The Naked Sun is really not a bad follow up to The Caves of Steel, both of The Robot series. The book features Earth and New York City detective Elijah Baley and Aurora humanoid robot, friend, and detective R. Daneel Olivaw traveling to Outer World Solaria to solve a murder. Solaria is a very odd world that has essentially no crime at all. It’s a world of 20,000 people and 200 million robots spread out on several thousand gigantic estates around the planet. People are hermits and refuse to “see” anyone else at all, instead “viewing” them holographically when they need to interact. The only time there are human interactions are basically when children are growing up and even though they are cared for by robots, there are occasional times they are needed by people and although these caretakers are disgusted by this, they do their duty. Additionally, most people are married, though not all. Some of these people live together, but in sprawling estates in their own areas so that they don’t encounter each other ever — except on rare occasion when “intimacy” is allowed and required. Finally, rare medical attention, when not being given by “viewing,” is administered by seeing, although it can be traumatic. There’s one doctor, one sociologist, two fetalogists (child caretakers), 10 roboticists, and just not too many of any one type of profession. There’s one or two policemen, but I’m not sure why.
So a leading scientist described as a “good Solarian” was murdered in his estate. The problem was, who could have done it. He was with his robots, but everyone knows that the First Law of Robotics won’t permit robots to harm humans. The only other option was his wife, Gladia Delmarre, who he never would have allowed into his presence in his laboratory, but as she was the only human with access, she’s the guilty party as far as Solaria is concerned. Unfortunately, there’s no murder weapon, no motive, no confession, nothing. So, since Baley (and Olivaw) did such a great job solving the Spacer murder on Earth the previous year, he was requested to come try to solve this murder. And he goes against his wishes. Because like all Earthmen, he’s terrified of open spaces and of light, such as sunlight. Remember that he lives in a giant city under ground full of people and going to a planet where everything is on the surface and there are so few people and so many hated robots is hideous to him. But it’s his duty, so he does it. And in the process, the lead investigator who invited him to Solaria is murdered in his presence while viewing and he himself is attacked with an assassination attempt, so it becomes quite personal. And as he investigates, the obvious murderer to everyone becomes the less obvious person to him, as he looks at other possibilities. To be perfectly honest, this isn’t the hardest mystery to solve. I had it figured out about halfway through the book, but it was still enjoyable to see how things played out and besides, that wasn’t what this book was about. This book’s strengths lie in its look at sociological views of human evolution and technology, in this case, robots. The Solarian sociologist who is the acknowledged expert knows nothing. He is self taught and doesn’t care to study anything by anyone on any other worlds, no matter how advanced or helpful their work may be. The physician, too, seems woeful in his abilities. Solaria, in its efforts to become the perfect human world and society, is freaking falling apart and disintegrating and they don’t even realize it. But Baley does. He sees and understands. The only humans left on Solaria are admittedly the “leisure” class and they are practically useless and helpless. This is what we’ll come to with the aid of robots? Hopefully not. The sociologist shocks Baley by telling him Solaria is based on Earth, but he’s right to a certain degree. They are simply opposite extremes of each other. As in the last book, Baley had become convinced that in order for Earth to survive its population explosion and diminishing resources, it had to once again advance into outer space and again colonize new planets, he’s now further convinced of the necessity for that and when he returns to New York, he makes a point of expressing that to the powers that be, hoping that someone, somewhere will see the light.
The actual solving of the murder is pretty dramatic and somewhat satisfying, if also fairly simplistic and to a minimal degree, somewhat predictable in terms of who the culprit is. My two main complaints about this book are we don’t see as much of Daneel Olivaw as we did in the preceding book, and that’s a shame, and I also find it very hard to believe that Solaria has devolved so much in the 200 years of its colonization so that people are now so disgusted with human contact that they can’t even tolerate it at all and can’t even say the word, “children,” for instance, and can barely tolerate the notion of intimacy with anyone, including a spouse. How can people, in 200 years, grow to despise being in contact with each other so much that some, this happens, would rather commit suicide? It stretches the imagination and I find it somewhat unbelievable. But whatever the case, it is what it is, so I guess you have to go with it.
I thought hard about giving this book five stars because I thought it was pretty original and quite enjoyable, but I’m giving it four because the actual mystery is rather simplistic, as I said, and because there are some elements of the book, as noted, that seem rather unbelievable. It’s not bad though and I certainly recommend it to anyone in search of a decent sci fi mystery to read. And it’s not essential that one have read the first robot book to read this either; it can be read as a stand alone novel. Recommended.