Literature / The Naked Sun
The Naked Sun is a 1957 Science Fiction
and Crime Fiction
Novel by Isaac Asimov
, the second of his "Robot Trilogy".
In The Naked Sun
, Elijah "Lije" Baley, freshly promoted from his previous successful case in The Caves of Steel
, is contracted by political machinations far above his pay grade to investigate a murder on one of the "Spacer" Worlds — Solaria, the richest, most sparsely populated, and most technologically advanced of them all. This makes it, of course, the absolute opposite of the overpopulated, crowded, technologically backward Earth of his exclusive experience. On Solaria, humans are thoroughly outnumbered by their robot servants, to the point where every individual person has an estate of hundreds or thousands of square miles
, maintained entirely by robot, on which they are the only inhabitant
, with the possible exception of a spouse. Even in cases of marriage, Solarians consider it all but inconceivable to come into the presence of another human being for any purpose besides prearranged and socially-mandated acts of procreation. Along with his agoraphobia, this is one of the major barriers to Lije's investigation.
The victim is Rikaine Delmarre, a well-respected but not well-liked native Solarian. The only suspect is his beautiful wife, Gladia, who maintains her innocence despite having been the only person within hundreds of miles at the time of the murder. Lije is assisted for a second time by R. Daneel Olivaw. (The "R" stands for "Robot".) He's fully humanoid, and despite the Solarians' expertise with robots, able to conceal his robotic nature completely. Lije deals with uncooperative authorities, assassination attempts on him and his witnesses, and a world completely different from his own as he attempts to solve the mystery.
The book was adapted into a Soviet TV movie in 1978, under the name of The Last Alternative
. Unfortunately, a lot of the text was cut out, leaving glaring Plot Holes
, and that not counting the use of a heavily cut down translation. Add special effects cheap even for that time... in short, if not for the actors being mostly decent, it might have been So Bad, It's Horrible
; as it is, it is hardly a worthy adaptation.
- Ambiguous Disorder: Johan Leebig is extremely anti-social, and voluntarily stopped all human contact when he was a small child. Of course, in Solaria, that was considered a good thing and proof humans were evolving past gregariousness. He dislikes human presence so strongly that he was ready to conquer the galaxy just so that Solaria and its taboo on personal presence would remain untouched.
- Androids and Detectives: Less emphasis on this than there was in The Caves of Steel, but it's still present.
- Bluffing the Murderer: In the finale, as Baley lists the motives and means and even opportunities of everyone involved, without focusing on the murderer specifically.
- Broken Record: A robot was found at the scene of the murder. It was completely broken down due to the First Law being violated, constantly repeating the victim's last words.
- Bureaucratically Arranged Marriage: Spouses on Solaria are assigned based on genetic compatibility, and the number of children they produce is mandated according to the planet's Population Control. It makes sense, considering it's only for reproduction, and most Solarians are so averse to physical contact that emotional compatibility wouldn't make much of a difference (Gladia and Rikaine being a notable exception).
- Consequence Combo: Baley is told he will get a possible promotion to class C-7 if he accepts and does a good job, meaning his family will be looked after, he will get better rations, better showers and all that comes with it. However with the offer comes the unspoken threat of declassification if he refuses.
- Crapsaccharine World: Solaria is an approximately Earth-sized planet with a total population of 20 thousand spread out evenly and a robot-human ratio of 50 thousand. It means that the people have practically no needs, every task that they do not want to do themselves are done by robots, and each people owns a huge estate. The problem? The people are so separated from each other that two people being in the same room is considered Squick. It is further reinforced in the sequel, The Robots of Dawn, where Gladia says that she first experienced happiness when she arrived on Aurora, which itself is a more subtle kind of Crapsaccharine World. One Spacer in the sequel (admittedly, one who only has second hand knowledge about Solaria) even states that he would rather live on Earth (which, for the pampered Spacers, is rather close to an outright Crapsack World).
- Cyanide Pill: After the Summation Gathering, Jothan Leebig is about to be arrested. He is so afraid of "seeing" another human being that he kills himself rather than meeting another human being face to face. The irony is that it was R. Daneel, a robot, who was going to arrest him, only that nobody during the course of the novel realized that he was not human.
- Damned by Faint Praise: Everyone Baley meets on Solaria agrees the late Dr. Delmarre was a "good Solarian", which sounds like a decent compliment on the face of it, but it becomes progressively more apparent that it isn't. No one seems very distraught by Delmarre's passing, and their Insistent Terminology makes obvious the fact that no one is willing to call him a good person.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Part of the Solarian moral code is that personal contact is obscene. Even standing in the same room as another human induces more than a little Squick in most Solarians. Instead, they communicate using 3D holographs that are virtually indistinguishable from the real deal. The disconnect between "seeing" as opposed to "viewing" is extremely wide: viewing someone who is totally nude at the moment is completely acceptable, because hey, it's just viewing. It's not like they're actually in the room with you. Furthermore, the subject of children and anything to do with them is considered vulgar — Baley just saying the word "children" is enough to make one Solarian blanch.
