question of the day: What is the appeal of steampunk?

The steampunk K9 I posted the other day got me wondering — once again — about why steampunk is so attractive, not just as a subgenre of science fiction but as an attitude. Sure, the clothes are cool, but Victoriana has been around for, well, more than a century, and geeks and other assorted cool persons didn’t start wearing top hats and frock coats till recently. There’s something in the outlook of steampunk that suddenly made it cool.
This is my theory: The Victorian approach to the future is not ours today. When Jules Verne and Mary Shelley looked ahead, they may have seen some dark things brewing, but they were not worried about nuclear war, global warming, genetic engineering, blanket surveilliance, the death of the oceans, mass extinctions, the Singularity, and other nightmares that could dramatically alter life on earth, perhaps even end not only human civilization but the human species. When we look ahead today, we see a lot of bad stuff ahead of us. It’s hard to imagine such relatively recent optimistic SF as Star Trek gaining traction today (and even the 2009 reboot film was significantly darker than the series had ever been).

Steampunk, though… Steampunk is about looking ahead and seeing magnificent airships plying blue skies. It’s about science as a positive good for humanity and engineering as a noble endeavor, or even just plain fun. It’s about a hope for the future, not a dread.

What do you think? What is the appeal of steampunk?

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