Steam Engine Time

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Steam Engine Time (concept)
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(Did you mean a fanzine named Steam Engine Time?)


Steam engine time refers to the simultaneous invention of an idea or technology by different, unconnected people at a particular point in history.

Charles Fort coined the phrase in his 1931 work Lo! (serialized in Astounding in 1934):

A tree cannot find out, as it were, how to blossom, until comes blossom-time. A social growth cannot find out the use of steam engines, until comes steam-engine-time.

William Gibson explained the Fortean concept in a 2011 interview (IA) in The Paris Review:

There’s an idea in the science-fiction community called steam-engine time, which is what people call it when suddenly twenty or thirty different writers produce stories about the same idea. It’s called steam-engine time. Because nobody knows why the steam engine happened when it did. Ptolemy demonstrated the mechanics of the steam engine, and there was nothing technically stopping the Romans from building big steam engines. They had little toy steam engines, and they had enough metalworking skill to build big steam tractors. It just never occurred to them to do it.


Fanspeak Reasonator
This is a fanspeak page. Please extend it by adding information about when and by whom it was coined, whether its still in use, etc.