Steampunk is one of those things that I think is pretty cool despite it's being both popular and problematic. I really don't have any excuse for liking something that a ton of other people also like, but in terms of the problematic elements, it boils down to being a case by case thing. As in, just because a lot of enthusiasts have focused on the fetishization of upper class Victoriana and glossed over the icky industrialization-was-kinda-not-so-cool-if-you-were-a-laborer-and-also-whut-Imperialism element doesn't mean we have to throw out the clockwork baby with the hydraulic bath water--I don't think there's any genre that is inherently unsalvagable, even if some of the most prominent examples are less than nuanced. At a panel I attended at the '09 World Fantasy Convention, Nisi Shawl addressed where steampunk could go in terms of becoming the sort of movement that earned its -punk spurs instead of wearing the hip moniker of subversion while actively perpetuating a superficial nothing's-cooler-than-upper-class-European-dress-and-gadgetry ideal--and in a Tor piece last year she gave an update as to both the evolution of her own ideas on steampunk and the progressive work she'd seen in the field.
As the above muddled paragraph demonstrates, I'm just lousy at talking about steampunk. Thankfully, there are experts--the best coffee table book I've picked up this year is The Steampunk Bible, a gorgeous tome by S.J. Chambers and Jeff VanderMeer. More than just being a pretty artifact, the Bible is richly informative and incredibly broad in scope, taking a tone that is both intellectual and enthusiastic as it explores the various microcosms inside the catchall phrase. In that respect, it embodies the potential that steampunk holds--to address and discuss real, important issues, to offer solutions, and to do it all in the most handsome, intricately-designed fashion possible. While it would be worth picking up a copy for the artwork alone, the real content is Selena and Jeff's witty writing, as well as the sundry essays and other odds and ends.
Of special interest to Londoners, Parisians, and assorted nearbys, over the next two weeks S.J. will be hosting Steampunk Bible events in the UK and France. First up is the London event this Tuesday, September 6th, and then a week from Friday, on the 16th, she'll be doing another in Paris--all the details are here. If ever there was a time to culture oneself, this is it--I'm intensely jealous of those who live in Europe as a general rule, but never more so than now!
Furthermore, Jeff V and the inimitable Ann VanderMeer are currently at DragonCon in ATL, and I have it on good authority that they're lugging around a piece by maker extraordinaire Jake von Slatt--capture the device, and capture the multiverse! That, or get an autograph, maybe pose for a picture. Details here!
That then is my two farthings on the matter--I happen to have the inside scoop on at least one smart, critically-engaged steampunk project coming down the pneumatic pipes, and so I don't doubt we're in for a pleasantly steamy future.