Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Dieselpunk Lexicon Part 6: Decodence

At the end of a movie your date says to you, "That movie reminded me of a Film Noir." The protagonist in the novel you're reading talks like Sam Spade even though it’s set in the 21st century. The art found in a comic book, although it’s set in the far future, resembles New York of the Roaring Twenties. Although the television show you’re watching is set in the 1940s it’s has robots and rocket ships. You’re buying groceries and the gentlemen in line in front of you talking on his Bluetooth is wearing a double-breasted suit and a fedora. You learn that this year’s production of Richard III at Shakespeare in the Park is set in the 1930s.

Decodence is a portmanteau of the words 'deco' and 'decadence'. It’s when the essence of the 1920s - 40s, either implied or explicit, is present. Decodence can be explicit when a movie is set in the Diesel Era. Or it can be implied when Diesel Era tropes appear outside of that time period. Decodence can be found not only in works of fiction but also in industrial design, fashion, architecture, and interior design. Modern decodence infused creations are often labeled 'retro' or 'vintage.'
Dieselpunk Movie Richard III (1995) Explicit Decodence
Dieselpunk Movie Batman (1989) Implied Decodence
Dieselpunk Marketing, Speakeasy Metropolis Lager, Implied Decodence
Dieselpunk Industrial Design, Rolls Royce Jonckheere Aerodynamic Coupe ll, Implied Decodence

Dieselpunk Fashion, Ralph Lauren 2012, Implied Decodence

I highly recommend the blog post by the Dieselpunk Founding Father Nick Ottens titled ‘Decodence.’

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Dieselpunk Lexicon Part 5: Lovecraftian

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” - H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

A dark, ominous sense of dread. An ancient book with bizarre drawings and script. What’s this passage behind the walls? A staircase that travels down deep into the bowels of the earth. Something alien lurks in the darkness. Ancient and evil. A descent into madness.

Lovecraftian refers to a genre of fiction credited to H.P. Lovecraft during the 1920s and 30s. Rather than focusing of gore and shock, Lovecraftian horror focuses on a world-view called ‘cosmicism’ in which everyday life is believed to be just a veneer over a meaningless and alien reality that if fully revealed would drive a person insane.
H.P. Lovecraft

Some of the most common tropes of Lovecraftian horror are:

Great Old Ones - The beings first appeared in Lovecraft’s novella ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ (1931) but were already hinted at in the early short story ‘Dagon.’

Cthulhu - Cthulhu is in many ways a personification of the extreme nihilist vision of cosmicism. Cthulhu was first introduced in his short story The Call of Cthulhu published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales in 1928. In the story he described it as ‘A monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus- like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind.’

Necronomicon - A fictional grimoire capable of awakening Cthulhu and bringing the apocalypse. It was first mentioned in Lovecraft’s 1924 short story ‘The Hound’, written in 1922. Though its purported author, the ‘Mad Arab’ Abdul Alhazred, had been quoted a year earlier in Lovecraft’s ‘The Nameless City’.

I highly recommend HP Lovecraft: The Mysterious Man Behind the Darkness by Charlotte Montague.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Dieselpunk Lexicon Part 4: Retrofuturism

The term 'retrofuturism' was coined by T.R. Hinchcliffe for his book Retro-Futurism, published in 1967  by Penguin Press. In 1983, avant-garde artist Lloyd John Dunn resurrected the term and published a magazine by the same name dedicated to Xerox Art that ran from 1987 to 1993.

Elizabeth Guffey and Kate C. Lemay in their article "Retrofuturism and Steampunk" published in the Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction, provides a good definition of retrofututism. They wrote, "Retrofuturism can be defined as an ambivalent fascination for a future that never came to pass. But, by engaging the popular strain of Futurism that thrived from the later nineteenth century through the 1970s, the term usually applied to an array of pop-culture ephemera from the early to mid-twentieth century, from robot toys to shark finned hovercrafts, pulp magazine covers to architectural utopias."

Pawel Frelik wrote in his essay "The Future of the Past: Science Fiction, Retro, and Retrofuturism", published in the Parabolas of Science Fiction, "The prefix "retro" may be used very liberally nowadays, but for the purpose of discussion I understand retrofuturism, or science fictional retroism, as a practice that specifically exploits the tensions between ideas about the future from our historical past - either actual predictions or fictions in time - and notions of futurity expressed in contemporary narratives." He goes on to write, "Retrofuturism, I suggest, refers to the text's vision of the future, which comes across as anachronistic in relation to contemporary ways of imagining it."

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow as well as Blade Runner, both mentioned by Frelik in his essay, are certainly examples of Dieselpunk Retrofuturism. However, neither Pan's Labyrinth nor Raiders of the Lost Ark, both Dieselpunk movies, are retrofuturist for they both lack a "vision of the future".