- Designer Babies: All children on Solaria are grown in test tubes and vats, screened for genetic problems, raised collectively and taught to dislike human presence. This is considered a repugnant job, but Delmarre took it out of his strong sense of duty.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Discussed. When Baley points out Quemot as a suspect in Delmarre's murder, he suggests as a possible motive that Quemot could have been annoyed at losing too many chess games to Delmarre. When Quemont comments that losing some chess games doesn't seem like much of a motive, Baley says that some motives can seem all the world to the murderer and absolutely ridiculous to everyone else.
- Electronic Speech Impediment: Robots who partially violate a Law can suffer damage to their speech programming; one robot who unknowingly serves poisoned water ends up with a lisp. This is Baley's hint that the completely incoherent robot at the crime scene was something more than a mere witness to murder — its own arm was the murder weapon, and when it realized what had happened, the First Law violation caused its programming to snap.
- Eureka Moment: Baley realizes the murder weapon was one of Dr. Delmarre's robot's detachable arms after Daneel, being Literally Minded, misinterprets "give me a hand" as a request for him to physically detach his hand (when Baley was really asking for help out of his seat).
- Exact Words: At one point, Baley keeps Daneel held hostage by a group of robots to prevent him from tagging along. Since robots are built on this trope, he is very specific in his instructions not to let Daneel make contact with anyone, since they could countermand Baley's orders to hold him. Fortunately for Baley, he neglects to forbid other people from contacting Daneel, and this lets Daneel catch up to Baley just in time to save him from an almost certain death by drowning.
- Fairplay Whodunnit: The first novel, The Caves of Steel, was written to demonstrate that a sci-fi Fairplay Whodunnit is possible. This book follows the same goal.
- False Reassurance: Unintentionally invoked by Daneel after Baley and Attlebish get into a pissing match about the murder investigation. Caught between them, he tries to be as diplomatic as possible while still supporting Baley. His reassurance is quite genuine, but Baley sees it from another perspective.
"To one who knew Daneel was a robot, it was all an attempt to do a job without giving offense to any human, not to Baley and not to Attlebish. To one who thought Daneel was an Auroran, a native of the oldest and most powerful military of the Outer Worlds, it sounded like a series of subtly courteous threats."
- Foreshadowing: The circumvention of the First Law in Robots and Empire by changing a robot's definition of human is hinted at in this book during the scene at the farm, when one of the robots describes Earthmen as "inferior" humans, which apparently is part of its default programming. And though the robot denies it, Baley suspects this may have caused it to hesitate when the child it was guarding suddenly fired an arrow at him.
- Found the Killer, Lost the Murderer: Inverted. Lije catches the murderer but deliberately lets the killer go free.
- He Knows Too Much: Rikaine was killed because he knew about Dr. Leebig's Evil Plan.
- Indy Ploy: Being a stranger on Solaria, with virtually no knowledge of their society or the murder he is supposed to investigate, Baley is forced to improvise for most of the story (much to his discomfort). Fortunately, he knows enough about human behavior to get by even without knowing the Solarians' culture, and he quickly learns that simply maintaining an imposing presence is enough to keep them on the defensive while he figures things out.
- Innocent Fanservice Girl: Since Solarians despise human contact they communicate with very realistic holograms (called "viewing", as opposed to "seeing"). When Baley first wants to talk with Gladia, she appears naked on the hologram; she doesn't understand his embarrassment, since it's just "viewing" — it's not as though he's there in person or anything. Daneel tells her to put some clothes on.
- Ironic Name: The Solarians are counted among the ranks of the Spacers. But most of them are barely willing to leave their own homes, much less get on a starship and travel offworld.
- It is Pronounced Tro-PAY: Gladia's name is pronounced glah-DIE-ah.
- Lamarck Was Right: Solarians regard gregariousness as undesirable, and eliminate it through early childhood training. This leads a Solarian paediatrician ("fetologist") to surmise that in a few thousand years, children will be born without the need to socialise.
- Mad Scientist: Jothan Leebig. He's the one behind the murder of Delmarre and also the two attempted murders, as he managed to find a way around the First Law, preventing robots from harming humans. Leebig was also planning on using this to develop new robotic military weapons that would have had terrifying consequences.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: All of the attempted murders on Lije and his assistants are carried out through robotic means, despite the laws of robotics! See Three-Laws Compliant below.
- My Sensors Indicate You Want to Tap That: Daneel can read human body language well enough to suspect that Elijah is falling for Gladia.
- Naked First Impression: Elijah's first "meeting" with Gladia.
- Noodle Incident: Elijah mentions one case he was on where a murderer was caught only because he couldn't bring himself to break the custom of absolute silence in the communal restrooms.
- One Steve Limit: Solaria, with its Population Control and 20,000 people population, plays this trope literally.
- Our Nudity Is Different: Solarian culture differentiates between "seeing" (actually being in the room with someone) and "viewing" (communicating from afar via highly-realistic hologram), and there's much less social restrictions on viewing, including no nudity taboo. When Gladia has a Naked First Impression with Elijah, she has no idea why he would have a problem with her being naked. After all, he's not seeing her, he's just seeing a hologram in her image.
