The Men Who Murdered Mohammed
"The Men Who Murdered Mohammed" is a science fiction short story by Alfred Bester; it was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in October 1958. It has been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and German, and has been reprinted nine times, most recently in Virtual Unrealities (1997).
Connie Willis described it as "very funny" and one of her favorite time-travel stories (while misattributing it to Harry Harrison), and Jo Walton categorized it as "excellent" and "thought provoking", and specified that it is "Very clever, very funny, and quite chilling when you think about it."
Henry Hassel, a mad scientist in the then-future year of 1980, catches his wife in the midst of committing adultery and decides to kill her. However, he finds simple murder to be intellectually unsatisfying, and so "in 7 1/2 minutes (such was his rage)" he invents a time machine "(such was his genius)".
He uses the time machine to go back to 1902, where he kills his wife's paternal grandfather-to-be as a young bachelor, expecting that the grandfather paradox will eliminate his wife from existence. Returning to 1980, he finds that his wife is still committing adultery.
He then travels to 1901, where he kills his wife's maternal grandmother-to-be. His wife and her paramour remain unaffected.
He then travels to 1775, where he kills George Washington. His wife and her paramour remain unaffected. Desperate to change history, Hassel travels randomly throughout time, killing Christopher Columbus, Napoleon, Mohammed, and many others. His wife and her paramour remain unaffected, as does history as a whole. Furthermore, he is less and less able to affect anything: when he shoots Enrico Fermi in the chest, Fermi merely complains of heartburn.
After several more attempts, Hassel is approached by Israel Lennox, another time-traveler. Lennox explains that time is not a single continuum; rather, it is billions of individual continua, and therefore Hassel has eliminated nothing except his own personal history (and thus his own existence). They are now both adrift outside of time: while on a trip to the Pleistocene, Lennox had stepped on an insect, but discovered that history as a whole had remained unaltered; then, in increasingly desperate attempts to change history, Lennox had killed Marco Polo, Einstein, Mohammed (a year after Hassel had killed him), and several others, eventually becoming a ghost like Hassel.
- Bester, Alfred. "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed" at Uchronia.net], retrieved February 7, 2011
- 1959 Hugo Awards at TheHugoAwards.org (retrieved February 7, 2011)
- "Virtual Unrealities by Alfred Bester, reviewed by Arthur D. Hlavaty", from the New York Review of Science Fiction, archived at maroney.org, retrieved February 7, 2011
- Connie Willis talks BLACKOUT (part 6), by Ali Kokmen, SUVUDU.com, posted February 21, 2010, retrieved February 7, 2011
- Five Short Stories with Useless Time Travel, by Jo Walton, at TOR.com, posted July 05, 2010, retrieved February 7, 2011