Isaac Asimov
The Naked Sun (1957)
Reviewed: 1999-06-21

Detective Elijah Baley and his robot partner, R. Daneel Olivaw, team up again in this equally classic sequel to The Caves of Steel. A murder has been committed on the Outer World of Solaria. Unable to handle this unthinkable crime on their own, the Solarians have requested the assistance of an Earthman. And so Baley leaves the comfort of the closed cities and travels to a strange and wondrous planet, where there is only a tiny human population among a great number of robot servants, where the customs are peculiar, and where he confronts the naked sun under an open sky.

With relish, Asimov demolishes the imagined utopia of the Spacer world. Strengths turn into unexpected weaknesses, a rigid and inbred culture is revealed. Really plausible it isn't though, and much is left in the dark, e.g. the economics of this world.

The novel is a rather old-fashioned murder mystery, including the obligatory meeting of all the suspects at the end and the detective's grand presentation of his deductions and the evidence. In fact, there are many elaborate deductions throughout, highly theoretical, with little respect for the vagaries of real life. Unfortunately, giving much detail about the book would spoil many of these miniature mysteries.

Much of the novel is governed by neuroses, which becomes increasingly annoying. There is Elijah's rampant fear of open places, the Solarian's revulsion against personal contact, and robots driven to absurd behavior by the unyielding Laws of Robotics. "Robots are logical but not reasonable", Asimov has his protagonist say. Well, whenever we get around to building AIs we better make sure that they will be reasonable, because Asimov's robots are parodies at most. More than forty years after it has been written, the novel reeks of old age. Humaniform robots are everywhere, but the integration of machine intelligence directly into vehicles, appliances, etc. is presented as a concept for the still farther future. The resulting state of automation is ludicrous. Another incongruity: The Solarian culture absolutely demands for in-vitro fertilization, but it simply doesn't exist.

A classic whose time has passed.

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Christian "naddy" Weisgerber <>