'The Naked Sun' by Isaac Asimov, cover illustration by Chris Foss
Genre: Science Fiction
Date of Publication: First published 1958, reviewed edition published 1973
Publisher: Panther Science Fiction
Book Score: 97/100
Concept: 5 / 5
Difficulty: 4 / 5
Enjoyment: 5 / 5
Length: 5 / 5
Reread ability: 5 / 5
I bought this 202-page (look, short! [but sweet]) book for 70p from an Oxfam shop having heard only that Asimov was 'a good science fiction writer'. Ignorant me. This book proved to me he was the best science fiction writer - ever.
First of all, I'd like to point out that this book was written way back in the fifties, where such inventions as 'genetic engineering' and 'the internet' simply didn't exist, and a computer was no more than a glorified typewriter. It's when these inventions pop up in the story that you have to look back at the date and wonder 'did this guy have a time machine or what?'
The story is well laid out, with a very clear beginning, middle and end. It's an easy book to get into, and at no point do you feel rushed. It is, of course, the kind of book that you pick up and just can't put down again.
The Naked Sun is set centuries into the future, where mankind has colonised the stars and set itself up as the greatest race in the galaxy. However, the original settlers - the Spacers - have grown powerful and technologically superior to their Terran cousins and now hold the galaxy for themselves, preventing the Earthmen from following in their footsteps and refining them to their Cities; enormous subterranean conurbations that shield their people from their terrible agoraphobia - the fear of the emptyness that is sky, open air; the naked sun. Thus they are forced to live their troglodytic existance below the earth's surface.
And so enters the main character: Plainclothesman Elijah Bailey, an Earthman. He is, of course, a typical Earthman - scared of the outdoors and rather bitter about the whole galactic setup. He is therefore surprised when he is asked to investigate a murder on the distant Spacer planet of Solaria - a planet totally opposite to Earth where people live on thousand-acre estates, are served by legions of robots and fear the very thought of seeing another human being in the flesh. The Earth government sees this as an opportunity to find a way to release themselves from the confines of Earth before it is too late, but in truth it turns out that it is not just Earth that is at stake but the whole Galaxy...
If it were written by another science fiction writer of the time, it would be likely they'd get the whole thing wrong. But not Asimov - the entire thing is entirely believable (in fact, some of his ideas are already in existance), the characters are wonderfully portrayed and the story offers a valuable insight into sociology and philosophy. Oh, and watch out for the twists in the plot.
This story is certainly a masterpiece, but there is one thing that gets a bit annoying whilst reading - namely, the fact that the characters insist on using a single curse word: Elijah endlessly yells 'Jesoshaphat' with two of the Spacer characters, Leebig and Klorissa, decide to stick to 'Great Galaxy!' and 'Skies Above!' respectively. But this is only minor, and in the end, barely noticeable and the dialogue is anything but hackneyed, flowing smoothely and barely showing the mannerisms of the fifties.
What Isaac Asimov is always remembered for however is his robots. Whilst in other science fiction robots are just borning lumps of grey metal, in an Asimov they are the centrepiece of the story. And for good reason too. Asimov's 'Three Laws' have become rather famous in themselves, and the robots are always perfectly rendered in the robotic sense whilst never, at any point, being boring. The robot character Daneel is rather a good example of this, and rather reminds me of Fraser from Due South...
The Naked Sun is Isaac Asimov at his best. He isn't just a science fiction writer - this is no 2D 'Halo' or '40k' universe - but a great philosopher too, and some of his ideas would make great reading even without the story.
Read an Asimov before you die. If you do, read this one.
Pros: Believable science fiction, written by the greatest science fiction author in history - did I mention that I bought it for less than £1?
Cons: Possibly a bit too deep, philosophical and technical for some to follow. Also, minor dialogue problems.