The Guardian has a brief introduction to the Steampunk genre of SF writing. Two things that I’ve noticed:
1. Steampunk as a reaction to our growing alienation from technology and science. As both have grown more incomprehensible and remote (I’m looking at you, quantum mechanics), many SF readers have wanted, I think, to revisit a clockwork universe whose fundamental forces were comprehensible to all– Gear A triggers Lever B which in turn releases Spring C… etc. A critical element of Steampunk is the notion of amateurism, a longing for a time when individuals without industrial resources could still engage science and technology at a fundamental level.
2. Nostalgia for a more elegant time. At SF conventions, steampunk cosplay has cut into the Star Trek and Star Wars duopoly. The clothes, the jewelry, the hairstyles– all reflect a hand-made ethic and whimsy unconfined by franchise “brands.” What’s especially interesting is how women have embraced the genre, both in style and creation.
via The Guardian:
Steampunk culture: an introduction
A genre of books, films and games, steampunk is set in the world of Victorian science-fiction. The science-obsessed Victorians were the first to create speculative fantasies about what we might be able to achieve with technology: HG Wells’s The Time Machine, Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, or Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.