The Nine Billion Names of God

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This article is about the short story. For the short story collection, see The Nine Billion Names of God (collection).
"The Nine Billion Names of God"
Author Arthur C. Clarke
Country United Kingdom
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 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 published in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929–1964. In 2004 it won the retrospective Hugo Award for Best Short Story for the year 1954.

Plot summary[edit]

This short story tells of a Tibetan lamasery whose monks seek to list all of the names of God, since 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 they 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."

Publication history[edit]

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

  1. ISBN 0-945353-44-8
  2. ISBN 978-0-945353-44-7

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