I am a huge sci-fi fan! I love reading Wells, Asimov, and Clark, to name a few. Even the commercial writers are fun (D. C. Fontana and Peter David are but a few). These writers took the human condition from the here-and-now and placed it in the "what-if" condition. What if man could actually reach the moon? What if it were possible to carry a phone with you? What if nature fought back?
Inspiration for these writers came from the world around them. Most lived during times of great change - social as well as economical. The future was an unknown and few "leaders" were considering what the consequences of their actions could be. Science Fiction became that mode for the populous to voice their concerns, to explore the what-if without scrutiny.
Society cycles. We move from periods of struggle to periods of rest. When we "rest" we are trying to drum up something which requires a struggle. Humans are funny creatures...we are never happy and are constantly seeking a new challenge - even when we think we don't want one.
Writing follows that cycle as well. What was once forward thinking is moving more towards backwards wandering. We've reached the age of cell phones, space travel, and looking beyond our own galaxy. The struggles we face on Earth no longer can be solved by looking ahead. For most of us we've reached the "future" we once dreamed about. What we can do, though, is look behind us and see where we've been.
Enter the age of Steampunk. Shows like Warehouse 13 show us that not everything is solved by what is to come. The goal of the sci-fi writer is the same as it always has been - to show us how things could be. Instead of the topic being 100 years in the future it's now 100 years in the past. What have we learned? What did we get right? What did we get wrong?
Sci-fi writers will always push the envelope and explore areas normally left untouched. Today's writers are doing the same as they always have. What's changed, I think, is the setting and the voice.
New, younger writers are taking their world and bending it, twisting it, and exploring it just as their forefathers did. The world is changing.
But, fear not, Buck Rogers and Captain Kirk will always be around and sci-fi writers will continue to keep reality in check.