Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Index

THE NAKED SUN

A novel by Isaac Asimov (1999, Doubleday [original copyright: 1957])
Book 2 of the Robot Novels

Baley battles a very different culture while investigating a murder on a Spacer world.

 

 

5 stars

Read December 10th to 13th, 2001 for the second time  
    Although this book was concerned with a murder investigation, it was primarily about the growth of the main character. It was so very exciting and very well written, that I had to stop myself from reading it all in one day!

Baley grows incredibly from beginning to the end of this book. He starts out as a normal Earthman, afraid of the open air, against the idea of robots, and with a big distrust of Spacers. But by the end, he is advocating ripping down the Cities, the Caves of Steel that characterized the last book, and we can see the process happening before our eyes!

Once again, as with the previous book, I remembered virtually nothing about this story. It has been a very long time since I read this book- too long! I remembered Gladia, and her open nakedness in a couple of scenes, but I didn't remember who committed the crime, or what Baley did to figure it out. 

Baley is sent to the Spacer world of Solaria to solve a murder. Solaria's customs are outlined throughout the story, in a very natural progression. Things that are obvious to the Spacers come hard to Baley -very hard. The population is maintained at twenty thousand people for the whole planet. They don't see each other except as husband and wife, and even then, they avoid contact as much as possible. They prefer "viewing", using incredibly realistic three-dimensional projections that make it seem like a person is side-by-side, without the "hassle" of actually being there and causing the other person stress. 

Solaria appears to be under investigation by the other Spacer planets also, and as representative of those planets, R. Daneel Olivaw, humaniform robot, accompanies Baley on his mission. Only Daneel never tells anybody that he is a robot, and tries to pass himself off as a human to everybody on Solaria, human and robot alike. 

Daneel has trouble keeping Baley "safe" according to the First Law of robotics. He knows that Baley would be extremely uncomfortable in the open air, so has everything sealed off, from the spacecraft to the groundcar, the car to the house, and to the point of having all the windows blackened to prevent Baley from even looking outside. Baley, of course, resents this. He takes every opportunity to get away from Daneel's protectiveness, to the eventual ploy of having other robots guard the humaniform robot to keep him away from Baley. This is a weak point in the story as far as I'm concerned: I'm sure Daneel would have been able to convince the robots that Baley was going into danger, and have them release him. Daneel actually did believe this, so he wouldn't even have to lie.

Baley starts out conducting interviews by viewing people. He hates this, and cannot get a feel for how people are acting, what they are feeling. He needs to see people.  Every place he goes, robots are destroying evidence in their duty to keep humans away from clutter and uncleanliness. So after he locks Daneel up he goes traipsing around the planet by jet, at first cowering from the open air around him, then enjoying it, and finally relishing it. 

He visits a sociologist, who permits actual "seeing" for a while before he goes crazy and has to leave the room. They discuss how alike Solaria and old Earth are, with a small human elite and a large robotic slave pool- but one that is unable to revolt. He visits the assistant of the man who was murdered, who takes care of children as they are growing up, raised by robots and weaned from the necessity of actually seeing other people after being genetically enhanced. There, he learns that the murdered man believed that all seeing could be eliminated even among children and married couples in a couple of generations! Also at the gene farm, he is almost murdered by a child who shoots a poisoned arrow at him. Another murder attempt, this time on the Solarian head of security, almost succeeds, as the man is poisoned in the water that he is drinking. 

Baley formulated theories that robots could have been the unconscious murderers in all three cases. It is possible for a robot to poison a pitcher of water (not knowing it was poison), and another robot to serve that water, thus killing a man. It is possible for a robot to poison an arrowhead, and another robot to hand the poisoned arrow to a child, who knocks it and shoots at Baley after being told by a robot that he was essentially scum. And it is possible that a robot with detachable limbs could hand its arm over to a woman in the heat of distress and anger, so that she could use it to kill her husband.

