Monday, April 22, 2013

Novel - The Naked Sun - Isaav Asimov (published in 1957)

Isaac Asimov is one of the most famous science fiction writers of all time. The number of fiction and non-fiction books that he has written number in the hundreds, more like 500 books. Although Asimov is mostly famous for his science fiction novels, he has written a number of books on science. Along with Arthur C Clarke and others such as Robert Heinlein, he was one of the most famous science fiction writers of all time, most famous now for the 3 laws of Robotics and for the Foundation series of books. For many science fiction readers, Asimov would have been the first author whose books they may have read. He had also won many of the science fiction awards that were there, and one of his short stories, Nightfall was very popular with critics. For those who have read the books, there are many aspects of the books that are not science fiction per se, instead they are a beautiful description of the society of the future.
Asimov was born as a Russian Jew in the period just after the First World War, with the exact date of birth unknown (sometime between 1919 and 1920). When Asimov was very young, his family moved to the United States and settled in New York. During the Second World War, he was working in a Navy station stateside, and joined the Boston University School of Medicine. He started writing short stories in 1939, and also with novels in 1950. Within a couple of years, he also went into writing non-fiction books. Over a period of time, he wrote a large number of books, with an increasing concentration on science books rather than non-fiction. In fact, as he mentioned in the Foundation Series, he had to be literally forced by his publishers to write some of the later Foundation books. Unfortunately, Isaac Asimov died in 1992.
The Naked Sun was published in a magazine between October and December 1956 and was published in a complete form in 1957. It takes off from an earlier novel, the Caves of Steel, continuing with the same societal issues and the same set of characters, exploring the strange forms of society formed on Earth and on one of the Other worlds which was settled by people from Earth, and where society developed in such a way that people avoided contact with each other.

In the Caves of Steel, Elijah Baley was introduced to his partner, the humaniform robot R. Daneel Olivaw. Earth is the cradle of humanity but has started to live in massive caves, cut off from the sunlight, from the open air (in fact, people are almost never exposed to sunlight and would be scared and horrified if they did get exposed to such sunlight). In addition, there are vast powerful new worlds that were settled by people who moved out from Earth. These people are called spacers, who have lived in worlds where all forms of infections have been controlled, where they have eliminated the normal diseases which affect the people on earth. As a result, they have drastically increased their life spans, and also become much more powerful and capable of destroying earth and its people as well. But since they are no longer exposed to these diseases, they no longer have the same kind of immunity, and hence avoid any kind of connection to the people of earth; if they have to meet them, the person from earth needs to be disinfected, and the Spacers wear nose filters as well. Earthlings also have a strong distaste for Robots, not being able to stand being near them. In the worlds that the Spacers inhabit, their populations are far lower, and there is no such distaste for robots. They know how to utilize the robots, and use them for making their life better. However, with these comforts, their need for social interaction decreases, to the extent that on worlds such as Solaria, people live on vast estates, with a large number of robots (approximately 10,000 robots for every one person), and yet cannot stand to be in the physical presence of other people. They meet each other through video interactions and shun the company of others. The population is also controlled for the exact number that is seemed right for each estate. Elijah Baley is now famous ever since he managed to resolve the murder that happened in Spacetown on earth along with Daneel, and hence has been called for the investigation of the murder of a famous fetologist and robotocist, Rikaine Delmarre on Solaria. This assignment is significant, since with the power equations, any failure of Elijah can be very dangerous for Elijah and for Earth, but success can increase the power of those Spacers in favor of Earth. He is again partnered with R. Daneel Olivaw, and now has to work in an environment where many Solarians look down upon him and consider him as an inferior person. The main suspect in the case is that of the wife of Rikaine, Gladia. The book is an interesting murder mystery, set in a time when Elijah cannot even visit the various people involved in the case but has to view them from a distance. Further, he has to delve deeper into the 3 laws of Robotics, and how any changes in these laws can cause murder to happen, and what this means for the future. I really loved the book, and am not going to reveal more of the story. It is a must read from my perspective. I don't consider such a book dated even though it was published more than 50 years back.

The Naked Sun - a novel by Isaac Asimov, published in 1957

No comments: