Dieselpunk: an Anthology
Dieselpunk: an Anthology
Copyright © 2012 by
Twit Publishing LLC
All authors retain copyrights to the works of fiction contained herein.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.
For information address: Twit Publishing 5750 La Vista Dallas, Texas 75206 or email Craig Gabrysch at [email protected]
The following works are works of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
This book is dedicated to the fans of Dieselpunk.
by Larry Amyett
by C S Nelson
by Gary Madden
by Lara Ek
by Jeremy Simmons
by Jack Philpott
by Nick Keller
by Frank R Sjodin
by Craig Gabrysch
By Larry Amyett
It’s safe to say that “dieselpunk” isn’t a familiar word to most people. Therefore, the reader may be curious about the meaning of the title to this anthology of short stories.
Just as physicists prefer simple scientific formulas, the best definition of dieselpunk is also quite simple. Dieselpunk is a subculture and genre that combines the aesthetics of the era that begins shortly before the end of WWI through the 1940s with the sensibilities of today. Buried within this simple definition are three basic elements that combine to form an extremely varied, flexible, and powerful phenomenon.
First, we need to look at the meaning of the prefix of “diesel-“ in dieselpunk. Though it might appear to be a simple reference to the internal combustion engine, the prefix is actually a metaphor for the cultural elements that are commonly associated with the 1920s through the 1940s. Diesel represents zeppelins, P-51 Mustangs, and vintage cars. It represents private eyes, gangsters, and all-powerful capitalists. In diesel, we find the Golden Age of Burlesque, the Golden Age of Radio, and the Golden Age of Movies. It’s within diesel that we find zoot suits, fedoras, and flappers.
However, if that’s all there was to dieselpunk then it would be nothing more than a study of history. The next component to consider is the contemporary nature of dieselpunk. The before mentioned “diesel” elements provide source material by which something new is created. While dieselpunks dearly love the cultural productions and learning the history of the 1920s through the 1940s, to the point of being a near obsession by many, they serve as inspiration. Dieselpunks want to take the zeitgeist of the past and create something original and unexpected.
Dieselpunk would be incomplete if this was all it was because it would limit it to being reenactment or imitation. The ‘-punk’ suffix in dieselpunk opens it up to infinite possibilities. To understand why, one has to look at the etymology of the word “punk.”
Historically, the use of the word punk has changed through the years, but in all cases that usage shares a common theme of meaning either an outsider or something (or someone) lacking in value. In the play
All’s Well That Ends Well
by Shakespeare, the bard used the term in reference to a well-dressed prostitute. There’s also the insult of calling a troublesome youth a “young punk.” Many associate the word with the punk subculture of the 1970s and the 1980s with its anarchistic elements, rebellion against mainstream culture, and a reputation for supporting the outcast and the working class. However, the punk subculture wasn’t the last manifestation of the word. The word “punk” has continued to evolve. An example of a contemporary meaning is if one is a victim of a practical joke then that person has been “punk’d.” This new use of the word still involves something out of the norm, which is in keeping with its historical meaning.
This review of the etymology of the word allows us to understand that the “-punk” suffix in dieselpunk infuses it with a counter-cultural pressure to go against the mainstream. In fashion, it rebels against the contemporary trend towards casual dress as represented by the popularity of “business casual,” which in the past would have been an oxymoron, by incorporating archaic fashion elements such as fedoras, vests, and wing-tip shoes. Dieselpunk music often fuses swing or jazz along with other forms of music popular during the Diesel Era (a shorthand term used by dieselpunks to mean the 1920s through the 1940s) with modern styles such as rock or electronica. Movies adopted by the dieselpunk community reimagine the past to include science-fiction elements as in the iconic dieselpunk movie
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
, or fantasy such as the widely popular
Raiders of the Lost Ark
, or to create alternative worlds such as the horror movie
. However, dieselpunk isn’t limited to fantasy, horror, or science fiction. It also includes movies such as the cinematic production of
where anti-heroes consisting of murderers, unscrupulous lawyers, and corrupt officials are celebrated as opposed to the mainstream treatment in which they are condemned.
