Travel back in time to kidnap historical figures for a few days, which then produce neural copies for the entertainment industry. It’s a job like any other, for “Bill” Billings.
A short orientation course, and then a jump in the past, to extract another subject. In Baghdad, in the ninth century, this time, to kidnap Scheherazade, the daughter of the Vizier, the greatest storyteller of her time.
Only, this time it does not work out as expected.
Not only does Bill kidnap the wrong girl, but a failure of his time machine deposits him and his unexpected companion… elsewhere.
Very much elsewhere.
Is it simply a post-human future, as Bill suggests, or is it the land of the Jinns, as claimed by the second-born of the Vizier?
Robert F. Young has been compared to Ray Bradbury and Ted Sturgeon for the artistic qualities of his narrative production. A science fiction author, born in 1915, Young started out in the pulps and wrote mainly short stories. One was nominated for a Hugo in 1965, and another was one of the sources of inspiration for anime RahXephon (and other Japanese media projects).
Nevertheless, Young was never very famous.
Only with old age, starting in 1980, he devoted himself to novels – and The Vizier’s Second Daughter, published by DAW in 19851, is his last published work, and it was probably meant as the first installment in a series. Should I make a comparison, the first obvious title would be the Svetz stories by Larry Niven, with whom Young’s book shares a premise and a certain style.
It is a short novel, two hundred lean pages, and written with a style that on a first look might seem barren, almost hurried.
The start is quick and loose, the premise seems extremely improbable and vaguely silly.
The protagonist is not a particularly competent and heroic hero, but simply a guy who does his job and thinks about the salary and the holidays. On the other hand, the seemingly dizzy, hyperactive Dunyzad – Scheherazade’s sister, kidnapped by mistake – turns out to be an intelligent and resourceful young woman.
The fact that the strange world in which the two characters have been thrown by the temporal incident has more sense in terms of Arab fantasy than hyper-technological future creates a curious disparity, an imbalance between the two characters – he knows how things work, but things work as she says they do.
This is the winning intuition in the book.
From this simple expedient spring most of the situations of the novel, which is simple and fun, but not without interesting science fictional ideas. The dialogue, in particular, is lively, natural and slightly Hawksian in a screwball-comedy way.
Ali Baba makes an appearance, and Young does not hesitate to make short order of him with an ironic twist.
It’s a weird novel, The Vizier’s Second Daughter.
It is clearly the work of a mature, acute author, perfectly able to control his own prose – to the point that it looks like he does not control it at all, and it is perhaps the deceptive simplicity of language, coupled with the improbability of the plot, to make this a particularly pleasant reading in this hot and depressed summer.