I finished The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov yesterday and I really appreciate a lot about the novel. It was first published in 1957 and is the second in the R. Daneel Olivaw “series.” I read the Spectra/Bantam edition with cover art by Stephen Youll. I read the first novel, The Caves of Steel, and enjoyed that one. There is a third novel, The Robots of Dawn, but it was published in 1983 – so a long gap between this novel and that. I do intend to read that one eventually. Here is the thing with Asimov – for me, he is a guaranteed 4 star read. I know many people take issue with his novel writing (in particular his characterization) and also many readers enjoy debating his sociological/historical concepts. All of this is perfectly fine with me – debate away because he would have loved that sort of thing. That is the whole point of some science fiction and Asimov “gets it.”
I love being able to pick up an Asimov novel and have my expectations met. The standards for his writing always are high and he delivers every time. No, not all of his novels are the most fun novels ever. Sure, they are not perfect novels. I never, however, finish one of his books and feel like I wasted time or my mind is worse off or that I should have selected something else to read. Well, that being said, I do not know what I can rightly add to the conversation about Asimov generally or about this novel specifically. Having been published in the late 50s and being one of the most significant and popular books/authors, I hardly have any new insights about the novel.
The worst part of the novel is the main character’s attitude. Lord have mercy, there are points when he is so sour, petulant, snarky, and impatient I want to clobber him. I mean, I can understand some of his discomfort and his confusion, but his constant poor attitude is really grating. I would exonerate the other characters if they had, at any point, walloped Elijah Baley a nice good one. I mean, I like Elijah, but I really wanted to punch him in this novel. Anyway, Elijah suffers enough without me beating him up because he is undergoing a massive bout of agoraphobia. Amusingly, I finished reading this novel outdoors on a sunny day in which the sky was so clear and blue, I did have a hint of some of what Baley was experiencing. I looked up and watched a Boeing 777 overhead and felt that the world was so utterly open and expansive……
Anyway, I think anyone who has read this novel prior to the Great Pandemic Of 2020 should re-read it. I promise there are some uncanny, interesting, and relevant thoughts and comments in this novel that could make a reader wonder if Asimov was from the future or some sort of hazy prophet. I am not being super serious here – I just want readers to know that there is a bit of a reader-perspective shift due to current events and world events. Its strange because there are not many novels that actually become less dated and oddly apropos after so many decades.
As far as the storyline, its a locked room mystery on a far-distant planet named Solaria. The characters spend a lot of time on video-chat. Again, in 2023 we tend to take this sort of technology for granted or without much fuss. Its interesting to see Asimov know about this sort of tech and to force his characters into it. If you do not find this facet interesting, I wonder if you really enjoy science fiction? I think the overarching theme of the novel is the contrast between the Solarian world and the Earth world – to include their cultures and technologies. A reader who is disinterested in such a very obvious storyline will probably think this book is dull or too heavy-handed.
Overall, this is fast-reading novel. It is a worthy read and valuable to science fiction. There is plenty of conversation/imagination sparking ideas in here that intelligent readers might enjoy conversing about. The main character is certainly annoying in this book, I would “like to” do a tally of how many times he says Jehoshaphat! – because it seems like millions. He is annoying, but even with this, the novel remains relevant and fun. The magic of Asimov, I guess. Recommended for all readers including those who read it several decades ago.