Dieselpunk Movie "Blade Runner": Retrofuturism

Dieselpunk Movie "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow": Retrofuturism

A good rule of thumb is that all diesel-era style or themed retrofuturism is Dieselpunk but not all Dieselpunk is diesel-era style or themed retrofuturism.

Dieselpunk Movie "Pan's Labyrinth": Not Retrofuturism

Dieselpunk Movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark": Not Retrofututism

I highly recommend Pawel Frekik's essay "The Future of the Past: Science Fiction, Retro, and Retrofuturism" published in the Parabolas of Science Fiction.

Click here to hear a spirited discussion about Dieselpunk and retrofuturism.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Dieselpunk Lexicon Part 3: Neo-Noir

A private investigator walks down a dark alley. It may be 1946 or 2016. The year doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the sense of helplessness and alienation that hangs in the air. Dread and passion co-exists. Memories of a pretty face filled with desperation.

Neo-Noir is the modern day heir to the classic noir of the 1940s and 50s. While Neo-Noir may not use the same cinematography as Film Noir, with its heavy emphasis on German Expressionism, it does contains the same sense of alienation, hopelessness moral ambiguity and desperation found in Film Noir while adding postmodern angst and often an existential search for meaning while living in a meaningless world.

Examples of Neo-Noir are:
L.A. Confidential

Blade Runner

Body Heat

Sin City

A great book on Neo-Noir is ‘The Philosophy of Neo-Noir’ edited by Mark T. Conrad.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Dieselpunk Lexicon Part 2: Manhattanism

People packed into urban spaces like sardines, living on top of each other. Life is as much vertical as it is horizontal. Skyscrapers seem to literally reach for the sky. Glass, steel and asphalt has chased away Mother Nature.The city is alive with it’s own heartless soul that never sleeps. The city no longer just a city. It’s become The City.

This extreme vision is known as ‘Manhattanism’, which was a term coined in 1978 by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. In his book, Delirious New York, Koolhaas wrote, "Manhattanism is the one urbanistic ideology that has fed, from its conception, on the splendors and miseries of the metropolitan condition—hyper-density—without once losing faith in it as the basis for a desirable modern culture. Manhattan’s architecture is a paradigm for the exploitation of congestion."

Manhattanism is a theme that appears in a lot of Dieselpunk creations. The most famous being the proto-Dieselpunk movie 'Metropolis', which became the theme for so many Dieselpunk cities.

Metropolis (movie), 1927

Hugh Ferriss, The Metropolis of Tomorrow (book), 1929

Just Imagine (movie), 1930

Batman (movie), 1989
New Cap City from Caprica (television), 2010

Metropolis in DC Comics
Click here for an interesting online article about Manhattanism, Star Wars and Metropolis.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Dieselpunk Lexicon: Part 1 Alternate History

This is the first of a series exploring some of the core dieselpunk concepts.

What if Hitler had died in the gas attack on his trenches of World War 1? What if FDR had died from polio, like so many did at the time, rather than lived? What if Lord Halifax had not stepped down and had signed a peace treaty with Hitler?

Alternate history, also known as counterfactual history, are common in the dieselpunk genre.

According to Jeremy Black and Donald M. MacRaild, in their book Studying History, counterfactual history is, "at the very root, the idea of conjecturing on what did not happen, or what might have happened, in order to understand what did happen."

Dieselpunk novel "Man in the High Castle" written by Philip K Dick, now an award winning series on Amazon Prime
Sometimes the world resulting from counterfactual history are very similar to ours while others are dramatically different. According to William R Forstchen, in his introduction to the classic If the Allies Had Fallen the counterfactual timeline that creates an alternative world (known as a ‘uchronia’), "enables us to seriously contemplates how, at times, the decision of but one person can change the world, impacting our lives for the better or worse - if indeed we would have a world at all."

Click here for an interesting blog dedicated to counterfactual history.

Click here for an online list of novels based on counterfactual history

Click here for the web site of the The Sidewise Awards for Alternate History, which awards the best counterfactual history

Do you want to write a counterfactual history story? Here’s a good article on what to avoid

Sunday, September 4, 2016

A Change of Focus - Continued

In my last blog post I wrote about how my wife had inspired me to rethink the central focus of Dieselpunk from changing the past to changing the present and hence the future. In keeping with this reorientation, I’ve decided to make some changes to my blog.

Previously I had in my heading the following: “Celebrating All Things Dieselpunk”. While I still plan on do so here, I thought that heading needed to be updated for my new focus. So it now reads, “Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past.”

In addition, I’ve rewritten my statement “What is Dieselpunk?” from “Dieselpunk is a subculture and style that combines the zeitgeist of the 1920s through the 1940s with postmodern sensibilities”. It now reads, “Dieselpunk is a mashup of modern ideas with the style and spirit of the 1920s through the early 1950s. The goal is to combine the zeitgeist of the past with today's ideas in order to build a better tomorrow.”

Rolls Royce Jonckheere Aerodynamic Coupe ll concept by Ugur Sahin Design