10 Best Dieselpunk Novels: Alternative Reality Fiction

Posted on Sep 15, 2023

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When it comes to speculative fiction, dieselpunk novels stand out for their distinctive blend of retro futuristic aesthetics, alternative history  and technological innovation. 

Rooted in the interwar period of the 20th century, these novels transport readers to worlds where high powered machinery, diesel engines and anachronistic technologies reign supreme. 

In this article, we will be providing a list of ten of the very best dieselpunk books that readers should check out. 

Each book on this list encapsulates the spirit of Dieselpunk, exploring themes of societal upheaval, political turmoil and the technology which all helps to define the genre. 

From epic adventures set in dystopian futures to alternate histories where mechs and airships dominate the skies, these novels are at the core of what dieselpunk is. 

This collection of the best dieselpunk novels includes:

  1. The Rocketeer by Dave Stevens
  2. The Sky is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith
  3. The Peshawar Lancers by S M Stirling
  4. Chasing the Dragon by Nicholas Kaufmann
  5. The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs
  6. The Mechanical Messiah and Other Marvels of the Modern Age by Robert Rankin
  7. The Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock
  8. Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding
  9. The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove
  10. The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis

Let’s explore them one by one.

1 – The Rocketeer by Dave Stevens

The Rocketeer takes readers on a thrilling dieselpunk adventure set against the backdrop of 1930s Los Angeles. The story centers on Cliff Secord, a daring pilot who discovers a mysterious rocket pack, inadvertently thrusting himself into a world of espionage, gangsters and high flying heroics. 

Dave Stevens’ graphic novel wonderfully captures the essence of the dieselpunk genre with its retro futuristic aesthetic, iconic art and charismatic characters. 

Cliff’s journey as the Rocketeer blends pulp style action with a touch of nostalgia, offering a timeless tale of courage and daring escapades in a beautifully rendered dieselpunk era work of fiction.

2 – The Sky is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith

The Sky Is Yours paints a vivid and imaginative dieselpunk world filled with dragons, airships and an array of characters full of eccentricities. 

Set in a dystopian future city consumed by decadence and decay, the novel tells the tale of societal collapse and reinvention. 

It follows the interconnected lives of its protagonists as they navigate a surreal landscape where luxury and danger coexist. 

Smith’s storytelling is a wonderful blend of dieselpunk aesthetics and light hearted fantasy, which results in an engrossing story that challenges conventional genre boundaries. 

3 – The Peshawar Lancers by S M Stirling

The Peshawar Lancers immerses readers in an alternate history where a catastrophic meteor strike reshapes the world in the 19th century. The British Empire survives in a dieselpunk influenced 21st century, with airships, vast engines and sword wielding cavalry. 

The novel follows a diverse cast of characters navigating a world which immerses readers all while blending elements of adventure, espionage and politics. 

Stirling’s extra attention to historical detail and building the world in which his characters inhabit, help to bring this dieselpunk vision to life.

4 – Chasing the Dragon by Nicholas Kaufmann

Chasing the Dragon invites its readers to join the story in a noir meets urban fantasy world set in 1940s New York. 

In this dieselpunk narrative, supernatural creatures and magic are real, hidden beneath the surface of everyday life.

The novel focuses on detective Nick “Saint” Safford as he takes a deep dive into a world of dark mysteries, conspiracies and otherworldly threats. 

Kaufmann skillfully blends gritty detective noir with elements of the mythical, creating a compelling atmosphere and a read that is in general particularly captivating. 

Chasing the Dragon offers a unique and interesting twist on the dieselpunk genre, combining together elements of the paranormal and the criminal underworld in a vividly imagined historical setting.

5 – The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs

The Incorruptibles mixes elements of the western genre with dieselpunk aesthetics in a fascinating hybrid alternate world. 

Set in a gritty frontier society where angels and demons influence daily life, the book follows a band of mercenaries navigating a treacherous landscape. 

Jacobs combines supernatural elements with themes of moral ambiguity, redemption and the clash of cultures, resulting in a gripping tale of adventure and survival. 

The Incorruptibles is noteworthy for its exciting and brave blend of genres, offering readers a fresh take on dieselpunk. 

6 – The Mechanical Messiah and Other Marvels of the Modern Age by Robert Rankin

The Mechanical Messiah and Other Marvels of the Modern Age is a comedic and satirical exploration of a dieselpunk infused England. 

The story takes readers on a whimsical journey through a world filled with absurd inventions, eccentric characters and outlandish contraptions. 

Rankin’s witty storytelling blends elements of alternative history with humor and steampunk aesthetics. 

This tale of mad inventors, quirky machines and unexpected adventures is a delightful tale of a jumbled up landscape, all told through a lens of irreverent humor and playful creativity.

7 – The Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock

The Warlord of the Air kicks off the Nomad of the Time Streams trilogy, transporting readers through an alternate dieselpunk history filled with intrigue. 

The novel follows Oswald Bastable, an English soldier who inexplicably time travels from World War I to various pivotal points in history. Moorcock’s narrative blends adventure, political commentary and a richly detailed alternate timeline. 

Bastable’s journey through time marked by diesel fueled technology and socio political shifts offers a thought provoking exploration of how historical forces can reshape the world. 

The Warlord of the Air sets the stage for a captivating dieselpunk odyssey in the books to come.

8 – Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

Retribution Falls launches the swashbuckling Tales of the Ketty Jay series, offering a thrilling blend of airship adventures, heists and dieselpunk aesthetics. 

Set in a dieselpunk inspired world, the story introduces Captain Darian Frey and his crew of misfits as they navigate a world of sky piracy, political infighting and technological wonders. 

Wooding’s book is a great mix of action, humor and character driven storytelling, with each crew member harboring secrets and motivations that add depth to the plot. 

9 – The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove

The Guns of the South is a thought provoking alternate history novel with strong dieselpunk elements. Set during the American Civil War, it imagines a scenario where time travelers supply the Confederacy with advanced weaponry, altering the course of the conflict. 

Turtledove really takes his time to explore the consequences of this change on the battlefield and society, resulting in both a gripping tale of war and politics. 

The novel dives deep into the moral and ethical dilemmas of technological intervention, offering a compelling dieselpunk narrative that combines historical depth with speculative intrigue, challenging readers to reflect on the complexities of time and war.

10 – The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis

The Mechanical is the opening volume in The Alchemy Wars trilogy, offering an excellently crafted dieselpunk world where clockwork automatons have achieved sentience. 

In an alternate history where the Dutch Empire reigns supreme, the novel explores themes of free will, oppression and rebellion. 

The story follows Jax, a mechanical man, as he navigates a world on the brink of revolution. Tregillis skillfully combines his talent for world building with both deep philosophical questions and a thrilling action tale. 

All of which results in an excellently told story that reimagines history through the lens of dieselpunk technology.

Have these dieselpunk books inspired you?

As we can see from the above list, what constitutes dieselpunk is a broad spectrum. A sign that a genre is healthy and thriving is that the writers working within it feel comfortable combining and mixing genres together.

This in turn advances the original genre and helps to codify and establish a set of sub genres.

All of this has resulted in dieselpunk establishing itself as one of the most interesting spaces to write in at present, and the 10 books we have discussed today are a perfect showcase of exactly that.

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