The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov

After finishing Caves of Steel, I was eager to continue reading about Elijah Baley and his robot partner/friend R. Daneel Olivaw. As such, I picked up The Naked Sun — the second novel in Asimov’s Robot series — the next day.

Book cover for Isaac Asimov's The Naked Sun. It features an image of a blue humanoid robot.

In the first novel, we learned that people of earth have retreated underground. They now live in crowded steel caves referred to as the “Cities”. What didn’t really come across to me in the first book, was the extent to which this has shaped earth’s men’s psyche. The people of earth now share a collective phobia of open spaces. And confronting that fear becomes central to the protagonist’s story.

In The Naked Sun, Baley is forced out of his comfortable cave. Due to circumstances, he must travel to a different planet entirely, the “Spacer” world of Solaria. For the first time in its history, this planet has become the scene of a murder. Baley and R. Daneel make the interstellar journey to solve the case.

Sun, like Caves, is a whodunit. The story itself is interesting enough. Nothing spectacular, in my opinion. But, written with brevity and wit, the new characters introduced are just enough to keep my attention. Make no mistake, though, it’s Baley and R. Daneel and the continuation of their relationship is the main event here.

What really stands out to me, however, is Asimov’s reflections on how the end station for technological progress is human isolation. In this strange world, human contact has all but been eradicated. Communication and socialising are done through “viewing” which is essentially a high-fidelity holographic projection. Facetime on steroids.

It feels eerily relevant some 60 years after the book was first published. And reading Asimov’s explorations of what living in a society like this does for the human condition makes me think twice about if we shouldn’t all just go full Walden, and right soon.

Although I felt lukewarm about the book as a whole immediately upon completion, it has since grown on me. Particularly after reading the third book in the series, where Asimov writes in a different style entirely. It helped me understand and appreciate that what I originally mistook for lack of depth in these first two books, is not lack of depth at all. It is about leaving things unsaid, writing between the lines and giving the reader space to fill in the blanks.

Well worth a read. At only 200 pages, it’s a quick one, too.

Rating: 3/5


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