Dieselpunk is science fiction that occurs between the two world wars, or takes place in a world where the 1940s never really ended. It’s often written deliberately pulpy and noirish, leaving character development in the dust of a wildly galloping plot. And fantasy elements are always welcome. For example, a gas-powered android could team up with a junkie psychic and a depressed vampire to solve the mystery of who’s sending all those severed limbs to the local police station.
Like steampunk, dieselpunk is often fan fiction for a specific era. It also tends to focuses on white Europeans and North Americans. Fortunately, there are small but growing movements called steamfunk and dieselfunk, which, in addition to having cool names, focus on non-whites actually having a place in the future and alternate histories.
For the world’s most thoughtful look at dieselpunk, check out Aja Romano’s Dieselpunk for Beginners.
June 1940. As Blitzkrieg burns through Europe, Corporal Jack Stone escapes Dunkirk by the skin of his teeth. Great Britain is now a stubborn little island that stands alone.
Recruited by Winston Churchill to lead a team of robot commandos—veteran machines of the Great War nicknamed the Tin Can Tommies—Jack must venture into battle once again on an audacious mission deep behind enemy lines. But with dissention in the ranks, a traitor in their midst, and Jack’s nemesis hot on his heels, the odds are stacked against them.
Whatever happens, the Tommies will be in the thick of it—but as time runs out Jack will find himself in a deadly battle for survival as he confronts not only the shadows of his past, but an enemy whose insidious plan for world domination threatens the freedom of mankind itself.
It’s been a thousand years since the strange and eerie Atomic Sea has grown to encompass nearly every body of salt water on the planet, killing or mutating all it touches. Its contamination has transformed the world, but no one knows what caused the change. Not until now.
Dr. Francis Avery drowns his memories in whiskey. Years after the Empire of Octung killed his family, his only drives are alcohol and striking back. While Avery is aboard a military whaling ship far out on the eerie Atomic Sea, a mysterious woman named Layanna is pulled from the toxic, lightning-wreathed depths of the water. Though it’s impossible, she’s alive, and she has a secret: she’s the only one who can stop Octung. But she’ll need Avery’s help to accomplish her mission. If they fail, the entire world will fall under Octung’s control.
“Wow… just… wow…”
—Some guy on amazon.com
Necropolis doesn’t take place between the world wars, but its retro-futurism and noir atmosphere give it a solid dieselpunk feel.
In a world where death is a thing of the past, how far would you go to solve your own murder? NYPD detective Paul Donner and his wife Elise were killed in a hold-up gone wrong. Fifty years later, Donner is back: revived courtesy of the Shift. Supposedly the unintended side-effect of a botched biological terrorist attack and carried by a ubiquitous retrovirus, the Shift jump-starts dead DNA and throws the life cycle into reverse, so reborns like Donner must cope with the fact that they are not only slowly youthing toward a new childhood, but have become New York’s most hated minority.
With New York quarantined beneath a geodesic blister, government and basic services have been outsourced by a private security corporation named Surazal. Reborns and infected norms alike struggle in a counterclockwise world, where everybody gets younger, you can see Elvis every night at Radio City Music Hall, and nobody has any hope of ever seeing the outside world.
Only some of the dead have returned, and Donner is haunted by revivers guilt. He becomes obsessed with finding out who killed him and his non-returning wife. Little does he know, strange forces have already begun tracking him. Donner isn’t the only one obsessed with the past.
“A wildly entertaining mish-mash of elements: a dystopian, retro-futurist, noir whodunit with generous dashes of humor, horror and romance. Necropolis is a dark, wild and tremendously fun ride.”
In 1944, as waves of German ninjas parachute into Kent, Britain’s best hopes for victory lie with a Spitfire pilot codenamed “Ack-Ack Macaque.” The trouble is, Ack-Ack Macaque is a cynical, one-eyed, cigar-chomping monkey, and he’s starting to doubt everything, including his own existence.
