Ghosts Of Manhattan

As Steampunk grows in popularity and enters the consciousness of more people, the term is used somewhat haphazardly by people to refer to retrofuturism in general, different subsets of the -punk subcultures, and things that have absolutely nothing to do with Steampunk. There’s a lot of new people to Steampunk, so I’m not surprised that there’s some confusion among new comers as to what constitutes Steampunk.

For most Steampunks, anything set during and after World War 1 or after is generally not considered Steampunk; that’s the realm of Dieselpunk. There’s a gray area with post apocalyptic Steampunk, and with each rule there’s an exception, but our historical roots and influences aren’t really in anything in World War 1 or beyond.

Pyr Books, a leading science fiction publishing company has called their new publication Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann a Steampunk work and features the first “Steampunk Superhero.” Here’s a summary by Publisher’s Weekly:

Mann (The Affinity Bridge) combines the trendy superhero and steampunk genres, but his cardboard characters and laughable dialogue (I had never loved, until I loved you) never attain even the level of parody. In an alternate 1927 Manhattan, a deadly vigilante nicknamed the Ghost stalks the city, attacking the employees of the Roman, a mysterious mobster. The Roman’s men have been committing horrific acts of violence, drawing the attention of police detective Felix Donovan. Also dragged into the plot are carefree playboy Gabriel and his lover, Celeste, who seems to exist solely to sleep with the hero and then be sacrificed to move the plot along. The action sequences are solid, though excessively gory, but there’s little that comic fans haven’t seen done more impressively a dozen times before.

What do you think? Steam or Diesel? I think an alternate 1927 world places this work pretty firmly in Dieselpunk.

11 comments on “Ghosts Of Manhattan

  1. Larry says:

    Without a doubt it’s diesel. If the rest of his review is right maybe not very good diesel but without a doubt dieselpunk.

    • aeflint says:

      I think that we should at least be giving credit where credit is due. Dieselpunk is it’s own group, and I feel bad for you guys when your stuff gets labeled Steampunk as a marketing tool.

  2. I would agree with Larry. He and I, along with several others have discussed this at For the most part it was decided that there was a sort of interim period available to both sub genres, but the dates run from 1900 to 1920(ish).
    Here is the link to the discussion.

  3. Jack Horner says:

    I haven’t read GOM, but I don’t think that the date is a good enough separator. In my opinion there are four things that separate the two genres.

    Artifacts (i.e. external vs. internal combustion, lighter than air vs. heavier than air flight, ornithopter vs. jetpack, revolver vs. colt 1911, etc.)

    Aesthetics (wood, brass & gears vs. sleek)

    Attitude (optimistic: inexhaustible optimistic future focused on ‘great men’ vs. more individualistic and cities in the sky, distopian: the factory vs. totalitarian regime)

    Access to technology: Steampunk is in large about the rich having the amazing gadgets while the life of the common man is little changed from actual period lifestyles. Dieselpunk carries Henry Ford’s ideas to term. Everyone can own a car, or jetpack, or robot, etc.

  4. Thanks for posting this as you bring up a very good point.
    While this novel isn’t Steampunk and I agree Dieselpunk would be a more fitting frame, at least it will most likely appeal to fans of Steampunk and alternative history.

    But this mis-tagging of anything alternative and vintage as “Steampunk” is getting tired and may ultimately kill peoples interest in the genre.

    • aeflint says:

      What bothers me most is that I know many Dieselpunks who are actively trying to define Dieselpunk as its own movement and entity. When stuff like this, regardless of whether it is or is not well written, comes out under the Steampunk label when it is clearly Diesel, I feel it undermines their efforts.

    • Both of you bring up very good points regarding the abuse of the steampunk genre. As a writer I agree that this is dieselpunk and should be labeled so, but I can also understand the pressure to label works as steampunk even if it is fudging on the label. I am guessing for most writers the issue has been decided by publishers. A growing number of readers are looking for steampunk, while very few are looking for dieselpunk. I have a dieselpunk novel coming out this summer. I am self-publishing and so the choice has been left up to me. As such I have decided to label my work as accurately as possible “dieselpunk weird Western,” even though the label will mean very little for most.
      I am hoping that the label will mean tons to the faithful die hards. Here is to hoping!

  5. You both make a great point; Dieselpunk seeking to define itself (quite rightly) as a new genre and getting muddied by sloppy and lazy journalism. This is a great blog post which is addressing a growing problem.

    I have the same issue on Etsy, I sell Steampunk Jewelry and there are now hundreds of sellers who tag things (as observed in the original story) as Steampunk.

    Its disingenuous and damaging for people who are new to Steampunk and arrive at Etsy, search for “Steampunk” and find a Dolphin Sock Puppet with a Casio watch strap around its neck, or a mock Faberge egg made from cat-fur.
    OK I might have exaggerated there but its a daily irritation…

    As a slight aside, David, you mentioned your self-publishing. I don’t know if you have read this series of articles or not, but I found them fascinating for self-publishing & they may be of interest:

    The fact red wine played a part in his writing process was of personal inspiration 🙂
    Good luck with your novel!

  6. […] talks about “Steampunk technology” in the 1920′s… I swear I just had a tirade about the Steampunk/Dieselpunk line just last […]

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