Only that's not what Baley suggests to the group of people he summons! Baley had also visited a roboticist by viewing. The man almost turned catatonic when Baley threatened to visit him in person. That man discussed all sorts of possibilities with Baley, including the possibilities of putting positronic brains in all manner of physical objects, including spacecraft. Intelligent machines, which may have been a unique idea back when this book was written, would have incredible efficiency compared with a human-operated craft. The man also took frequent virtual walks with Gladia, who was often not fully clothed, taking liberties that she would not take when actually seeing somebody, and could have aroused petty jealousy. He also worked closely (in a virtual sense) with the murdered man, furnishing him some robots to work with. 

Baley baits the trap, and has the man eventually confess to the crime, and commits suicide, on the threat of having Daneel (who is assumed to be human) coming over to secure his technical records. Daneel finds the body, and I wondered if he was going to go into a First Law conflict. There was one large hitch that I was wondering about, which was the fact that the roboticist killed himself rather than being forced to share a room with another man. He could not have possibly killed Dr. Rikaine! On the other hand, Gladia seemed to take a perverse pleasure on seeing and being close to Baley. She could have easily done it. 

That is fixed in the neat twist given to the story at the end, where Baley concludes in private that she was simply a pawn. She blacked out after doing the deed, and it was so terrible that she can't remember a thing about doing it. Baley has wiped out the large threat of automated warships, and let Gladia go, as she really just murdered her husband unwittingly on the roboticist's behalf, because he was about to be exposed. Gladia was simply an affectionate woman, who was married to a "good Solarian", one who would avoid being close to another person as much as possible. After this episode, she was to move to Aurora, where she could be as affectionate as she wanted to be.

There are so many different leads that point in different directions.  So many of the people that Baley interviewed seemed to have good motive for the murder.  But only the roboticist and Gladia had the means and knowledge.  I wondered if Gladia had learned more about robots than she let on, just by listening to the roboticist speak.  But it wasn't so.  Still, Asimov leads us to believe that in her panic Gladia could have easily replaced the limb of the robot before she fainted.  I wonder...

The book, as I mentioned, is not really about the murder, though. Baley, at each step along the way, gets more and more used to the outdoors, at first on the clear-windowed jet, then outside at the farm, and finally sitting outside at the fountain with Gladia, until he faints at sunset. And when he returns to Earth, suddenly he can't stand the closeness of the people and the walls that he loved so much just a week before. And he will be a driving force in creating a new culture of colonization from Earth, tearing down the cities and rebuilding its self-confidence. 

Somehow, Asimov is able to find a way to weave the Solarian culture and that of the other Spacer worlds into the story seamlessly. The Caves of Steel was about Earth. We got to see Earth culture, and how they were boxed in by the Spacers. This time, we get to see an abnormal Spacer culture, but the way they deal with robots sets them very far from that of Earth. Robots are used for everything on Solaria. Humans could probably barely do anything if they suddenly decided that they wanted to. And what Solarian would want to? We see that first-hand when Baley gets so insulted by having robots do what seems like the most menial tasks, and when he wants to take over control of the viewer. 

This book somehow doesn't seem to be as dated as the previous one. I don't know why that is, but possibly it is because the feeling of claustrophobia has been left behind. I absolutely loved the beginning of the book, and had finished nearly half of it in the first day. The middle was more interesting than it was exciting, as Baley gathered witnesses and interviewed them. And the conclusion, though a little melodramatic, was still very exciting, with a neat twist tacked on the end, as if to show us how sneaky Baley could be, and that, yes, he was still caught by Gladia's charms. 

I remember why I loved these books when I was growing up, and I look forward to the next robot book, which begins the connection to I. Robot, which takes place hundreds or thousands of years before this, and the Foundation Trilogy, which takes place thousands of years afterwards. This book is definitely a step up from the previous one, in that it is very exciting, as we learn about Solaria and its inhabitants along with Baley, and there are so many misleading directions to follow regarding the murder. I was enthralled by it in its entirety.

 
   

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