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Literature / The Naked Sun

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The Naked Sun is a 1957 Science Fiction and Crime Fiction Novel by Isaac Asimov, the second of his "Robot Trilogy".

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 robotically 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 robots, 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, since it uses an already censored translation, and then cuts out large pieces not caring about the resulting plot holes, the result is less than optimal.

Tropes include:

  • Absence of Evidence:
    • The entire murder mystery revolves around the lack of a murder weapon found at the scene. Everybody agrees that only Gladia Delmarre could possibly have gotten close enough to kill the victim, but there was no murder weapon discovered with her and she had no time to remove it from the area or destroy it. This conundrum is what spurs Solaria to ask for outside help. The murder weapon was the arm of the robot that was found at the scene, which was detachable and could be used as a club. Since everybody took for granted that the robot would not have been involved in the murder, nobody thought to inspect it for physical evidence on its body.
    • Baley finds it frustrating that the nature of the robotic society on Solaria prevents the retention of any evidence. The robots are constantly performing routine cleaning, maintenance, and upkeep of the environment so all evidence is destroyed in the course of their normal duties. Despite the numerous attempted murders after Baley begins his investigation, he only manages to retain any evidence of the one he was personally the target of.
  • Absurdly Huge Population: Inverted, Daneel tells Baley that Solaria's population is only 20,000. This is so minuscule that Baley initially believes that Daneel mispronounced, and what he really meant was 20 million. When Daneel clarifies that he does mean 20,000 people, Baley realizes that Solaria is an outlier even among the other Spacer worlds.
  • Androids and Detectives: Less emphasis on this than there was in The Caves of Steel, but it's still present.
  • The Alleged Expert: Solaria's sole sociologist, Dr. Quemot, is self-taught and can't bring himself to be in the same room as another human being (although, to be fair, the same is true of most Solarians). And if that's not bad enough, he's never even studied basic and valuable sociology principles developed on other planets. Considering the conditions on Solaria, this is not surprising, as there would be few social problems to exert pressure on Quemot, or anyone else, to develop sociology into anything an Earthman would recognize as robust.
  • And Then What?: Dr. Anselmo Quemot predicts that the Solarian societal model will eventually be adopted by every other planet, and decrees that once it happens human history will come to an end. There will no longer be any need for conflict between people, and everybody's cares will be taken care of. What people will do after this happens never seems to occur to him.
  • Art Reflects Personality: Gladia has pioneered an art form of abstract three-dimensional "light sculptures". She and Elijah bond over them, but he later uses them as a symbol of the Solarians' Fatal Flaw: deprived of human contact, wanting for nothing, their intellectual and artistic pursuits are superficial because they have little reason to do anything at all.
  • Batman Gambit: Elijah tricks Daneel (who is trying to keep him from investigating further out of concern for his safety) into showing his robot circuits by claiming to think he's really a human impersonating Daneel, then calls in the house robots so that they'll see Daneel is also a robot. This permits the robots to restrain Daneel, at Baley's order, while he continues the investigation unimpeded.
  • 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. Marriages are solely intended for reproduction, and most Solarians are so averse to physical contact that emotional compatibility wouldn't make much of a difference.
  • 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.
  • Convicted by Public Opinion: Everyone seems certain that Gladia is the only possible suspect, and they only brought in an Earth detective to search for the necessary evidence to prove it. They're actually right, although there's a lot more to it than that.
  • Crapsaccharine World: Solaria is an approximately Earth-sized planet with a total population of 20 thousand spread out evenly and a robot-to-human ratio of 10 thousand robots to each human. Every individual owns a huge estate, nearly any task they don't wish to do themselves is done by robots, and there are no real physical needs that are unfulfilled. The problem? The people are so isolated from each other, that two people being in the same room is considered Squick. Society has stagnated, and Baley observes there is no longer any way for the Solarians to save themselves from the gilded cage they created.
  • Culture Clash:
    • The culture of Solaria is so different from Earth that Baley is frequently flummoxed over the most simple of things. He reflects several times that he doesn't have the context to understand what people mean, and things that are commonplace to him are exotic or even repulsive to the Solarians.
    • In a deliberate attempt to understand more about Solarian culture, Baley tries to read several Solarian novels. He gives up partway through, because he cannot even understand the fictional motivations and it all seems nonsense to him.
  • Cyanide Pill: After the Summation Gathering where Baley lays out his accusations, Jothan Leebig kills himself rather than experience the personal presence of seeing somebody face-to-face. The irony is that it was R. Daneel, a robot, who was going to make the arrest, only nobody on Solaria had realized that Daneel was not human.
    Baley wanted to cry: "You fool, it isn’t a human that’s approaching; only one of the robots you love."
  • 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 taboo: even being in the same room with another person strikes Solarians as obscenely intimate. On the other hand, meeting with someone via 3D holograph (which is virtually indistinguishable from meeting in the flesh) is as impersonal as a telephone call. The disconnect between "seeing" as opposed to "viewing" is extremely wide: viewing someone's completely nude hologram is fine but seeing the same person fully clothed is pornographic. 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.
