Science Fiction: when backdrop functions in fiction

It is the simplicity of Asimov’s science fiction that makes it so successful. In The Naked Sun, Asimov’s sequel to The Caves of Steel and the return of Elijah Baley, Asimov has taken premises of the consequences of future advancements and integrated a police investigation. What he produces is an outstandingly well crafted piece of fiction.

The sci-fi premise is that on an overpopulated Earth people live in close proximity under large domes, while humans who have moved off world and inhabit worlds like Solaria live in isolation. The lack of space on Earth has led to a fear of open spaces. Human are unable to leave the domes without experiencing debilitating anxiety attacks. Conversely, on Solaria, the vast amount of land available, wealth and artificial control of the population has made the population unable to tolerate physical proximity.

There are no exotic creatures, no antagonistic aliens or malicious supercomputers. It is just human beings in a different situation effected by technological advancements producing a psychological make-up. The Solorians live in physical isolation but have regular contact through holographic projectors allowing them to ‘view’ one another although they can rarely suffer the act of physically ‘seeing’ one another. When they are viewing through the realistic holographic projections they have no sense of modesty. One woman steps out of the shower while viewing. Yet the same woman completely covers herself from neck to foot when she has to physically view a person.

The reason why this is important, apart from a generally interesting investigation into possible outcome for human psychology? It allows Asimov to use a whole world to create a locked room mystery. If humans are physically unable to tolerate the physical presence of another person, how would a murder be committed? In the first instance the answer is there wouldn’t be any murder, but then there is the exception.

Now there is a great piece of prose using sci-fi as more than just backdrop.


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