The Nine Billion Names of God  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"The Nine Billion Names of God" is a 1953 science fiction short story by British writer Arthur C. Clarke. The story was among the stories selected in 1970 by the Science Fiction Writers of America as one of the best science fiction short stories published before the creation of the Nebula Awards. It was reprinted in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929–1964.

Plot summary

In a Tibetan lamasery, the monks seek to list all of the names of God. They believe the Universe was created for this purpose, and that once this naming is completed, God will bring the Universe to an end. Three centuries ago, the monks created an alphabet in which they calculated they could encode all the possible names of God, numbering about 9,000,000,000 ("nine billion") and 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 15,000 years; the monks wish to use modern technology to finish this task more quickly.

They rent a computer capable of printing all the possible permutations, and hire two Westerners to install and program the machine. The computer operators are skeptical but play along. 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 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. Then they notice that "overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out."



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Nine Billion Names of God" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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