Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov

This week I'm reviewing the second book in Isaac Asimov's Robot Series, The Naked Sun. Like the previous book, The Caves of Steel, this follows the adventures of Lije Baley and his occasional partner, R. Daneel Olivaw. As Asimov states in the introduction his intention with this series was to first write a murder mystery on a world where humans are abundant but robots are scarce, as shown with Earth's population of eight billion crammed into underground cities of concrete and steel. In the second book, Asimov wanted to do a murder mystery on a planet where robots were abundants, but humans were scarce, which is this story.

In this particular instance, a murder has occurred on the Outer World of Solaria. The first murder in three hundred years, as a matter of fact, which means the Solarians are utterly unequipped to handle the situation. At the insistence of the Aurorans, the most powerful of the Outer Worlds, the Solarians have invited Earth detective Lije Baley to investigate, accompanied by Olivaw. Once again Baley is confronted by a murder with no weapon, no readily apparent motive, and only one suspect which he believes is incapable of committing the murder. As a result Baley has to dig deeper into Solaria's society and find out how a seemingly impossible murder could have happened.

I will admit that I was a little prejudiced against this book once I found out the Solarians were involved again. I had already run into them in a book I'd previously read, Foundation and Earth. As my readers may remember, I ended up throwing that particular book against the wall as punishment for its mind-numbing and never ending argument on the same damn topic. The Solarians, or rather a stagnated and decadent descendant of theirs thousands of years into the future, are not depicted flatteringly in the future and as a result I was prejudiced against them. Even without having read Foundation and Earth, (which I recommend, it's not a very good book) I think most readers can tell that there's something rather wrong with Solaria as a society, which is probably the point of this book more than the murder mystery. Much like Caves of Steel, more time seems to be dedicated to talking about the science-fiction society that Asimov is portraying rather than clues about the murder mystery itself. Granted, Baley gets to show his chops as a competent detective in this instance, but I feel like the murder mystery is really an excuse plot to get to this crazy planet with robots.

At the conclusion of the book Baley asserts that Solaria is a dead end in human development, but Earth has also become one. The humans of Earth need to break free from the confines of their great cities and travel the stars once again, and seeing as I've read the Foundation series I know this will definitely happen and humanity will become the masters of the galaxy.So it's definitely encouraging to see that humanity isn't going to stagnate and eventually go the same way as so many other species before. The ending also sets up the third book of the series with Baley stating he should probably go to Aurora to see what the Outer Worlds are really like, since Solaria is really an exception rather than the rule. And as Asimov said he wanted to finish with a story that has a more even blend of humans and robots, which hopefully will be interesting to read.

Overall this book is okay. It certainly doesn't make my top favorites in Asimov literature, but there is a lot of Asimov literature out there, and you can certainly do a lot worse. I'm kind of looking forward to the next one because I'm hoping it'll be a little bit different, but that will remain to be seen.

- Kalpar

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