matter.
  • Moving this to "Out of the Past".
  • I agree with Actaeon, sort of. As far as Dieselpunk is concerned, it may typically be more "alternate history" indeed, where Steampunk is usually set in the 19th century, with obviously more advanced technology but it doesn't seem to alter history all that much.

    But the genres aren't different in their main source of power alone. They're both influenced and inspired by different original sources. For Steampunk, these are 19th century Scientific Romances and Voyages Extraordinaries--the works of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, etc. For Dieselpunk, it's mid-century pulp fiction and film noir. Most of Dieselpunk features an alternate WW2 where Germany was typically able to profit from more advanced technologies of war, so Dieselpunk is much more about war too where Steampunk is much more adventure.
  • I think that one of the main difference between the two is the focus.
    Steampunk usually focuses on an individual, or a group, that happens to live in a steampunk universe.

    Dieselpunk is far more focused on politics and other wide-ranging subjects, where the protagonists seem to be more of a vessel in which to view the world in. This may be why the dystopia of it all is more noticible; it goes out of it's way to show off, while in a steampunk dystopia, unless the main character is directly affected (like in Mortal engines) he/she is blissfully unawares, and so might you be.
  • Interesting. I hadn't yet considered that difference, but you're quite right. Steampunk does tend to be much more character-focused, while Dieselpunk often offers a depiction of all of society, or at least part of it.
  • edited February 2008
    Behind a good steampunk story might be a world-wide political concept, as in The Difference Engine and in Mozart in Mirrorshades.

    I think it's a bit weird to talk about "alternate history" and "WW2" when there are other worlds of artists that are steampunk or dieselpunk, but do not contain any of the big issues from our world from these times. It think it's more the "look and feel" than the real thing of Victoriania and the Interbellum.

    And I was thinking along the lines what if steampunk was fuelled by oil instead of coals and wood?
  • You're right--the difference between steam- and dieselpunk isn't great. Then again, what, save for the obvious technological differences, makes cyberpunk so much different from dieselpunk? Cyberpunk and steampunk seem further apart though, so somehow not only in terms of setting is dieselpunk the "midstation" between steam- and cyberpunk, but also in terms of... style, perhaps?
  • Ottens, that's exactly how I organize the three in my head.
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