What exactly is dieselpunk? Lewis Pollak coined the name to characterize his tabletop roleplaying game, Children of the Sun. It has literary cousins like as steampunk and cyberpunk.
While cyberpunk is concerned with a speculative future (or, in some cases, the present), and steampunk is concerned with the Victorian era and the industrial revolution, most dieselpunk stories are derived from (or set in alternate history versions of) the interwar period between the outbreak of World War I and the end of World War II.
Dieselpunk, like steampunk and cyberpunk, is frequently obsessed with era technology. As professor Iolanda Ramos argues in her essay “Alternate World Building: Retrofuturism and Retrophilia in Steampunk and Dieselpunk Narratives,” this is the “grease of fuel-powered machinery.”
However, the subgenre, like cyberpunk and steampunk, is equally interested with how technology impacts society and vice versa. In some ways, the shadow of the two world wars looms large over most dieselpunk, making it a less positive genre than its Victorian counterpart.
As a form that was first named by a game designer, it seems only right that dieselpunk has made a strong impression in the world of gaming, both on the tabletop and the console. In fact, some of dieselpunk’s most mainstream success has been found in video games, where it can be seen in titles from Final Fantasy VII to BioShock and far beyond.
While cyberpunk as a subgenre owes its origins to novels, dieselpunk developed on the table and on the screen. However, that doesn’t mean that plenty of people weren’t also writing dieselpunk, both before we had a name for it and after.