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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

RIP Sir Arthur!

Sir Arthur C. Clarke passed away today at the age of 90. One of the most profound short stories that I read as a teenager was one by Sir Arthur. It was called "The Nine Billion Names of God". I remember reading the last sentence of the story and just sat there contemplating the entirety of the story.

Essentially, an obscure Tibetan monastery hires a computer company to install and program the machine to do what the monks have been doing for the last three centuries: writing out the 9 billion names of God according to a very strict 9 letter sequence. The computer engineers treat it as a bit of a joke. They slip away a few hours before the computer is scheduled to print out the final name in case the monks get angry that the world still existed. At about the time that the computer was to end its machinations and print out the very last name, they happen to look up as they are about an hour away from the airfield in the valley. The very last line reads:

"Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out."

Truly, it is one of the few short stories of the many I read as a youth that really made a real impression on me. I think of that story every so often and even go and reread it every few years. The Mark V computer system and printers he describes in the story seemed so futuristic when he wrote it back in 1953 and even when I read it 15 or 16 years later. I was born in 1953! No one back then imagined the computers we have now. I've often wondered if there wasn't someone, somewhere, using a computer to do a similar task.

Sometimes, on clear nights, I check the heavens.

RIP Sir Arthur!



Kim Thompson said...

Interesting story! It's amazing how stories stick with us. I remember reading Orwell as a teen and really being taken with his work.

Yes, it's AMAZING what computers do these days. Who would have thought?

Stephanie Frieze said...

A wonderful post and so timely with Tibet being so much in the news right now. We have lived to see much that was science fiction become science faction. Thank you for a facinating story, VW.

Lorraine Hart said...

Sir Arthur Clarke was a favourite of mine also...oh, how I remember the story you're talking about! Such a gentle, intelligent human being.

I was such a fan of sci-fi when I was younger...the only thing is...the stories made me very computer-paranoid before one came to live in my house! I wonder if all those stories have anything to do with our generation not jumping into the cyber-age quite so easily as the young folk?

I add my sentiments to yours, for the dear man and brilliant writer.

M. Sugimura said...

This is an elegant little story. It's sets a wonderful mood. It's beautifully told. Your gift is evident.


The birds have vanished into the sky,
and now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,
Until only the mountain remains.

- Li Po