SteamU: Dieselpunk 101 with Karen Kincy

Today at SteamU, I am pleased to welcome author Karen Kincy. SteamU Professor Kincy is the author the deiselpunk novel Shadows of Asphodel. Professor Kincy is giving us a freshman lecture on deiselpunk. If you are a fan of steampunk, take notes. Deiselpunk is governed by its own rules, and while it shares many commonalities with Steampunk, there are several unique features we should notice. Welcome, once again, to author Karen Kincy . . .

Today’s Lecture by SteamU Professor: Karen Kincy
Author of: Shadows of Asphodel
Further Discourses Available:
Office Hours:

Dieselpunk 101

by Karen Kincy

When you think of steampunk, what time period do you imagine? What country? What city?

Many of us would imagine Victorian England, particularly London. We might find our corseted heroine sipping tea aboard an airship, high above the steampowered smog, when a dastardly villain launches his clockwork flying monkeys from the Thames.

Or you, like me, might find Victorians a bit mundane. You might be inclined to travel—even travel through time. You say goodbye to Queen Victoria and hello to King Edward.

I’m fascinated by the time of King Edward’s reign, from 1901 to 1910, though the Edwardian Era often includes a few years after his death. Though that is, of course, an Anglocentric term. In France, for instance, arts and innovation flourished in La Belle Époque. This beautiful era lasted until the Great War.

As an author, where and when did I decide to go? Well, I had been researching the differences between steampunk and dieselpunk. Some said it was a simple matter of steam power vs. diesel power. Others said steampunk focused on Victorian aesthetics and technology, while dieselpunk explored the art deco militaristic feel of the World Wars.

Then a question occurred to me. Dieselpunk was named after Diesel. Rudolf Diesel, to be exact, the German engineer and inventor of the diesel engine. When was Diesel alive?

I hit the books and discovered Diesel was born in 1858, and died September 29, 1913 under mysterious circumstances. Diesel boarded the steamer Dresden on his way to England for a business meeting, but after he ate dinner and retired to his cabin for the night, he was never seen from again.

This, I thought, would make a damn good plot twist. Especially if Diesel didn’t die, but went on to build new inventions in an alternate history.

So I set my story in 1913. A bit early for dieselpunk, at first glance, but surely a book with Rudolf Diesel himself qualifies.

Steampunk, dieselpunk, atompunk. Each of these genres evokes the atmosphere of a particular slice of history. And each author takes this history and tinkers with it until it becomes slightly or wholly alternate.

(Granted, I tend to be strict with my own research and deviations from reality. Don’t get me started about rigid airships that ignore real zeppelins, which were immeasurably more awesome than anything fictional.)

I’m currently working on the sequel to my dieselpunk, and I’m researching all sorts of fascinating things about zeppelins, Prussia, and Nikola Tesla. That’s my recipe for dieselpunk… with the addition of some secret ingredients.

About the Author:

Karen Kincy (Redmond, Washington) can be found lurking in her writing cave, though sunshine will lure her outside. When not writing, she stays busy gardening, tinkering with aquariums, or running just one more mile. Karen has a BA in Linguistics and Literature from The Evergreen State College.
Karen is currently launching a Kickstarter campaign for the second novel in her series, Storms of Lazarus. A donation to her project earn you anything from an ebook to a character named after you! Truly, a worthy campaign. Stop by Kickstarter and check out her project!


  1. I think Steampunk can be any era. It's usually victorian, But I've seen some authors break out of that mold. I'm reading one series right now that is an alternate America after the civil war. And I just read one that was an alternate America after the revolutionary war. Both series are fab! I'm going to be searching for your books now that I know about them.

    1. You're right that the aesthetic can be used in lots of different settings. Generally the term "steam" is used to note the use of steam powered technology in place of the combustion engine. I've even seen steampunk stories set in dystopian settings. It really is a growing genre! Glad you found some great reads!

  2. Can you explain the kickstarter program? I don't understand,

    1. Kickstarter is an independent platform where artists can ask for backers for their projects. Karen is currently running a campaign to have her next book supported monetarily.