It's funny, really. Despite having done panels and articles about steampunk for a good five years now, I never really sat down and thought about exactly what attracted me to the genre.
Was it the aesthetic? No, not really, although I do enjoy dressing up in a suit on occasion.
Was it the period? Again, no. While I'm a fan of many of the writers of the Victorian era, there's little about the time that makes it stand out from any other.
I never really worked it out, until just recently:
It's the adventure.
Ever since I was a little protogeek, I've loved adventure stories. Exploring strange lands, discovering lost civilizations. Risking life and limb to go over the next mountain, not for conquest, or glory, but simply to see what's there.
Unfortunately, adventure stories, particularly in the visual media of movies, TV, and comics, are harder and harder to find. More often than not, what we get are action stories, by which I mean stories where the hero goes out to defeat the bad guy, because the bad guy needs to be defeated.
If we are lucky, the hero actually wins. In many stories, particularly in comics, the victories are Pyrrhic at best, and tend to be more about how flawed & unhappy being a hero makes a person. Or, even worse, how unheroic the protagonist is.
Indeed, that's one of the sad things about the comic medium. If you go back in time, adventure stories were a big part of the Silver Age, if not older. Possibly the best example would be the Fantastic Four, who were explorers more than heroes, and visited strange locales like Wakanda, Attilan, and the Negative Zone.
Somewhere, however, mainstream (i.e. superhero) comics lost their way. Adventurers were replaced by crime-fighters, who in turn became merely vigilantes. Exploring the unknown fell by the wayside, so long as there were villains to defeat.
(Not to say that there aren't adversaries in adventure stories. But they are merely part of the story, not the sole reason for its existence).
Because of this, I've basically given up on most comic books, including the entire output of the "Big Two". While there are some indie titles I still enjoy (like Gold Digger and Atomic Robo), these are the exceptions, not the rule.
Not that movies are much better. Even the films that homage the classic movie serials (like the Indy movies or Sky Captain) seem forced to include a big villain. Adventure isn't enough.
I suppose I could find the adventure I seek in books, but even there things are hard to find. Lots of books about zombies & vampires (sparkly or otherwise), lots of reheated Tolkien, and (in the sci-fi section) a lot of stories about soldiers and war.
Even Star Trek, with its credo to "explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before", has turned into something unrecognizable, as the books are focusing on politics and diplomacy, after a particularly devastating war.
(As for Star Wars.... *sigh* No happy endings, ever.)
What's a geek to do?
Keep looking. Keep hoping. And hope that somewhere, somehow, I'll find a way to...
"Bring me that horizon."