A century later, in a world where France and Great Britain merged in the late 1950s and nuclear-powered Zeppelins circumnavigate the globe, ex-journalist Victoria Valois finds herself drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the man who butchered her husband and stole her electronic soul. Meanwhile, in Paris, after taking part in an illegal break-in at a research laboratory, the heir to the British throne goes on the run.
And all along, the doomsday clock ticks towards Armageddon.
The McNaughton Corporation is the pinnacle of American industry. They built the guns that won the Great War before it even began. They built the airships that tie the world together. And, above all, they built Evesden—a shining metropolis, the best that the world has to offer.
But something is rotten at the heart of the city. Deep underground, a trolley car pulls into a station with eleven dead bodies inside. Four minutes before, the victims were seen boarding at the previous station. Eleven men butchered by hand in the blink of an eye. All are dead.
Now, one man, Cyril Hayes, must fix this. There is a dark secret behind the inventions of McNaughton, and with a war brewing between the executives and the workers, the truth must be discovered before the whole city burns. Caught between the union and the company, between the police and the victims, Hayes must uncover the mystery before it kills him.
Written in the breathless style of the classic pulps of the 1930s and 40s, Tales of the Red Panda: The Crime Cabal presents the masked protectors of Depression-Era Toronto battling gangsters, racketeers, corrupt officials and power-mad supervillains.
The heroes in this book are from The Red Panda Adventures, a full-cast audio drama podcast in the style of the adventure programs of radio’s golden age.
In 1942, an unlikely heroine changes the course of history. On the eve of invasion by the Nazis, twenty-two-year-old RAF pilot Veronica “Ronnie” Somerset is fighting another battle—winning respect within the stuffy, male-dominated British military. She’s determined to overcome every obstacle to become Britain’s first female combat pilot.
When Ronnie is re-assigned to Enysfarne, a mysterious Royal Navy base off the coast of Cornwall, fate places her inside the cockpit of the most revolutionary aircraft ever invented. Brilliant engineer Dr. Nigel Pennbridge has discovered quadra-hydrogen, an element that powers the DragonFly, a remarkable fighter-bomber that carries the hopes of Britain on its blue and silver wings.
Across the English Channel, Hitler’s personal sorcerer prepares his army of Blutskriegers for the invasion of Britain. The Blutskriegers are bio-mechanical warriors created by a Nazi occult science whose dark secrets cross the boundaries of evil.
Franklin Gamble’s entire world is governed by the mantra, “Silence is essential. Question nothing. Obey everything.” He faithfully performs his duties as a member of the Sovereign State, where rigid order has replaced the chaos of the past. But his dreams are haunted by visions of a family he can’t remember, and his waking moments haunted by the growing awareness that his world is a fabrication created by totalitarian oppressors who control every aspect of his existence.
After being contacted by the mysterious Coalition, Franklin is reluctantly persuaded to find the answers that elude him. His pursuit of truth puts him in a duel of wills against agents of the Sovereign, who use the machine of propaganda and the brutal terror of their Dogmen to smother any spark of rebellion. With time running out and his life at risk, Franklin must choose between defiance or submission, a decision that will either further imprison him…or shatter an Empire forever.
1952, America. The Great Depression never ate the country alive. WWII refuses to put out its raging fires. Every major city across the fifty states has been blown sky-high by blitzing.
The only choice the denizens of a war-torn Los Angeles have left is to plunge into the deep dark of the metro tunnels and make a new life in the ruins of the subway rails below—with elbow grease, neon, and blood. In the crumbling catacombs beneath Hollywood, an ex-private eye named Jim “Jimbo” Maynard scours the underworld for payoff on a gamble gone wrong, but stumbles instead on a subterranean metropolis divided by vice, vendettas, mysteries, and murder plots. In order to hunt down the butchers of two seemingly unrelated corpses, Jim will come up against warring mob bosses, backstabbing bookies, mad inventors, tin titans, bootleg rum-running, corrupted coppers, and electromagnetic revolvers.