This brings us to this fantastic anthology of dieselpunk fiction collected here by Twit Publishing. Much like dieselpunk cinema, dieselpunk fiction includes science fiction, horror, fantasy, alternative history, or simply a rebellious counter-cultural statement all viewed through the lens of the Diesel Era. The common theme that makes each story dieselpunk is that in each case it includes the three components found buried within the simple definition of dieselpunk. All of the stories are set shortly before the end of WWI through the 1940s, or include the aesthetics of that time. They are all contemporary in origin, and they all involve a reimagining of the era with the goal of creating something new and original.
So sit back in your favorite chair, play some classic Benny Goodman big band swing music on your modern MP3 or CD player, and brace yourself to have your mind opened to a past that might have been, but never was.
Founder of North Texas Dieselpunks
By C S Nelson
Kennedy felt the bite of the chilly morning air, the burnt coffee aroma of diesel exhaust coating the back of his throat. He stood at the Thrifty’s drugstore on the corner of Sixth and Main across from the Greyhound station, watching a young mother tugging at her boy. He thought the little demon was probably bundled too hot for Los Angeles, but then again, it was January, windy, and who the hell was he to say how a mother should dress her kid?
The boy held up one mittened hand and waved. Kennedy hesitated, smiled. Finally, he tipped his hat at both tike-o-bundle and mom. All it gained him in return was mom’s pursed stiff upper lip and poor junior damn near getting his little arm torn off when his mom yanked him away. Kennedy didn’t pay them any mind. Hell, he would’ve probably done the same in her shoes. These were unsafe times.
Something was brewing in the streets. It was more than just crooked cops whitewashing Don Dragna’s circus of vice, terror, and greed. More than Mayor Frank Shaw’s hand being greased by both the mafia godfather and LAPD kickbacks. No, there was a stew of some dark substance just beneath the surface, bubbling with a plot that everyone could feel. Just no one wanted to talk about it.
Kennedy turned to face the wind, one eye on the traffic and the other on the bus depot across the street. A blue and silver Greyhound swung tight around the docks, handled in only the way that a skilled bus jockey could.
And there she was: Ms. Charlie Shaw, estranged daughter of Mayor Shaw himself, in her tilted hat, tweed long coat, and black traveling gloves. Kennedy’s pulse bumped up a beat; she was beautiful.
Her skin was ceramic, lips full, but not in that pouty sort of way that most of the boys went for these days. Hers was a wider mouth, the kind that made the room light up when she smiled. She had high cheekbones and dark hair that he suspected would fall in cascading curls over her shoulders in a nice evening gown. He couldn’t see her eyes beneath the hat brim, but that only added to her mystique, making Kennedy thirst for more. He let his eyes wander down to her shapely legs and that’s where he had to stop based on his own conflict-of-interest clause.
“Jeez, check out the chassis on that one . . .” a voice muttered beside him.
Sal, just stand there and breathe through your nose, wouldja?” Kennedy didn’t bother to look at his partner who had apparently taken advantage of the moment to sidle up beside him. “But yes, you are correct, pal. She’s a doll.”
Easy job. Just gotta make sure she gets home safe and stop her before she don’t, right?”
A slurping sound finally made Kennedy turn towards his partner. His stoic expression crumbled into one of dismay.
“You can’t be serious, Sal. Ice cream? It’s the middle of winter, for Christ’s sake!”
The shorter Italian stared wide-eyed at Kennedy and licked, flat-tongued and boorish, taking out the middle of the vanilla cone in
one swipe. He smacked and then licked at his thick mustache
, cleaning the duster thoroughly of white cream before pausing to tilt the demolished cone at his partner.
Watch your mouth. I’m Catholic, remember? Here. Want the rest?”
Yeah, that’s what Marie says, too, only she always kisses me after insulting me.”
Kennedy turned to watch Charlie Shaw lug a monstrosity of a trunk behind her, pulling with both hands, until some two jackanapes hopped to and offered to help. Kennedy smiled at the way she turned them away.
