A second rate doomsday story.
Full text of this story is available online (link via Best Science Fiction Stories), as also is an MP3 version (link via SF Signal & Free SF Reader). I haven't seen either of online versions, but quick skimming of text version suggests it's the story I read.
Story summary (spoiler).
Some monks in a monastery in Tibet have been researching the real names of God for 3 centuries - apparently, the familiar names of god are not good enough.
They know the written real names of god will be exactly 9 letters long - letters drawn from their special alphabet. And no more than 3 consecutive occurrences of the same letter are permitted.
Problem is to write down all permutations of characters meeting these criteria. When a correct name is spelled, the universe we know will lose meaning.
Monks have been doing this permutation writing for 3 centuries. Now they think the computers can speed the job up - from several more centuries to a few months.
A computer that sounds like a mainframe is brought, along with 2 programmers for 3 months. These permutations are printed & painstakingly filed on paper.
Programmers were brought on-site without telling them why the enumerations are being printed. One the them learns the purpose, & is worried monks will blame them when the last permutation is printed & world keep on whirring the way it always has had. They invent a way to delay the project completion - so they will be on their way home when last permutation is printed.
While programmers are on their way back, the machine prints last permutation. When programmers look up the sky, they find the stars are rapidly vanishing.
There is one silly point, & many amusing ones. Silly is - what are the odds that target name is the last one printed!
Amusing ones relate to description of computer & programming. They tell the age of the story - it is from 50s; of course, Clarke must have been quite up to date when he wrote the story. Here are some quotes I especially liked:
- "Your Mark V Computer can carry out any routine mathematical operation up to ten digits. However, for our work we are interested in letters, not numbers. We wish you to modify the output circuits ..."
- "A rather more interesting problem is that of devising suitable circuits to eliminate ridiculous combinations. For example, no letter must occur more than three times in succession."
- "The components" of computer "are small enough to travel by air".
- An in-passing inconsequential remark referring to this story is found in Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land", & in a misquoted form in Eric Frank Russell's hilarious "Next of Kin".
- All stories with religion as a theme.
- "The Collected Stories of Arthur C Clarke"
- "Of Time and Stars"
- "More Than One Universe"
- Robert Silverberg (Ed)'s "The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume One, 1929-1964".
- Since this is amongst the most collected stories of Clarke, opinions on it are bound to differ. My friend Rusty has a more positive review of this story.
The Nine Billion Names of God, short story, review
Author: Arthur C Clarke
Listed in Contento's Top Ten Most Reprinted Stories.