  • Demoted to Extra: Daneel, while still important to the story overall and the one familiar face Baley has on Solaria, has a notably smaller role than he did in The Caves of Steel. He's absent for several chapters and does not play much of a part in solving the mystery.
  • Designer Babies: All children on Solaria are moved to artificial wombs soon after conception, 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. The Solarians are experimenting with technology that will allow robots to do all the raising of the children as well.
  • 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.
  • Drama Panes: Baley comes to a window and, despite Daneel's protests rips off its curtains before staring at the night outside, to show his defiance of the characteristic Earthman agoraphobia. He also gets his "Eureka!" Moment then.
  • Dramatic Sit-Down: Daneel is so shaken by witnessing an attempted murder (even though there was nothing he could do, so he wasn't breaking the First Law) that he sits down "as though there were a weakness in his knees."
  • Earth That Used to Be Better: Spacers treat Earth with "at best, a patronizing social benevolence" thanks to the Outer Worlds' vast economic and military superiority. Earth has no access to the Outer Worlds and no choice but to trade with them on their terms.
    Undersecretary Minnim: Fifty Outer Worlds, underpopulated, roboticized, powerful, with people that are healthy and long-lived. We ourselves, crowded, technologically underdeveloped, short-lived, under their domination.
  • 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 a 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 the detachable arm of one of Dr. Delmarre's robots 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 to the robots to not let Daneel make contact with anyone, since another human could countermand Baley's orders to hold Daneel. Fortunately for Baley, he neglects to have the robots forbid other people from contacting Daneel, and this lets Daneel catch up to Baley just in time to save him from nearly 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.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The circumvention of the First Law in Robots and Empire and the Solarians eventually getting robots to slaughter anyone who comes to their planet by telling them that only those who speak with the Solarian accent are human 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.
      Robot: I would not have allowed harm to come to a human, even an Earthman. He moved too quickly and I was not fast enough.
      Baley: Perhaps you thought I was just an Earthman, not completely a human, and hesitated a bit.
      Robot: No, master.
      It was said with quiet calm, but Baley's lips quirked grimly. The robot might deny it in all faith, but Baley felt that was exactly the factor involved.
    • As part of his work on the farm, Delmarre wanted to create robots that were sophisticated enough to understand that disciplining children for misbehaving is better for their development in the long term, and therefore consistent with the spirit of the First Law. As it turns out later, Daneel and Giskard were already on their way to understanding this concept at a much higher level than anyone could have expected.
    • Quemot comparing Solaria to ancient Sparta. The main reason for Sparta's fall was that its social structure was incapable of replenishing its citizen body. Two centuries later, and Solaria's population is five thousand and falling.
  • Found the Killer, Lost the Murderer: Discussed when Gruer is first telling Baley about his suspicions for a conspiracy on Solaria. He is convinced like everybody else that Gladia must be the one who physically struck her husband to kill him, but he also recognizes that it is the unknown conspirators working through her who actually matter. That's why he brought in an outside detective instead of just letting Gladia's obvious guilt be taken for granted. It is ultimately inverted, as Lije catches the murderer but deliberately lets the killer go free.
  • Futuristic Jet Injector: A "high-pressure needle jet" is mentioned as an alternative to hypodermic needles.
  • He Knows Too Much: Rikaine was killed because he knew about Dr. Leebig's Evil Plan. There was some subconscious jealousy about his wife involved as well.
  • Hologram Projection Imperfection: Zig-zagged and Discussed, since Earth's "tridimensional images" do flicker within their force-field enclosures, while the technologically superior Outer World colonies' are perfectly realistic. Elijah is surprised the first time his conversational partner is revealed to be a hologram.
  • 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 off-world.
  • Intimate Artistry: When Gladia creates an abstract 'portrait' of Elijah Baley, she encloses it in a grey cube symbolic of the enclosing walls of Earth's Cities. Seeing himself so imprisoned, even metaphorically, gives Elijah extra impetus to face his agoraphobia and go outside with Gladia for a walk. Since Elijah really isn't ready to face the outside on even footing, he overexposes himself in the attempt to prove himself and winds up suffering a complete collapse. Since it was Gladia's art that motivated him, this is taken as compelling evidence that she is the murderer and tried to manipulate him into dying here.
  • Klingon Promotion: Lije suggests this as a motive for the victim's assistant, Klorissa Cantoro. She laughs in response, saying that she hates her job and considers the idea of being promoted a burden rather than a reward.
  • Lamarck Was Right: Solarians regard gregariousness as undesirable, and eliminate it through early childhood training. This leads a Solarian pediatrician ("fetologist") to surmise that in a few thousand years, children will be born without the need to socialize.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Johan Leebig has been extremely antisocial since early childhood, even by Solarian standards. Ordinarily this would make him a model Solarian, but he dislikes human company so strongly that he's ready to conquer the galaxy just so that Solaria and its taboo on personal presence would remain untouched.