“A Fistful of Nothing has style to spare. From the first page, the reader is plunged into a hardboiled patois as thick as molasses…”
— Pulp Inspiration
This book’s retro-futurism gives it a strong dieselpunk feel, even while it involves magic and vampires.
Johannes Cabal sold his soul years ago in order to learn the laws of necromancy. Now he wants it back. Amused and slightly bored, Satan proposes a little wager: Johannes has to persuade one hundred people to sign over their souls or he will be damned forever, this time for real. Accepting the bargain, Jonathan is given one calendar year and a traveling carnival to complete his task. With little time to waste, Johannes raises a motley crew from the dead and enlists his brother, Horst, a charismatic vampire to help him run his nefarious road show, resulting in mayhem at every turn.
“Witty, inventive, and thoroughly entertaining, this rollicking Faustian adventure grabs the reader and holds him until the very last page.”
— Tucson Citizen
There is a parallel-universe, Prohibition-era world of mooks and shamuses that is the twisted magic mirror to our bustling Big Apple. It is a place where sinister characters lurk around every corner while the great superheroes that once kept the streets safe have fallen into dysfunctional rivalries and feuds. No one knows anything about the real New York… until detective Rad Bradley makes a discovery that will change the lives of all its inhabitants.
“Adam Christopher’s debut novel is a noir, Philip K Dick-ish science fiction superhero story… As captivating as a kaleidoscope… just feel it in all its weird glory.”
— Cory Doctorow, New York Times bestselling author of Little Brother
Utopian pirate warriors of the diminutive Regency of Carnaro are the scourges of the Adriatic Sea, pillaging their European neighbors in the name of revolution. They are the mortal enemies of communists, capitalists, and even fascists (to whom they are not entirely unsympathetic).
The ambitious pirates are led by Lorenzo Secondari, World War I veteran and engineering genius; Frau Piffer, Syndicalist manufacturer of torpedoes at a factory run by and for women; the Ace of Hearts, a dashing Milanese aristocrat, spymaster, and tactical savant; and the Prophet, a seductive warrior-poet who leads via free love and military ruthlessness.
Fresh off of a worldwide demonstration of their might, can the pirates engage the aid of sinister American traitors and establish world domination?
“[B]izarre, chock-full of famous people in improbable situations, and wildly entertaining…”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In this New York Times bestseller, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt: the giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death and the other’s glory. Spectacular as it is, Sham can’t shake the sense that there is more to life than the endless rails of the railsea—even if his captain thinks only of hunting the ivory-colored mole that took her arm years ago. But when they come across a wrecked train, Sham finds something—a series of pictures hinting at something, somewhere, that should be impossible—that leads to considerably more than he’d bargained for. Soon he’s hunted on all sides, by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters and salvage-scrabblers. And it might not be just Sham’s life that’s about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea.
“Superb… massively imaginative.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Post-apocalyptic London is hunting again. Emerging from its hiding place in the hills, the great Traction City is chasing a terrified little town across the wastelands. Soon London will feed.
In the attack, Tom Natsworthy is flung from the speeding city with a murderous scar-faced girl. They must run for their lives through the wreckage — and face a terrifying new weapon that threatens the future of the world.
“[P]henomenal… violent and romantic, action-packed and contemplative, funny and frightening”
— The Sunday Times
Radiance takes place in a decopunk world, which is a subgenre of dieselpunk that takes place in alternate 1920s-ish Art Deco area.
Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.
But her latest film, which investigates the disappearance of a diving colony on a watery Venus populated by island-sized alien creatures, might be her last…
In Amberlough, amidst rising political tensions, three lives become intertwined with the fate of the city itself.
The Smuggler: By day, Aristide Makricosta is the emcee for Amberlough City’s top nightclub. By night, he moves drugs and refugees under the noses of crooked cops.
