Isaac Asimov drapes a Science Fiction theme over a Murder Mystery in his book “The Naked Sun.” If you’re a fan of either genre then you’re in for a treat with this novel from 1956.
The story follows “Earthman” Elijah Baley, a detective, who’s been solicited by Spacers on planet Solaria to solve a murder. An impossible murder that is. Solarians live in a utopia where all their needs are satisfied, and all required tasks are completed by robots. Over the centuries their society has developed in such a way that there is no need for human contact. A main plot point in the story is that Solarians are actually repulsed by the idea of contact with other humans, even other Solarians. As a result, they live in extreme isolation from eachother and resort to communicating exclusively through viewing portals. Due to the lack of contact with other humans, crime is unheard of on Solaria. With a lack of crime, there are no police officers nor are there experienced detectives to solve the crime. The stage has been set and in comes “plainclothesman” Baley, the first inhabitant of Earth to be welcomed onto an outerworld.
To explain the setting in more detail, Earth in “The Naked Sun” contains a branch of humanity who have built underground mega cities and willingly live in cramped confined quarters with no exposure to the outside world. On the other hand, we have the spacers, who long ago took to colonizing the outerworlds with the aid of robots and live a heightened life of luxury. The spacers have taken their place at the top of the human hierarchy, and look down upon earthlings as their lessers.
Asimov’s detailed description of culture clash from the two vastly different societies are definitely where the highlights in the novel are found. The difficulties introduced from the perspetive of a detective who takes his knowledge of human behavior for granted, is what makes this such a fascinating take. Solving crime on Earth where you know the people is one thing, but what if the people you investigate had left earth centuries ago and behave nothing like the sort you’re used to? Naive in some respects, unbelievably advanced in others. Baley’s discomfort as he attempts to acclimate to the Solarian lifestyle of open natural space and robotic assisted living, while attempting to solve a mystery will keep you hooked until the very end.
Through the writing in “The Naked Sun,” Asimov forces the reader contemplate what it means to give up the human element in life for the sake of comfort; where does it all lead, is it worth it?
This was both a thinker and an incredibly fun read. The influence it’s had on modern media is apparent.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has yet to read it.