- Perfect Poison: Subverted. The poisoner uses too much, and the victim vomits most of it up before it can kill him. He does, however, spend the rest of the book recovering from the dose he did receive.
Baley: You poisoners on Solaria don't know dosages. Lack of experience.
- Picked Flowers Are Dead: Gladia picks a flower and Elijah remarks that she killed it. Being a murder suspect, she angrily asks whether that's supposed to mean she can kill a human just as easily. In hindsight, this is rather prophetic.
- Please Put Some Clothes On: Gladia's first interview.
- Raised by Robots: It goes without saying that given their aversion to human contact the Solarians simply cannot bear to be around children and robots perform all child-rearing tasks.
- The Reliable One: Dr. Delmarre is something of a deconstruction of this trope. Publicly, he is lauded for his unfailing devotion to civic duty: he volunteered for one of the most important but least desirable jobs on the planet, and never once neglected his marital duties, despite being even more anthrophobic than most Solarians. Privately, no one really cared for him, as he was also stern and lacking in personality. Not to mention his dutifulness probably fostered the impression that he was Holier Than Thou, even if it was only imagined. Nevertheless, he did live a life of willful sacrifice, even if that was the only good thing people had to say about him.
- Sex Is Evil: Not because Solarians consider it immoral, but because it is the epitome of what they despise most: physical contact. Plus, it is the one form of physical contact they are required to engage in for the sake of their society (except for medical treatment, but that is only occasionally necessary). Gladia actually considers herself a sexual deviant simply because, unlike everyone else on her world, physical contact doesn't repulse her.
- Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: Gladia, as mentioned above, waged a constant war between her natural desires and her social upbringing, to the detriment of both her and her husband.
- Baley suggests that this was one of the murderer's motives - he was sexually attracted to Gladia, who refused what passed for his "advances" (she refused an offer to become his assistant) and so hated both her and her husband. Of course, as a Solarian, there was no chance for him to act upon these urges anyway, even disregarding the fact that this was Jothan Leebig, who would have not approached her under any circumstances, and likely would not have acknowledged such feelings even to himself. Of course, Baley doesn't rely on just that.
- Sleeping Single: Even spouses rarely come into physical contact with one another.
- Summation Gathering: Lije does this at the end, although everyone is only in viewing. Daneel is sent to arrest the real murderer.
- Three-Laws Compliant: Naturally. There are no mis-programmed robots in this book. However, there is an unspoken assumption built into the laws of robotics that becomes highly significant. Law One — "A robot may not knowingly injure a human being or, through inaction, knowingly allow a human being to come to harm." Basically, a robot can perform an innocuous task, individually harmless, which taken along with a number of other tasks performed by other robots or people, would cause a human being serious harm or death.
- Title Drop: Multiple times, referring to Baley's fear of the outdoors. The sun, with the way it moves and unexpectedly goes behind clouds and comes out again, especially bothers him.
- Torture Always Works: Lije set up events so that the person he pins the murder on will think he's about to be in physical proximity with another human, an idea that revolts him even more than most other Solarians. This causes him to confess to his crimes, though he never actually confesses to the murder, because he wasn't actually the murderer.
- Unwitting Pawn: Robots cannot be ordered to murder humans, but they can be used in one. This happens with a robot that brought poisoned water to Hans Gruer (although Gruer doesn't die). And then the robot that handed a poisoned arrow to Bik, and the robot whose arm was used to murder Rikaine Delmarre.
- Who Murdered the Asshole?: The victim was the perfect embodiment of the planet's social code ("a good Solarian"); that is, an antisocial asshole. As Baley, who was brought in from Earth just to solve the case has to explain to his audience at the Summation Gathering, everyone had a motive to murder the man who reminded them all of their imperfections.
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?:
- Part of the reason Baley insists on seeing over viewing is to gauge how each interviewee reacts to physical presence. Most find it extremely uncomfortable, but only for Leebig does it reach the level of a phobia. On the other end of the spectrum is Gladia, whose "fear" is purely a product of her social conditioning; whereas other Solarians find seeing more difficult to endure as time goes on (even those whose job requires it), she finds it easier.
- Centuries of being cooped up inside walled cities have given all Earthmen intense agoraphobia (fear of the outdoors), to the point that Daneel fears Baley will panic just from seeing out an open window, and flatly refuses to let him open the top of the convertible car they're in when they first arrive on the planet.
- Jothan Leebig's Evil Plan thoroughly frightens everyone when it becomes public. Though it would have been a powerful military weapon, in a society wholly dependent on robots, the thought of circumventing the Three Laws is enough to instantly turn the majority of Solaria against him.
- Your Normal Is Our Taboo: Though spacers in general are a society of introverts, Solarians are unique for their Victorian attitudes towards sex and reproduction. To them, it is a necessary evil never spoken of in polite company. Even the word "children" is considered vulgar.