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The Nine Million Names Of God

The Nine Million Names Of God

“The Nine Billion Names of God” is a 1953 science fiction short story by Arthur C. Clarke.

The Taktshang Monastery,

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 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 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 in order to finish this task more quickly.

Prayer

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.”

Hole in the Sky

Internet Brain

 

José Saramago

Seeing is a kind of political fable: the night after the election, an unnamed European government finds that 77 percent of the population of the capital city has cast blank votes. Alarmed, they declare a mistake and organize a second election (complete with reconnaissance agents stationed casually in line at voting booths to intercept any information about the supposed blank-vote conspiracy), and everything seems perfectly normal except for the now 83 percent of capital-city voters who cast blank ballots into the box. The government interprets this action as an “attack on democracy” and reacts with a steady stream of increasingly restrictive measures, none of which seem to do a bit of good or extract a modicum of information. Beginning by declaring a state of emergency and suspending all constitutional rights in the city (a change none of the citizens seem to notice), they progress to sending intelligence agents into the populace (no one is interested in talking about the blank votes), and detaining a random sampling of citizens whom they hold indefinitely for interrogation (everyone refuses to say who they voted for). As the citizens’ dignified non-participation holds steady, the government gets more and more ruffled, eventually choosing to abscond absurdly in the dead of night with all its officials, police, paperwork, assistants, computers and assorted detritus and declaring a state of seige on the capital city, forbidding anyone to enter or leave before the government has received a tearful apology from the city at large.

This wonderful satire is just the thing for those people who believe that the standard of public life has gone down the gutter, that the world is ruled by fools and knaves, that choosing between political parties is like trying to tell the difference between Tweedledum and Tweedledee, that our masters are platitudinous windbags who can’t be trusted or respected and are only intent on hanging on to power, forever watching their backs while telling the benighted populace a pack of lies in order to stay in office, and, moreover, for those who are able to tolerate long sentences (a little like this one) in paragraphs that snake over three, sometimes four or even five pages.