The Nine Billion Names of God
|"The Nine Billion Names of God"|
|Author||Arthur C. Clarke|
|Published in||Star Science Fiction Stories No.1|
"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.
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 sceptical 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."
- 1953 – in Star Science Fiction Stories
- 1958 – in The Other Side of the Sky
- 1962 – in The Mathematical Magpie
- 1967 – in The Nine Billion Names of God (collection)
- Reprint: Amereon, Ltd., 1996. ISBN 0-8488-2181-5
A cassette tape was released of Clarke himself reading the story. It may be the one released in 1989.
- Names of God
- Tower of Hanoi, a puzzle whose legendaria incorporate a similar end to the universe
- "The Library of Babel", a short story which also deals with collecting all the possible permutations of a character string
- Darren Aronofsky's Pi (1998), in which a computer is used to divine the 216-character name of God
- "Godfellas", a Futurama episode partially inspired by the story
- "The Fife of Bodidharma", a short story by Cordwainer Smith in The Rediscovery of Man
- The Nine Billion Names of God title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- James Randi praising The Nine Billion Names of God as his favourite Clarke story Audio interview the day after Clarke's death.