A friend asked me today whether steampunk is viable or whether it's past its sell by date. Which is an interesting question, because steampunk was only ever here by the slenderest margin - it's "major canon" something you can count on the fingers of one hand - Gibson & Sterling's The Difference Engineand Paul Di Filippo's The Steampunk Trilogybeing it's most visible works. Yes, China Mieville's more recent Perdido Street Stationcan be counted, but perhaps because the book's category contains so many hyphens that steampunk is bound to be one of them.
Yet, as has been remarked upon elsewhere, steampunk may just now be coming into its own. We have the new Steampunk Magazine, and we have two steampunk anthologies forthcoming - Jeff and Ann Vandermeer's for Tachyon and Nick Gever's Steampunk! for Solaris Books. (I'll be picking up both of these.)
Even more interesting, we have steampunk breaking out of prose into all sorts of other areas, including the DIY of the Make magazine variety, as witnessed by the remarkable Steampunk Workshop. See this article, "The Age of Steampunk," in the Boston Globe. Another good site for tracking steampunk in the culture at large is Brass Goggles. And, of course, we all know Dr. Grorbort's Infallible Aether Oscillators & Other Marvelous Contraptions. What's really interesting there, beyond the gorgeous ray guns themselves, is the metafictional way they've built hints of a story around the props. To say nothing of the various comics and animated projects. And, of course, a visit to Wikipedia shows how large the canon of steampunk really is, including a lot of alternate history, much of Tim Powers, and labeling a lot of classic fiction as "proto-steampunk" in the same way PKD and Bester are sometimes said to be proto-cyberpunk.
So, is steampunk a niche of a niche of a niche? Or is the real age of steampunk just beginning?
Update 9/21/07: This discussion has jumped over to George Mann's new blog, and is really worth checking out.