The Crossroads of the Aether
"I was a steampunk before it was cool."
But even though I dress up and go to cons, my interest is not so much in the sub-culture. It is the sub-genra of science fiction literature that interests me and, in that respect, I don't think it has hit its proper stride quite yet. There are a lot of good works out there and a lot of good authors but, it seems to me that steampunk still has a lot to say. It hasn't exhausted its usefulness as a commentary on the modern social condition.
Stempunk seems to be in a transition zone right now. The first part was before anyone knew it was a sub-genre of science fiction. Such as in the 70s when Harry Harrison published "A Transatlantric Tunnel, Hurrah" and Manly Wade Wellman mashed up Arthur Conan Doyle and H. G. Wells in "Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds". Then there was the period of time around K. W. Jeter's defining of steampunk as a genre. Seminal, defining works such as William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's "The Difference Engine". Now, I think we are in that middle ground where we have a few sophisticated authors that "get it" such as Gail Carriger and Scott Westerfeld but we also have a lot of authors who just "slap some gears on it."
I think the next stage is for more quality authors to get in on the program and for the rest of the world to begin to notice that. So far, the mainstream has really only noticed the costume aesthetic. I look on this next period as being comparable to the Golden Age of science fiction with Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. And just as Hollywood grew out of it's B-movie phase to produce "2001-A Space Odyssey", so to will the sub-genre of steampunk be shown to have reached it's pinnacle when Hollywood makes a good steampunk movie.
And then, the next stage will be the mainstream forgetting about it as something special, new or trendy and steampunk will slide back into a respectable obscurity, at least amongst the public at large. It will become less a sub-genre and become just another fiction.
It will be at that point that steampunk looses its freshness. Which won't be a bad thing, necessarily. Science fiction as a whole has passed that point and is not the worse for it.
Past its freshness date in literature is not the same as past its frashness date in your refrigerator.