The Naked Sun is a sequel to an earlier detective sci -fi book (Caves of Steel) featuring the same leading characters of Elijah Baley, a policeman from Earth, and R. Daneel Olivaw, a robot with a very human-like appearance and build. The Naked Sun is, in my opinion, a far more interesting novel on all levels including the impossible crime elements and is astonishingly timely for the 21st century. It can easily be read and enjoyed without having read Caves of Steel first.
Whereas Caves of Steel is set on Earth The Naked Sun takes place on the colonized planet Solaria in what is known as the Outer Worlds. Baley is personally summoned to help solve the first ever murder committed on the planet populated by only 25,000 Spacers (term for humans living on colonized planets) who lead solitary lives and rarely if ever personally interact with other Solarians. Baley paired once again with Daneel Olivaw (who is mysteriously incognito as a human) must investigate the death of Dr. Rikaine Delmarre, a genetic scientist (or fetologist as he is dubbed in the book) who was in charge of the Solarian birthing center. His wife, Gladia, is the prime suspect. She was the only person allowed to see her husband. As robots must obey the primary laws of serving humans first and never allowing them to come to harm it appears that a robot could not have been responsible for the death. Gladia claims total innocence in the bludgeoning death of her husband. It appears to be an impossible crime if what she says is true, for no one but robots were present when her husband was killed.
Baley faces a major culture clash as a Earthman who is used to living in the underground cities (the "caves of steel") back home. The Solarians live above ground and enjoy a much longer day in the light of the naked sun. He must overcome both his dread of the outdoors as much as the Solarians must overcome their fear and hatred of Earthmen who they view as vile and filthy. Why? Because on Earth humans interact with one another, touch one another, and "see" one another on a daily basis. The Solarians make only rare visits to see one another and only touch one another when they are genetically selected to create a child. They do most of their interacting by "viewing" - a technology similar to the internet Skype service of today but with the added sci-fi bonus of screenless 3D images that can travel with the viewer from room to room or even outdoors.
Solaria also has a far greater population of robots than humans. There are something like two million robots in service for the entire Spacer population of 25,000. Needless to say the Solarians do very little with their lives and have robots at the beck and call providing them every service they could imagine even to the point of raising their children. As in The Caves of Steel robots play a very important part in the three crimes committed in the book.
Baley has his hands full dealing with Daneel who has not made it known to the Solarians that he is a robot. This at first bothers Baley but he soon realizes this was a ploy by the Outer World authorities and he begins to realize this will be to their advantage. Still, the human disguise does not often work very well as Daneel's speech pattern is too stilted and emotionless. Baley fears his cover may be blown ruining their plan. There is also the problem of Daneel's far too logical programming:
Logic was logic and robots had nothing else. Logic told Daneel he was completely stymied. Reason might have told him that all factors are rarely predictable, that the opposition might make a mistake.
None of that. A robot is logical, only, not reasonable.The book is amazingly prescient in what it has to say about dependence on machines, living a life of pleasure for pleasure's sake, the importance of face to face contact in sustaining a healthy civilization and numerous scientific advances that seem mundane to us in the 21st century. All that needs to be done is to substitute the robots in Asimov's book for the electronic gadgetry of our modern times and you can immediately see how the lives of the Solarians are not much different from our own.
Increasingly people seem to be disappearing into a virtual world of Facebook, iPhones, iPods, laptops, eBook readers. If a Solarian were to visit Earth now it might appear that most Earthers prefer "viewing" to "seeing." I often hear from some of my more addicted gadget loving friends that to contemplate living without electronic devices is anathema to them. Although we haven't yet utterly shunned human interaction I would venture to guess we are not far from becoming Solarians. Even Asimov's talk about genetic experimentation in the way Solarians decide who should marry and procreate is not at all different from in-vitro and other extracorporeal means of creating children.
Read as an entertaining detective story with a sci-fi angle The Naked Sun is comparable to anything by the Grand Masters of mysterydom. As an eerie forecast of what a man living in the 1950s imagined of "life in the future" it is a sobering account for any 21st century reader.