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!