“Attagirl. Independent and careful. Now,
I can respect.”
So how’s about it?” Sal asked.
How’s about what?”
Kennedy turned to stare hard at Sal. “What in the hell are you talking about?”
“You insult my Lord, turn down my ice cream, and then call me names. I want my kiss now.”
Salvatore Marchegiani was once a New York cop that had moved west as part of a federal anti-gang initiative … and because his wife and girls were gonna be in the films one day. That was ten years ago, but he never failed to make every moment as grand as their first uncomfortable days together on the force. Kennedy rolled his eyes but had to smile. “Sal, you slay me. I ain’t giving you no kisses.”
“Oh well, would you kiss
, then?” Sal asked, turning back to watch as Ms. Shaw — who had apparently hailed a cab — manhandled her chest to the back of the car without help.
That hack oughta be canned for that shit,” Kennedy said. Hard to believe a cabby in L.A. didn’t have the manners to assist a young lady. He was all about her being tough and independent, but there was a line to be drawn at some point and cabbies should help the ladies. That’s just the way it was. This one didn’t even get out of the car. That just wasn’t kosher in his book. Damned hacks.
Well?” Sal asked, still watching with Kennedy as Charlie Shaw walked around to the front of the cab.
Would you kiss doll, there?”
Yeah,” he said half-dreaming, “yeah, I think I would, Sal.”
Sal turned to address Kennedy’s profile, “Well then we can use some mathematical Laws of Associations and I can just get your indirect kiss di-rectly from
lips . . .”
Kennedy faced him, flabbergasted. “Jesus wept, Sal! Wouldja knock it off, already? I’ll tell Marie to kiss your dago ass tonight if that’ll make you happy.”
Sal seemed to mull it over.“Yeah, okay, but can we stop all this talk about vulgar moments and whatnot? She’s gettin’ away.”
Kennedy turned abruptly back to the now moving Buick and swore under his breath.
“Come on!” he yelled, holding his hat down while he and the shorter Salvatore Marchegiani beat pavement to the next red light where they commandeered their own hack from — woe and behold — the same prudish mother and her tike-o-bundle with the rosy cheeks.
Sorry, lady! Official business,” Sal yelled, holding up his wallet. He waved his California driver’s license like a federal badge. She stamped her feet and said something that never made it through the wall of sound from the hack’s straight-eight banger.
Kennedy passed a handful of bills to their driver with instructions that the cabbie was all too happy to oblige. The taxi shot out into traffic like a rocket and clattered after Ms. Shaw’s cab, eating up the pavement until they were only two blocks apart.
The two detectives relaxed in the backseat and settled in for a long ride to Santa Monica. That was where Mayor Frank L. Shaw liked to hang his hat when not working at scraping revenue out of a terrified public. It was where his little girl had grown up; the structure she called home. A Spanish hacienda of stucco and red roof tile right there where Route 66 ended and the Pacific surf began.
And then Charlie’s cab took a sharp right and headed due north along a web of streets and highway legs.
“Say … where’s she going off to?” Sal asked.
I guess we’re gonna find out.”
Ahhh, hell’s bells. Here we go.”
Sal preferred to be home for linguini by five. Kennedy knew that his partner already felt a long nighter coming on. He was sorry for him, too, but they had a job and it paid well. In the back of his mind, Kennedy also knew that not everything was okay on the Marchegiani home front. Marie had taken ill and it was hard on the whole family, but more so on her husband who was as smitten as the day they met. Sal didn’t talk about the doctor’s prognosis, but Kennedy had a feeling it was a lot worse than the grip.
“I’ll make it up to you, pal.”
Yeah, sure. I know you’re good for it, boss.”
An hour later, the civil engineering machine that was L.A. County kicked them out onto Route 395, straight for the Owens Valley water district where Mayor Frank L. Shaw was sucking the life out at thousands of gallons a day. Their own cab shadowed Ms. Charlie Shaw from a discreet distance, far enough away from her father and his piebald mob that the threat of L.A. politics and skullduggery became a fading itch in the face of the bleak road ahead. They pushed towards a place where some men dream of expansion at dimes an acre; others nurse fears of the reported three days a human body can go without water if he sits lizard-still in the shade and breathes through his nose: the Mojave.
