Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Naked Sun

The planet Solaria's population is low and widely scattered, and there has never been a murder there until now. The Solarian government requests a specific detective from Earth, Elijah Baley, and in spite of Baley's ingrained agoraphobia he has no choice but to go; his own government wants him to keep an eye out for any weaknesses of the Spacers of the Outer Worlds, who have kept Earth isolated for centuries. On Solaria Baley is met by his sometime Spacer associate, R. Daneel Olivaw, a robot who can pass for human, and together they learn the problem inherent in the case: only one person could possibly have committed the murder, but that person couldn't possibly have done it either.

My mystery book club at the nearest public library had a crossover meeting with the science fiction book club this month, and this far future whodunit was the book that suited both of us. I know I'd read it before, probably when I was in high school; I was reading a lot of Asimov back then.

The Naked Sun was first published in 1956, so it was already nearly 30 years old when I first read it and it's over 50 years old now.  It has dated in odd ways; the thing that struck me was Lije's references to and use of "book-films," a type of recording that has to be threaded into a reader that the user then wears on his head. Back in high school, before anybody had heard of e-books, I probably just accepted that as part of the science fictional trappings, but now it seems implausibly cumbersome.

I was also struck by how Lije treats Daneel; even though he's thrilled to see his former partner when he arrives on Solaria, Lije never forgets that that initial R stands for Robot, and he rarely misses an opportunity to emphasize that Daneel is a thing, not a person. To me, the reader, Daneel is a character every bit as sympathetic as Lije, maybe more so; this isn't the only book Daneel appears in, and having read them all I'm pretty attached to him.  He, of course, does not indicate at any time that he thinks Lije is treating him badly, but I am a little bit hurt on his behalf.

So, thought-provoking as well as entertaining, 50 years after publication! Asimov has been one of my favorite writers for a long time, and remains so.

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