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"'|
The Naked Sun is an English-language science fiction novel, the second in Isaac Asimov's Robot series. Like its famous predecessor, The Caves of Steel, this is a whodunit story. The book was first published in 1957 after being serialized in Astounding Science Fiction 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, whose death Elijah Baley is called to investigate, at the request of the Solarian government. He is again partnered with the humanoid robot R. Daneel Olivaw, and 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 20,000, and robots outnumber humans ten thousand to one. People are taught from birth to avoid personal contact, and live on huge estates, either alone or with their spouse only. Face-to-face interaction, and especially impregnating a woman, when replacement of a decedent is necessary, was seen as unavoidable but dirty. In contrast, when "viewing" each other (as opposed to in-person "seeing"), they are free of modesty, and have no problem if an interlocutor sees the other's naked body. For communication they use holography, then the subject of experiments by physicists. (Asimov was a physicist.) A two-way teleconference allowed the participants to hear and see each other, but in 3D, almost unheard of among the public at the time, for whom color television was a novelty.
Baley insists on face to face conversations, traveling in a closed vehicle because of his own agoraphobia, from his life in the enclosed cities of Earth.
Normally the prime suspect in a murder would have been Delmarre's wife Gladia, who was present in the house when he was killed by being beaten over the head. She claims to have no memory of what happened, nor is there any sign of the object used to beat Rikaine Delmarre to death. The only witness is a malfunctioning house robot that has suffered damage to its positronic brain because it allowed harm to be done to a human, in violation of the First Law.
Baley's first encounter with Gladia is thru viewing, at which point he discovers that Solarians have no taboo about nudity when viewing, though Baley is shocked. Thereafter he develops a relationship with Gladia in face to face contact. She does not like all Solarian customs, and was on bad terms with Rikaine, partly from sexual frustration.
The situation becomes more complex when Hannis Gruer, the Head of Security on Solaria, is poisoned while viewing with Baley. Baley, unable to intervene physically, has to call on Gruer's robots to save him. Baley is able to prevent the house robots from cleaning up the scene, destroying evidence. He realizes that the same thing happened after Delmarre's death.
Ultimately, it is revealed that Delmarre's neighbor, roboticist Jothan Leebig, was working on putting positronic brains in spaceships. This would negate the First Law, as such ships would not recognize humans, and would be able to attack and destroy other ships without regard for their crews. Delmarre was one of his opponents, as were other Solarians who were horrified by the prospect of robots that could actually harm them. Leebig poisoned Gruer by tricking his robots, using his knowledge of positronic brains, into putting poison into Gruer's drink. Daneel goes to arrest Leebig, who kills himself in Solarian fear of human contact, not knowing that Daneel is a robot. It is assumed that he also engineered the murder of Rikaine Delmarre. Baley conceals Gladia's role on the grounds that her emotional breakdown was under the pressure of the Solarian way of life. Leebig had instructed the Delmarre house robots to detach an arm and give it to Gladia in the heat of an argument. She then hit her husband with it, killing him, before going into a fugue state, after which she remembered nothing. She decides to emigrate to the Spacer planet of Aurora.
Baley returns to Earth a hero. Asked by his boss to reveal any weaknesses he found, Baley says that the features once regarded as Spacer strengths, such as their robots and long lives, will ultimately prove to be weaknesses. They discourage an active, exploratory attitude that Earth-born humans will eventually rediscover once they are able to leave Earth.
A more thorough description of the aftereffects can be found in the sequel The Robots of Dawn (according to Baley's boss in the sequel, Earth benefited through a revision in the terms of certain trade treaties).
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 Daneel 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".
In 1978, the novel was adapted in the Soviet Union under the name "The Last Alternative" (Последняя альтернатива)