Soon, tumbleweeds and boulder outcroppings lined the new highway shoulder. Civilization faded to a tiny backdrop even further removed by the dropping fuel gauge and absence of service stations. Desert dust soon overwhelmed the musty smell of the cab’s leather interior and the driver’s eyes shifted from roadside debris to the two dicks in the backseat.
Hey, mister. I’m at half a tank now. I got the day to drive you, but I ain’t goin’ much farther unless you know a fill’er-up somewheres ahead,” the driver said.
Yeah-yeah, buddy. I gotcha. Here.” Kennedy passed up a twenty and the hack’s eyes relaxed considerably. Kennedy sighed and sat back. Sal regarded him with a raised eyebrow but said nothing. They both knew that was a lot of change to be tipping a hack.
You got it, mister. We’re still gonna need gas, though. I wanna be home for dinner or my ole lady’ll start in on me. Thinks I’m ballin’ some tomato up at the Wilshire District.”
Sal leaned forward with a smile. “So are you?”
“What? Me? Aw, shucks, you’re too kind. Naw, I love my baby. Lucky to have her.”
Hey, you ain’t gotta sell me on that one. Me and my Marie are—”
!” The cabbie stood up on the brakes and both men braced for impact. The hack shot forward again, tossing them hard back into their seats.
Kennedy started, “Hey! What’s the big—”
“Hold on,” Sal said, cutting Kennedy off with a hand on his sleeve. Sal and the cabbie stared straight ahead at an empty point in the desert. Charlie’s hack had vanished.
What is it? I missed it,” Kennedy looked out the window and craned his head around the cabby’s.
Mister, you want me to follow her down there?” The driver asked nervously.
Sal answered with a slap on the back of the front seat, “Yeah-yeah! Keep going, bud!”
“Where?!” Kennedy yelled. He didn’t see where Charlie’s cab had disappeared to in the desert. “Where the hell did she go, Sal?”
Watch. Right … there.”
The driver steered the Buick left onto a desert road that suddenly dipped into the ground, a sort of canal concealed beneath the optical illusion of flat landscape. They cruised down a massive wadi. Kennedy and Sal were following Charlie Shaw into a sub-level highway that was on no map of L.A. County. It terminated at the entrance of a tunnel that opened large enough for Pacific Rail to fit a two-way track into.
The cab entered the mouth of the tunnel and pushed in for another five hundred feet before the driver lost his nerve.
Hey, look, mister. I gotta stop here. I’ll give you your twenty back and all, but I just can’t . . .”
Kennedy threw the door open and left the Buick in a storm, but Sal just put a warm hand on the hack’s shoulder.
“Just keep it, pal. Get on back to the missus.”
The cabbie nodded and Sal smiled at him in the rearview and exited the cab. The two detectives watched him back into a three-point turn and then cruise up to the small square of daylight. Sal stood with his hands in his pockets while Kennedy squatted down, tossing rocks against the smooth-cut wall of the tunnel.
“Well what now, boss?” Sal finally asked, breaking the silence after he felt Kennedy had enough time to fume it out and be reasonable.
Kennedy tossed one last rock and pushed to his feet, knees popping.
“Feel like taking a walk?”
Sure. But I stop at the water,” Sal said.
Scared of the fishies, are ya?”
Nope. Can’t stand taking baths without Marie’s special blend of sea salts to make it a fragrant and pleasant experience.”
Kennedy laughed and he and Sal moved deeper into the darkness.
“Hey, don’t knock it. Them bath salts make for quite an experience. It’s called, ‘ex-
I’ll remember that,” Kennedy said.
But ten minutes later neither wanted to voice a growing fear of the dark. The tunnel mouth was quickly becoming a dime-sized square of daylight far behind. Sal finally gave in. “Hey, boss, I don’t know how much longer we can keep going. I ain’t got no light—”
There was a
. Flame jumped from Kennedy’s Zippo lighter.