The Spy: Covert agent Cyril DePaul thinks he’s good at keeping secrets, but after a disastrous mission abroad, he makes a dangerous choice to protect himself… and hopefully Aristide, too.
The Dancer: Streetwise Cordelia Lehane, burlesque performer at the Bumble Bee Cabaret and Aristide’s runner, could be the key to Cyril’s plans―if she can be trusted.
As the twinkling marquees lights yield to the rising flames of a fascist revolution, these three will struggle to survive using whatever means―and people―necessary. Including each other.
In this first book of the YA Leviathan trilogy, an alternate World War I is fought by steampunk/dieselpunk machines and genetically-fabricated monsters. The Leviathan of the title is a massive whale airship, and the spunky heroine is Deryn, a Scottish girl with dreams of joining the British Air Service. Girls aren’t allowed, but she’s got a way around that.
“Enhanced by Thompson’s intricate black-and-white illustrations, Westerfeld’s brilliantly constructed imaginary world will capture readers from the first page. Full of nonstop action, this steampunk adventure is sure to become a classic.”
— School Library Journal (starred review)
In the high-flying, heady world of 1920s aviation, brash pilot Robert “Hitch” Hitchcock’s life does a barrel roll when a young woman in an old-fashioned ball gown falls from the clouds smack in front of his biplane. As fearless as she is peculiar, Jael immediately proves she’s game for just about anything, including wing-walking in his struggling airshow. In return for her help, she demands a ride back home… to the sky.
Hitch thinks she’s nuts—until he steers his plane into the midst of a bizarre storm and nearly crashes into a strange airship like none he’s ever run afoul of: an airship with the power to control the weather. Caught between a corrupt sheriff and dangerous new enemies from above, Hitch must take his last chance to gain forgiveness from his estranged family, deliver Jael safely home before she flies off with his freewheeling heart, and save his Nebraska hometown from storm-wielding sky pirates.
Berlin, 1964. The Greater German Reich stretches from the Rhine to the Urals and keeps an uneasy peace with its nuclear rival, the United States. As the Fatherland prepares for a grand celebration honoring Adolf Hitler’s 75th birthday and anticipates a conciliatory visit from US president Joseph Kennedy and ambassador Charles Lindbergh, a detective of the Kriminalpolizei is called out to investigate the discovery of a dead body in a lake near Berlin’s most prestigious suburb.
But when Xavier March discovers the identity of the body, he also uncovers signs of a conspiracy that could go to the very top of the German Reich. And with the Gestapo just one step behind, March, together with the American journalist Charlotte Maguire, is caught up in a race to discover and reveal the truth—a truth that has already killed, a truth that could topple governments, a truth that will change history.
6 thoughts on “19 Best Dieselpunk Books”
First I want to thank you for effort in compiling this list. However, I was surprised not to find SS GB by Len Deighton and The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (which I read about but actually didn’t read) included. I also found titles aren’t suitable to be included all such as Tales of the Red Panda: The Crime Cabal.
Second I was really intrigued by your description in the introductory paragraph about a novel containing (a gas-powered android could team up with a junkie psychic and a depressed vampire to solve the mystery of who’s sending all those severed limbs to the local police station), but didn’t find it in the list!! Thank you once again.
Thanks for your take on the list! The story I described in the intro doesn’t exist—it’s just an example of what could be a dieselpunk book.
another awesome list, thanks
I read the first Leviathan book and found it good, not amazing, but amusing.
But the second one I just couldn’t finish.
A shame, because the lore and ambientation are quite nice, but the storyline just wasn’t working for me.
Gonna try some of these other books on the list though, being a huge anythingpunk fan.
I’ve read Leviathan, I agree it’s pretty good
A lot of these aren’t dieselpunk. For example, Mortal Engines is post dystopian. Dieselpunk is supposed to be when the world is at war, and technology more or less retro-futuristic, and surpasses our own in some way. However, in Mortal Engines, it specifically states that their technology is not nearly as good as what it used to be. Just saying