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"The Nine Billion Names of God"
Author Arthur C. Clarke
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction
Published in Star Science Fiction Stories No.1
Publication type anthology
Publication date 1953

"The Nine Billion Names of God" is a 1953 science fiction short story by Arthur C. Clarke. The story was the winner (in 2004) of the retrospective Hugo Award for Best Short Story for the year 1954.

Contents

Plot summary

This short story tells of a Tibetan lamasery whose monks seek to list all of the numerous names for God, since they believe the Universe was created in order to note all the names of God and once this naming is completed, God will bring the Universe to an end. Three centuries ago, the monks created a writing system in which, they calculated, they could encode all possible names of God, each having no more than nine characters. Writing the names out by hand, as they had been doing, even after eliminating various nonsense combinations, would take another fifteen thousand years; the monks wish to use modern technology in order to finish this task more quickly.

They rent[1] a computer capable of printing all the possible permutations, and they hire two Westerners to install and program the machine. The computer operators are skeptical but play along with the monks.

The operators engage the computer. After three months, as the job nears completion, they fear that the monks will blame the computer, and by extension its operators, when nothing happens. The Westerners delay the operation of the computer so that it will complete its final print run just after their scheduled departure. After their successful departure on ponies, they pause on the mountain path on their way back to the airfield, where a plane is waiting to take them back to civilization. Under a clear starlit night sky they estimate that it must be just about the time that the monks are pasting the final printed names into their holy books. They notice that "overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out."

Publication history

A cassette tape was released of Clarke himself reading the story. It may be the one released in 1989.

  1. ISBN 0945353448
  2. ISBN 978-0945353447

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Purchase or rent? The story says "hire", but the engineers depart leaving an operational computer behind, suggesting that the computer parts were purchased.

External links








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