I am looking for a short story I read a long time ago.

In it, a man dies and finds himself in a dark and featureless afterlife with a disembodied voice that calls itself god.

That god reveals that there is indeed life after death, but only for a selected few, and it consists of nothing more than this void with no contact to others.

Faced with the prospect of eternity alone in that void, the man states his intent to find a way to end his own existence for good. The god answers that it will do anything in its power to prevent that.

After some more back-and-forth the man resolves to find a way to destroy god. God reveals that this is indeed the only reason for the existence of the universe and that afterlife: Because god wishes to find a way to cease to exist.

The story ends, I believe, with something akin to

"The man started to think about the problem. He knew he would succeed eventually; after all he had infinite time"

  • I remember this story, too, I think from one of Dozois's Year's Best books.
    – Plutor
    Dec 18 '13 at 1:01
  • Do you recall when you read it? Was it in a magazine or part of an anthology of any sort?
    – phantom42
    Dec 18 '13 at 1:17
  • It was probably 15 to 25 years ago, most likely an anthology, found in a library. Not a magazine, I think.
    – HugoRune
    Dec 18 '13 at 1:25
  • 1
    Maybe I am wrong, but I am pretty sure that this is from Asimov. Dec 18 '13 at 2:10
  • You are right! And with that hint, I just found it, it is "The Last Answer" by Asimov. Thanks you! I'll post a more detailed answer in a moment
    – HugoRune
    Dec 18 '13 at 2:18

The story is "The Last Answer" by Isaac Asimov.

First published in the January 1980 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, also contained in the collections The Winds of Change and Other Stories (1983), The Best Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov (1986) and Robot Dreams (1986).

After Matemáticos Chibchas correctly identified the author, I was able to find it by a google search for "asimov god afterlife".

I found this page talking about the theological views of Asimov, with this short blurb describing the story:

This idea is carried to its fullest extent in the short story "The Last Answer" (1986). An atheistic physicist dies, and is carried to what he believes to be an afterlife. He soon finds out that he is the prisoner of an all-powerful being that used a "nexus of electromagnetic forces" to imitate the workings of his brain, in essence giving the man immortality. The catch is that the man's purpose for eternity is simply to think. The universe was created for the amusement of the all-powerful being, and the man has no choice but to exist for all eternity to please the being. The last answer that the man intends to spend eternity thinking about, is how to end the existence of "god." "For what could any Entity, conscious of eternal existence, want-but an end? (P. 356)"

The Wikipedia page for the story confirms that this is indeed the story I was thinking of.

The exact wording of the final paragraph:

Carefully, and with the thrill of purpose, Murray began to think.

He had plenty of time.

  • 4
    Asimov, of course. Not to be confused with his far more well known short story The Last Question: filer.case.edu/dts8/thelastq.htm
    – Plutor
    Dec 18 '13 at 14:24
  • Please accept your answer so it will be clear that this question has been correctly answered. By the way, Fredric Brown's 1954 microstory "Solipsist" is a much shorter version of the same idea, more or less.
    – user14111
    Apr 11 '14 at 7:32

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