See: I’ve no idea what I’m doing. But I’m having too much fun to stop.
The past nine years of (mostly) doing NaNoWriMo have seen a few of the biggest changes of my life ever, including uprooting my life to move to the other part of the country, scrubbing a lot of the things I’d wanted for my life in my early twenties and trying to fit all the things I want now, in my early thirties, into this newfound, brave new world. My NaNo stories have, for the most part, followed the changes in tone.
Still, one of the side effects of doing NaNo for almost a decade (!) is that I’m now more prone than ever to write into the dark (as this author curiously puts it), to stick my head and my typing fingers right into something I’ve never done in my whole life, and try out new things, shiny and chrome and, well, terrifying.
Let’s take, for example, the setting and genre description of the novel I’m working on this year. You’d have thought a writer would need to have at least a basic understanding of a literary genre before they plunge into it for a novel, wouldn’t you? Or, at the very least, you’d have expected them having at least read something, anything, in said genre before attempting to write in it?
Thus it came to pass that the evening of the second day of NaNo 2019 and the morning of the third (that is, until a few minutes ago) I invested a good chunk of time into trying to find out what, exactly, is this dieselpunk I’ve been hearing of, on and off through the years, mostly as the next chronological step after steampunk. (Which is a lie, imho. If there’s enough steam in a setting for it to be steampunk, there would never have been enough opportunity for diesel or petrol to come into play on a larger scale, anyway—because you’d already have extraordinary technology, one which could only be advanced into something else, but still steamy.)
This is where the mock blurb for my 2019 NaNo novel comes into play: Bomb Girls meets The Summer Queen meets Northern Lights meets six years of studying architecture and art history.
Several things are visible from this description—but it’s mostly apparent that I’m more of a history fan than a technology fan (neither of the inspirational works I cite above focus on any kind of tech, and even the TV show which has a piece of technology in its title, in a way—bomb—revolves around the human element, around interpersonal relationships and the way a war—albeit a distant one—changes the world around you, slowly and subtly.)
Why, then, did I decide to stick the “dieselpunk” label to the story? Why did I embark into the unknown, with a little help from Wikipedia and a bit more help from TV Tropes?
What is, after all, dieselpunk? And why, in the name of Lord Asriel, does my storyline fit so little of its supposed defining elements? It’s set in 1945, check. One of it’s main ideas is to explore the many and varied after effects of war, check. There’s even a certain amount of anachronistic technology, although at this moment, the morning of the thrid day of NaNo, I cannot say with any amount of conviction that the tech would, ideed, be powered by diesel or any fuel even remotely linked with it. (It’s, umm, mostly urban fantasy, just in 1945.)
But the one thing where the story I’ve begun laying out differs from almost every definition of the dieselpunk genre I’ve found online—almost every, but not all, because that’s the fun thing about literature—is that Johnny’s Girls plot and main characters have, basically, already given up on any notion that there’s something better, something more optimistic, something to hope for in the vast, uncharted future. If they went to an Expo, they would probably stick to the shadows and try to figure out what’s wrong before somebody stabbes them in the back from the deeper shadows behind them. If somebody handed them an infinite, ethical and affordable source of power, they’d say “No, thank you” and proceed to the exit, knowing there’ s a catch™, because there always had been one, in their lives before.
So the question is—can I even use the term dieselpunk to describe a setting and its plot which, apparently, has as little to do with the genre as my first werewolf novel had to do with steampunk?*
Because I’m a writer, first and foremost. Because it all comes back to my being a sucker for The First Avenger, and, even further back, to my personal preference of the interbellum aesthetic over almost any other period of history. (The 1870s are not that bad, either, but the hairstyles and the tailoring of the 1930s and 40s are the one thing which is bound to make my little fangirl heart beat faster.) And because, unfortunately, most of the forties-inspired work I’ve had the privilege of seeing and reading in my life so far had been suffused with other genres—any other genre, actually, rather than sci-fi. Which is such a shame.
And dieselpunk is, after all, just one of the ways I’ve personally chosen to describe this novel I’ll be putting all the work into during the next thirty days. (The story will probably require even more than that, ungh.) To be honest, it’s the shortest term I could think of to say “1945 sci-fi”.
And now, let’s write on and see what the punk part of the label is supposed to mean to me, especially since the next scene, the one I’m just about to write, is one MC asking the other MC to the dance floor while the band’s playing something slow.
*(It’s a funny thing, actually, but we’ve labeled the early version of Izazov krvi as steampunk, indeed, when we’d first agreed to have it published. Silly me.)