a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Men who Murdered Mohammed (1958)
Alfred Bester
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

A time-travel story in which Henry Hassel travels back in time to change the past (specifically, to kill his wife who has cheated on him), but finds that none of the usual time-travel tropes apply. In fact, despite his attempts to change the past in the most dramatic ways he can imagine, things do not turn out at all as he (or the reader) expects.

The story begins with the narrator relaying some anecdotes about famous historical scientists and mathematicians. The story about Boltzman is a joke about the way he lectured by saying complicated mathematical formula out loud without writing them on the board. (In the version of the story I am reading, the version reprinted in the anthology "The Dark Side of the Earth" by Signet in 1964), the formulas Boltzman is reciting are rendered in standard text and are almost funny by themselves. For instance, I'm guessing that aSb is supposed to be the integral from a to b?) It also includes a story about Jacques Charles which is not mathematical in itself aside from the fact that it describes Charles as a mathematician.

Later in the story, Hassel attempts to talk to the colleague who is (at that very moment) making out with Hassel's wife, and does so in way that humorously combines mathematical notation with the names of historical figures. I will attempt to replicate it here:

(quoted from The Men who Murdered Mohammed)

Murphy, u-v=(u'-v1/4)(ua+u^xvy+vb) but when George Washington F(x) y2dx and Enrico Fermi F(u') dxdt one half of Marie Curie, then what about Christopher Columbus times the square root of minus one?

At that point, the narrator tells us that he has copied Hassel's formula down on the hood of a passing car, but Murphy seems oblivious and continues kissing Mrs. Hassel.

When Hassel finally gets to talk to the narrator, who has a better understanding of what is going on than he does, he again briefly tries talking in equations, but the narrator cuts him short...and I think that's all of the math in it. So, there's not a lot of math in this story, but it is a fun read, especially for anyone with a taste for mathematically-flavored science fiction.

Thanks to Anna Engelsone, a professor in the Mathematics and Computer Science Department at Maryville College wrote to suggest I add this classic science fiction story to my database.

(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to The Men who Murdered Mohammed
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Push of a Finger by Alfred Bester
  2. By a Fluke by Arthur Porges
  3. The Unwilling Professor by Arthur Porges
  4. The Circle of Zero by Stanley G. Weinbaum
  5. The Indefatigable Frog by Philip K. Dick
  6. The Secret Number by Igor Teper
  7. The Discrete Charm of the Turing Machine by Greg Egan
  8. The Pacifist by Arthur C. Clarke
  9. Aleph Sub One by Margaret St. Clair
  10. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
Ratings for The Men who Murdered Mohammed:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
2.5/5 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.5/5 (2 votes)

GenreHumorous, Science Fiction,
MotifTime Travel,
MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)