The Naked Sun (1957) Isaac Asimov

With nearly five hundred books to his name and several hundred articles Isaac Asimov’s output was phenomenal by anyones standards. The second in Asimov’s ‘Robot series’; ‘The Naked Sun’ is a sci-fi murder-mystery novel.

The protagonist is stubborn, Elijah Baley a detective for Earth police force.  Our planet has changed a lot in this version of the future, all humankind has developed a fear of open landscapes and the naked sun, for reasons that are not made explicit in this novel. Furthermore as Earth is technologically inferior to the scientifically advanced outer worlds, the people have hidden themselves in vast underground mega-cities.

This technological advancement manifests itself most obviously in the form of humanoid robots, the foremost being R. Daneel, a former detective partner of Bailey’s who assists him on his mysterious mission in the outer world.

Baley’s mission is to investigate a murder on the planet of Solaria- a planet of merely twenty thousand people yet technically advanced due to the fact that robots outnumber humans or Spacers – (humans who have colonized other planets) by ten thousand to one.

Early on, we learn Baley has a wife and a small child which makes his mission into outer space all the more stressful, yet he complies to keep his C-6 rating, which we can infer is a fairly respected post in his society.

His reward for doing so – promotion to C-7 level, despite Baley’s reluctance he has been requested by name, somewhat enigmatically, and the higher powers on Earth see this as a perfect reconnaissance mission to gather Intel of Solaria’s possible weaknesses.

“Baley knew the situation…The fifty Outer Worlds, with a far smaller population…nevertheless maintained a military potential perhaps a hundred times greater. With their under populated worlds resting on a positronic robot economy, their energy production per human was thousands of times that of the Earth.”

In Elijah Baley the reader is given the classic outsider detective who asks the questions the reader is asking.  The story is centred on the murder of Rikaine Delmarre, “a very good Solarian”. The story is unusual as we are told that only possible person who could have committed the murder is his wife. Yet Baley pursues the case obstinately with several more developments along the way. It is unclear despite what we’re told whether Gladia Delmarre is guilty, because we are witnessing events through the eyes of Baley whose judgement it appears may have been clouded by Gladia’s beauty- A human weakness which Daneel is quick to draw attention to.

In R. Daneel we have the classic sidekick, someone who can take notes during questioning; in fact R. Daneel can record every conversation that Baley conducts entirely. Furthermore Daneel has skills of his own and conducts his own investigations. However Baley and Daneel do not always see eye to eye and Baley quickly uncovers that Daneel (a humanoid robot) is masquerading as a human and in turn may be gathering Intel for his planet, Aurora.

Yet all robots must obey the three laws of robotics:

Ultimately Daneel’s main weakness as a detective, according to Baley is like all robots he is logical but not reasonable.

This novel is regarded as one of Asimov’s best works, along with ‘The Caves of Steel’ and arguably the most famous ‘I, Robot.’  The characters are purposefully two-dimensional and the mystery plot is at times flaccid but ultimately pays off in a satisfying climax. The novel is a classic whodunnit with a vast sci-fi world backdrop and definitely leaves the reader wanting to read more of Asimov’s world.

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