Weeding Womb

First Commandment

First Commandment by Gregory Benford. Before my semi-involuntary hiatus (sorry 'bout that), I said, '"The Nine Billion Names of God" is a story which, in my mind, only needs to be written once.'

Since I'm your standard reviewing hack, no one ever listens to me.

Let's do a chart, comparing and contrasting the three stories, "The Nine Billion Names of God", "In Fading Suns and Dying Moons", "First Commandment", with snappy abbreviations**.

The Nine Billion Names of God In Fading Suns and Dying Moons First Commandment
The Ultimate Plan Marking down all the names of God. Getting butterflies and other things. Naming the animals, like Adam in Genesis.
The instrument obeying Divine Will Tibetan monks, plus a supercomputer and printer. Alien collectors. Human scientists and collectors*.
The opposition to Divine Will The main characters, computer techs who stall the supercomputer long enough for them to sneak away, fearing a riot by the monks when the project is done and God doesn't come by to destroy the world. Ignorant humans, as represented by the military. Christian fanatics who don't want the world to end*.
The End of the World and the end of the story. God starts turning off the stars. Aliens/God/Alien Gods start turning off the planets, Moon, and Sun. The mountains melt away, story ends before anything else happens.
*This is perhaps the most interesting variation in the story: Unlike the monks or the aliens, the scientists (of course) don't believe they're performing the Ultimate Task. That falls to the opposition, even though most apocalyptic Christian sects want the world to end, because it means you get to lounge with God without the unpleasantness of dying first.

(**There were no snappy abbreviations.)

The scene where the religious assault the scientists was interesting, though if I were feeling very mean I'd dig out Isaac Asimov's Nightfall and see if there were any similarities to the scientists' clash with the faithful from that work. (Of course, if I were that mean I'd dig out Jack Williamson's Born of the Sun and do the same thing to Asimov's Nightfall.)

I was rather hoping that the impending disaster wouldn't happen. The whole thing has a generally desolate feel in and of itself. After all, the scientists are only collecting and naming all these critters because their habitats are dying out in the face of human expansion and industrialization. Shiva, Cthulhu, Jehovah (on one of His bad days), and other gods of wanton destruction need not apply, Homo Sapiens has it all under control.

I was half-expecting a pro-environmental message at the end in that it's not God who's going to do the world-destroying once the Task is completed. Yes, a heavy-handed Captain Planet moment would have been as welcome as the ending we got.

Another alternate would be a scene where the head scientists realize they've hurt their own environmental causes now that every plant and animal's DNA is stored in a giant gene bank and the arguments "We'll never see these creatures again!" and "One of those plants might contain the cure for cancer!" are rendered nearly moot. You want one so bad? Clone it up and be done with it.

So, um, yeah. It's not a bad story, really. I found no technical fault with it. It's just that now that monks, aliens, and scientists have all immanentized the eschaton, the well is good and dry. All that's left is taxidermists and mimes. And I'd better not see a short story in which a bunch of mimes help finish a Divine Task of some sort. I'll find out where you live and hunt you down, so help me Yog Sothoth.

The Archon

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