The Naked Sun
Dust-jacket of the first edition
|Cover artist||Ruth Ray|
|Genre||Science fiction, Mystery novel|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||The Caves of Steel|
|Followed by||The Robots of Dawn, "Mirror Image"'|
Like its famous predecessor, The Caves of Steel, it is a whodunit story, in addition to being science fiction. The book was first published in 1957 after being serialized in Astounding Science Fiction and Fact between October and December 1956.
The story arises from the murder of Rikaine Delmarre, a prominent "fetologist" (fetal scientist, responsible for the operation of the planetary birthing center reminiscent of those described in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World) of Solaria, a planet politically hostile to Earth. Elijah Baley is called in to investigate, at the request of the Solarian government. He is again partnered with the humaniform robot R. Daneel Olivaw. Before leaving Earth, he is asked by Earth's government to assess the Solarian society for weaknesses.
The book focuses on the unusual traditions and culture of Solarian society. The planet has a rigidly controlled population of twenty thousand, and robots outnumber humans ten thousand to one. People are strictly taught from birth to despise personal contact. They live on huge estates, either alone or with their spouse only. Communication is done via holographic telepresence (called viewing, as opposed to in-person seeing).
As shown in its predecessor novel, The Caves of Steel, Earth also appears to have evolved an unusual society, in which people spend their entire lives in confined (or "cosy") underground interlinked cities, never venturing outside. Indeed, they become utterly panicked and terrified when exposed to the open air and the naked sun.
Ultimately, we find out that Delmarre's neighbor and fellow roboticist Jothan Leebig was working on a way of subverting the robots' inability to kill humans. This was achieved by understanding a missing word in the Three Laws of Robotics: "knowingly". He used this knowledge to cause the death of Rikaine at the hands of his wife Gladia, because Rikaine was opposed to his plans. Later on, he also managed to poison the Security Secretary using a pair of robots.
The key to this technique is that a robot cannot knowingly kill a human or knowingly allow a human to come to harm. But if the robot does not know that its actions will cause harm, then it will not be stopped by the Laws.
The future implication of this was pointed out by Elijah, that it can be extended to the point at which robots could be used to fight wars. (In the Asimov universe, this would otherwise be unthinkable, given the Three Laws.)
Leebig kills himself before he can be taken into custody, because of a very Solarian fear of human contact. The irony is that the "human" he was afraid of was Olivaw, a robot.
Despite knowledge of Gladia's guilt, Baley never discloses her role in the murder—in part because he feels sorry for her and believes that her breakdown was caused by the pressure of the Solarian way of life. He manages to have her sent to the Spacer capital planet of Aurora, where she can further her growth as a human being, something she could never do on Solaria.
After investigating the murder to a satisfactory conclusion, Baley returns to Earth a hero. The information he brings back is invaluable to the government, which was predicting the downfall of Spacer societies; the similarities between the nature of Solarian society and Earth society in their closed natures suggests a fundamental flaw in the Terran society.
A more thorough description of the aftereffects can be found in the sequel to the Naked Sun, The Robots of Dawn. We also discover the remote end-point of Solaria's odd development in Foundation and Earth.
The Foundation series and the Spacer/Robot series seem originally to have been separate, though with some overlap of ideas. If the Galactic Empire is the far future, where have the robots gone? In Foundation's Edge Asimov begins to supply the answer, expanded in the other sequels and prequels.
Galaxy reviewer Floyd C. Gale praised the novel as "an interesting exercise in scientific detection ... Asimov appears to be laying the groundwork for a new category of science fiction, the S-F detective story".
The novel was adapted for television as an episode of the British anthology series Out of the Unknown, with Baley being portrayed by Paul Maxwell and R. Daneel Olivaw by David Collings. Broadcast on BBC2 on 18 February 1969, the story was dramatised by Robert Muller and directed by Rudolph Cartier and the music and sound effects were created by Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
Cast of BBC2 Adaptation:
- Paul Maxwell as Elijah Baley
- David Collings as R Daneel Olivaw
- Sheila Burrell as Under-Secretary Minnim
- Neil Hallett as Hannis Gruer
- Erik Chitty as Dr Altim Thool
- Ronald Leigh-Hunt as Corwin Attlebish
- John Robinson as Dr Anselmo Quemot
- Frederick Jaeger as Jothan Leebig
- Trisha Noble as Gladia Delmarre
- Paul Stassino as Rikaine Delmarre
- John Hicks as Bik
- David Cargill as Robot
- Raymond Hardy as Robot
- Roy Patrick as Robot
- John Scott Martin as Robot
- Gerald Taylor as Robot
The Naked Sun was one of six Asimov stories dramatised for the Out of the Unknown series. The others were The Dead Past, Sucker Bait, Satisfaction Guaranteed, Reason (as The Prophet) and Liar!
Although the episode was wiped by the BBC and no copy is known to exist, three of Delia Derbyshire's sound sequences were published on a BBC record of sound effects Out of This World, renamed as "Heat Haze", "Frozen Waste" and Icy Peak".