The signs are there; steampunk is waning. Gear rotation is slowing; goggles are fogging; airships are losing gas.
Don’t get me wrong. Steampunk will always be. An enthusiastic minority will forever celebrate it. I’m not saying it’s dead and gone.
I just mean the mainstream public’s fascination with steampunk is declining as it moves on to other things. We’re riding the downward side of the curve now. Steampunk had its day, and we’re watching its sunset.
You want proof, I know. But the passing of a movement is hard to quantify. Others have proclaimed steampunk dead before and been wrong. All I’m going on is my general observation of the world. Internet searches of the term ‘steampunk’ turn up fewer new mentions each day. The number of steampunk movies, video games, and books appears on a downward slope.
So far I’ve been referring to the story-telling side of steampunk, the part that started the movement. That’s not all there is. There’s a side of steampunk that’s as popular as it ever was—fashion. When it comes to costumes, jewelry, and custom-made gadgets, that aspect remains in full swing, still going strong.
As a writer, I pay more attention to the literary side of steampunk and, frankly, it’s sputtering. Within the steampunk realm, there will always be stories left to write and movies left to shoot, but authors have explored the wide expanses of the territory pretty well. The map is there, the boundaries drawn, areas surveyed, most of the acreage settled. A few caves and swamps remain uncharted, but for the most part, it’s difficult to come up with a truly new steampunk story idea.
Personally, I’ve never cared for the magical, fantasy side of steampunk, with its vampires and werewolves. Still, that’s just about all that remains of literary steampunk. You want to write a steampunk story people will read?—think Bram Stoker, not Jules Verne.
I say all this with a tear rolling down my face. There’s no joy in reporting steampunk’s downward trend. I write steampunk stories and wish the genre could remain popular forever. But that’s not the way of things. A genre can only fire the public’s attention for a few years before fading into the background noise.
That raises the question about what’s next. What picks up where steampunk leaves off? My hope was that steampunk’s ‘children’ and ‘grandchildren,’ namely dieselpunk and atompunk, would strut their hour on the stage next. After all, these waves of nostalgic interest in retro settings seem to follow 20-30 year generational cycles. Like steampunk, both dieselpunk and atompunk come complete with a look, a style, a feel for the age. Plenty of ideas for the jewelry and costuming crowd.
Don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen it yet. Maybe we’re heading for a crest in Diesel Age or Atom Age fascination among the mainstream soon, but the signs aren’t apparent to me.
Maybe the term ‘punk’ itself is wearing out. Perhaps folks are tired of punking everything. Slapping ‘punk’ on a thing no longer makes the thing cool.
It could be that if dieselpunk or atompunk are to take off, they need renaming. They need a different descriptor, a better term to evoke the feeling of their times.
That’s where you come in. In the comments, let me know your suggestions for renaming dieselpunk and/or atompunk. Let’s find some catchy and appropriate tags for those movements—names free of ‘punk.’ How about it? Are you feeling creative and up to the challenge?
In the meantime, some of us soldier on. Still bravely writing steampunk stories, hoping that genre can beat the odds and return to past glory, I’m—