  • Mad Scientist: Played very straight. Jothan Leebig is the one behind the murder of Delmarre and also the two attempted murders, as he managed to find a way around the First Law that normally prevents robots from harming humans. Leebig was also planning on using this technique to develop new robotic military weapons and use them to conquer the rest of the galaxy, just so that it would leave him alone.
  • 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.
  • Mayfly–December Friendship: Discussed briefly with regard to the Spacers, who can live for a few centuries. When they part ways, Elijah reminds Gladia that in forty years, he'll be dead and she'll look exactly the same, which leaves her quite distraught.
  • 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: Gladia receives Elijah's first viewing in the shower, causing him to do an abrupt about-face when she steps into full view.
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: In a science fiction sense. Security Chief Hannis Gruer is civil and professional to Elijah and is the one to realize that an Earthman mindset, with its much greater context, will stand a better chance of figuring out the murder. He also seems firmly convinced that the murder was planned by a conspiracy of people who (by modern standards) are progressive opponents of Solaria's stagnated society. Ironically, the exact opposite is true, with the killer wanting to spread Solarian values across the galaxy and eliminate any possible threat to being seen.
  • 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, Invokes this; a child cannot legally receive a name that's held by a living Solarian.
  • 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 are far fewer social restrictions on viewing, including no nudity taboo. When Gladia has a Naked First Impression with Elijah, she at first 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 victim collapses within seconds of exposure, but the poisoner uses too much, so 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: Your 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 makes contact for her first interview with Elijah while getting dressed after a bath, but is immediately contrite when reminded of Earthlings' nudity taboos.
  • Post-Scarcity Economy: Solaria, on account of having such a small population with each person owning a several-hundred-to-thousand-square-mile estate with thousands of robots. Elijah is hosted in a spacious manor house that was constructed for his sole use and will be demolished after he leaves, simply because it's trivially easy to do so with robotic labor.
  • Raised by Robots: Given their aversion to human contact, the Solarians simply cannot bear to be around children, so robots perform most child-rearing tasks. There still has to be at least one human chaperone to keep them in line, since robots aren't so great at providing discipline.
  • 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.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: When Gruer tells Baley about the suspected conspiracy on Solaria, Baley is initially not sure if he should believe him or how much credence to put in the theory. Gruer himself cannot offer any evidence, only vague suppositions with no backing. When Gruer is then poisoned during that very same conversation Baley is instantly given supporting evidence for the existence of a conspiracy of some sort. The murder attempt on his life at the Farm only further reinforces that he is on the right path, since why else would they attempt to remove him as well?
  • Rich Recluse's Realm: Solaria's tiny population, Post-Scarcity Economy, and solitary culture have made it an entire planet of these. Each Solarian lives alone in palatial luxury with hundreds or thousands of square miles of land, legions of robots attending their every whim, and a crippling fear of personal contact.
  • Separated by a Common Language: One of the very first stumbling blocks that Baley runs into on Solaria is the different use of language that has emerged from their unique society. There is a critical distinction between the words "seeing" and "viewing", and some common words like "children" are considered vulgar and obscene.
  • 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 the thought of 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 the murderer was even more phobic about personal contact than the average Solarian, would not have approached Gladia under any circumstances, and likely would not have acknowledged such feelings even to himself. Of course, Baley doesn't rely on just that as the motive.
  • Shame If Something Happened: 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, with lots of mollifying statements about how it would be "inadvisable" to hinder their investigation and how much he would "regret" it if their presence continues to be "unpleasant". His deliberate politeness is entirely 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."
  • 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 misprogrammed 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 be ordered to perform an innocuous task, individually harmless, which taken along with a number of other equally harmless tasks performed by other robots or people would result in serious harm or death to a human being. The murderer carries out all of his attacks through a set of careful orders to robots that get around the first law in this way.
    • It also foreshadows later twists the First Law can take, including getting a robot to think of a human being as inhuman less than human, and therefore outside its protection.
  • 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 sets up events during the Summation Gathering so that the person he pins the murder on will think he's about to be in close physical proximity with another human, something Solarians are heavily conditioned against, in order to force a confession. It works. Though he never actually confesses to the murder because he wasn't actually the murderer.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Gruer is somewhat reasonable, willing to confide in an off-worlder and acknowledge that he's stumped. Once he's incapacitated, his assistant Attlebish shows signs of being a martinet and tries to kick Lije and Daneel off the planet.
  • The Unsmile: Leebig's attempt to force a smile for Elijah is so ghastly that Elijah first mistakes it for a snarl.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Robots cannot be ordered to murder humans, but they can be accessories to murder, simply by ordering them to do highly specific tasks that they can't identify as being directly harmful. This happens with a robot that brings poisoned water to Hannis 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.