Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov

"He was an ideal man, almost an abstraction. Who could feel love, or even liking for such a man? A man without weaknesses serves only to make everyone else conscious of his own imperfections " - Detective Bailey in the Naked Sun.

Plainclothesman Bailey, from Earth is called upon by Solaria to investigate a murder on their planet, the first one in hundreds of years. Solaria was colonized by humans centuries ago, along with other outer planets in the galaxy. Earth is now reduced to underground cities, where people live in fear of open spaces and the Sun. Colonists who move to other planets are far superior in terms of military and technology and Earth men live in perpetual fear of these spacers.

Solaria in particular has made superlative advancements in Robotics. The ratio of 1 human to robots in solaria is 1:10,000. There are only 20,000 humans in Solaria who own large and self sufficient estates, with armies of robots to fulfill their every whim and fancy. Over a period of time human interaction has become minimum on Solaria, people seldom view each other and almost never see/meet. They use some advanced 3-D technology to interact with each other without ever meeting in person. On the other hand, Earth is over crowded and human interaction is a necessity, for this reason a detective from Earth would do a much better job of investigating a murder then a Solarian.

The murdered man is a fetal scientist, he was found murdered in his room bashed on the back of his head. His wife claims that she found his dead body, and fainted after seeing him lying in a pool of blood. When the murder took she was the only living person for miles, all eye point to her, but there is no evidence to back up this suspicion. Its now up to plainclothesman Bailey and his robot partner Daneel to find the murderer on an Alien planet.

Review: In case you have been living in the caves of Tora Bora, Isaac Asimov is a prophet of science fiction. He was and still remains one of the most prominent figures in science fiction. Murder mysteries are usually written by very smart people and Isaac was very very smart. Isaac is known over the world for his Science fiction but he also wrote mysteries like the  Black Widower series. In the Naked Sun, Isaac brings both Science fiction and Murder Mystery together creating a delectable and memorable piece of fiction.

I have read a few authors from the Science Fiction genre, mainly Jules Verne and HG Wells. This was my first brush with a Isaac Asimov novel and it won't be my last. He specializes in creating science fiction about robots, Isaac even came up with three laws of robotics which his stories generally revolve around and some feel would actually be imbibed into Robots when the time comes.

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Isaac tries to show in the novel that even though these rules sound full proof, and there would be no way a robot could harm humans, but human ingenuity coupled with human machinations can lead even the incorruptible robots to do things which their makers would have never anticipated.  We can't say if this is a sign of things to come, but we already see so much misuse of technology whether its child pornography, snooping or digital tress passing. Man is the only creature who can make innocent and lifeless apparatus look monstrous.

Viewing and judging the future Earth and Solaria through detective Bailey's eyes is an educating experience. Bailey is quick to pass judgement on the citizens of Solaria and their way of life, without realizing that he is the foreigner and should respect their culture. In India people's way of life and culture changes from state to state and significantly changes when compared with the West, but still we are prejudiced and for decades if not centuries have been passing judgement over western values and morals without ever questioning our own. Detective Bailey realizes the error in his ways, and consults a sociologist. Bailey understands that if he has to solve this crime he will have to think like a solarian and not like an Earth man.
Bailey's treatment of robots reminds you of the slavery era in North America. Robots are treated like slaves, Bailey often calls robots "boy" like some servant or slave.One analogy that the Solarian sociologist provides between Robots and Solarians is that of Spartans and there slaves Helots.

In the final chapters, Bailey reveals the murderer, the motive, the means and the murder weapon in a Hercule Poirot style gathering of all suspects in one room. You also get a nice twist in the end.

4 out of 5 stars.

Where Can I buy it? I got it from Om Book Shop for 250 bucks.

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