from science fiction by
Arthur C. Clarke
(1917 – 2008)

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The Nine Billion Names of God

The Fires Within

The Fountains of Paradise


science fiction

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The Nine Billion Names of God

Copyright © 1953 by Ballantine Books, Inc.

“A diesel generator providing fifty kilowatts at a hundred and ten volts. It was installed about five years ago and is quite reliable. It’s made life at the monastery much more comfortable, but of course it was really installed to provide power for the motors driving the prayer wheels.”




“Oh, I get it. When we finish our job, it will be the end of the world.”

Chuck gave a nervous little laugh.

“That’s just what I said to Sam. And do you know what happened? He looked at me in a very queer way, like I’d been stupid in class, and said, ‘It’s nothing as trivial as that.’ ”

text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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The Fires Within

Copyright © 1949 by Better Publications, Inc.,
for Startling Stories, September 1949

I tried to imagine streets and buildings and the creatures going among them—creatures who could maike their way through the incandescent rock as a fish swims through water.

It was fantastic—and then I remembered the incredibly narrow range of temperatures and pressures under which the human race existed. We, not they, were the freaks; for almost all the matter in the universe is at temperatures of thousands or even millions of degrees.

text checked (see note) Nov 2023

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The Fountains of Paradise

Copyright © 1978, 1979 by Arthur C. Clarke


The country I have called Taprobane does not quite exist, but is about ninety percent congruent with the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Though the Sources and Acknowledgments will make clear what locations, events, and personalities are based on fact, the reader will not go far wrong in assuming that the more unlikely the story, the closer it is to reality.

The Palace
The Engineer

In a mood of ecological euphoria, TCC had proposed demolishing the last remaining section of the pipeline and restoring the land to the penguins.

Instantly, there had been cries of protest from the industrial archaeologists, outraged at such vandalism, and from the naturalists, who pointed out that the penguins simply loved the abandoned pipeline. It had provided housing of a standard they had never before enjoyed, and thus contributed to a population explosion that the killer whales could barely handle.

The God-King’s Palace

But man-made obstacles had never stopped him before. Nature was his real antagonist—the friendly enemy who never cheated, always played fair, but never failed to take advantage of the tiniest oversight or omission.

The Temple
Conversations with Starglider

“The hypothesis you refer to as God, though not disprovable by logic alone, is unnecessary for the following reason.

“If you assume that the universe can be quote explained unquote as the creation of an entity known as God, he must obviously be of a higher degree of organization than his product. Thus you have more than doubled the size of the original problem, and have taken the first step on a diverging infinite regress. William of Ockham pointed out as recently as your fourteenth century that entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily. I cannot therefore understand why this debate continues.”


Occam’s Razor

God: proofs


“We do not eat before noon. The mind functions more clearly in the morning hours, and so should not be distracted by material things.”

As he nibbled at some quite delicious papaya, Morgan considered the philosophical gulf represented by that simple statement. To him, an empty stomach could be most distracting, completely inhibiting the higher mental functions. Having always been blessed with good health, he had never tried to dissociate mind and body, and saw no reason why one should make the attempt.



By the Shores of Lake Saladin

“And don’t forget the Pyramids.”

The Sheik laughed.

“What did you call them? The best investment in the history of mankind?”

“Precisely. Still paying tourist dividends after four thousand years.”




The Bridge That Danced

Even when projected at normal speed, the final cataclysm looked as if shot in slow motion; the scale of the disaster was so large that the human mind had no basis of comparison. In reality, it lasted perhaps five seconds. At the end of that time, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge had earned an inexpungable place in the history of engineering. Two hundred years later, there was a photograph of its last moments on the wall of Morgan’s office, bearing the caption “One of our less successful products.”

To Morgan, that was no joke, but a permanent reminder that the unexpected could always strike from ambush.

Morgan always let his subordinates do their thinking for themselves. It was the only way to establish responsibility, it took much of the load off him, and on many occasions his staff arrived at solutions he had overlooked.




That beautiful, dispassionate voice, untouched by human glottis, had never changed in the forty years that he had known it. Decades, perhaps centuries, after he was dead, it would be talking to other men just as it had spoken to him. (For that matter, how many conversations was it having at this very moment?) Once, this knowledge had depressed Rajasinghe; now, it no longer mattered. He did not envy ARISTOTLE’s immortality.

If one thing had been learned from the bloody history of mankind, it was that only individual human beings mattered; however eccentric their beliefs might be, they must be safeguarded, so long as they did not conflict with wider but equally legitimate interests. What was it that the old poet had said? “There is no such thing as the State.” Perhaps that was going a little too far; but it was better than the other extreme.




The Bell

“Driven to despair by his fruitless attempts to understand the universe, the sage Devadasa finally announced in exasperation:

“ ‘All statements that contain the word God are false.’

“Instantly, his least-favorite disciple, Somasiri, replied:

“ ‘The sentence I am now speaking contains the word God. I fail to see, oh Noble Master, how that simple statement can be false.’

“Devadasa considered the matter for several Poyas. Then he answered, this time with apparent satisfaction:

“ ‘Only statements that do not contain the word God can be true.’

“After a pause barely sufficient for a starving mongoose to swallow a millet seed, Somasiri replied:

“ ‘If this statement applies to itself, oh Venerable One, it cannot be true, because it contains the word God. But if it is not true—’

“At this point, Devadasa broke his begging bowl upon Somasiri’s head, and should therefore be honored as the true founder of Zen.”

From a fragment of the Culavamsa,
as yet undiscovered




With his scientific training, he was no longer content to accept the Order’s ambiguous attitude toward God. Such indifference had come at last to seem worse than outright denial.
He thought of all the times when the texture of some material, the feel of rock or soil underfoot, the smell of a jungle, the sting of spray upon his face, had played a vital role in one of his projects. Someday, perhaps even these sensations could be transferred by electronics. Indeed, it had already been done so, crudely, on an experimental basis, and at enormous cost. But there was no substitute for reality; one should beware of imitations.



The Tower

Unfortunately, Bickerstaff did not know his limitations. Though he had a devoted coterie of fans who subscribed to his information service—in an earlier age, he would have been called a pop scientist—he had an even larger circle of critics. The kinder ones considered that he had been educated beyond his intelligence. The others labeled him a self-employed idiot.

It was all so familiar. The motto of the Lardners and the Bickerstaffs seemed to be: “Nothing shall be done for the first time.”

And yet—sometimes they were right, if only through the operation of the laws of chance.

Note (Hal’s):
Bickerstaff is a character in this novel; Dr. Dionysius Lardner, who in the mid-19th century “had proved beyond all doubt that no steamship could ever cross the Atlantic,” is historical.

— end note

Beyond the Aurora

It must be the sheer exhilaration produced by that marvelous spectacle beneath him—though it was diminishing now, drawing back to north and south, as if retreating to its polar strongholds. That, and the satisfaction of a task well begun, using a technology that no man had ever before tested to such limits.

The explanation was perfectly reasonable, but he was not satisfied with it. It did not wholly account for his sense of happiness—even of joy. [...] He seemed to have left all his cares down there on the planet hidden below the fading loops and traceries of the aurora.

Epilogue: Kalidasa’s Triumph Every species was unique, with its own surprises, its own idiosyncracies. This one had introduced the Starholmer to the baffling concept of negative information—or, in the local terminology, humor, fantasy, myth.

text checked (see note) Sep 2006

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