1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
The Three Laws of Robotics
Man, that's some nicely painted cover art! It might be me, but I have the feeling that these kind of covers aren't that common anymore in English-language releases.
The Caves of Steel, police detective Elijah Baley was forced to work together with the Spacer robot R. Daneel Olivaw (R. stands for Robot) on a murder investigation on a Spacer outpost on Earth. In Isaac Asimov's The Naked Sun (1956), Elijah is sent out as the first Earth-human in centuries to venture outside Earth: local authorities on the planet Solaria have trouble with a murder, because it's basically the first murder that happened there. The prosperous planet has a fixed population of twenty-thousand and because of the enormous estates available for each person, the Solarians have lost their need for personal contact. Most people only "view" each other through holographic projections and even married couples rarely "see" each other. It is under these circumstances that Rikaine Delmarre was murdered. Logically, only his wife could have come close enough to actually murder him, but there was no murder weapon found on the scene. Elijah and Daneel are asked to solve the case, as an Earthling would have much more experience with such vulgar and intimate behavior like murder.
The Naked Sun is a direct sequel to The Caves of Steel, which was an excellent science fiction mystery novel that presented a fleshed-out future Earth where the evolution of humankind on Earth appears to be reaching a critical point and robots have become more or less accepted as common tools in society. Asimov's famous Three Laws of Robotics also featured heavily in the novel and were used in surprising ways to give the reader a perfectly fair and intricately plotted impossible crime.
The Naked Sun lacks the impact factor The Caves of Steel had for me, as it was the first in the series I read, but it is still an excellent mystery novel that builds further on the foundations laid in the first novel. The most interesting point about the book is definitely the special socio-cultural environment of Solaria: Solarians absolutely detest personal contact and the actual presence of other people. All contact is done through holographic projections and practically everything is done by robots, so the Solarians all live in perfect leisure without having to do a thing. The result is that the Solarians are described in a way similar to how the robots work in Asimov's work: like robots, Solarians have specific characteristics that prevent them from doing certain actions.
That is why the murder on Rikaine can be presented as an impossible crime. Psychologically speaking, only the wife could have come close to the victim, as the only person with whom he occassionally had personal contact, yet there was no murder weapon found on the crime scene. So physically someone else must have done it and taken the weapon with them, yet psychologically the victim would never have allowed other people to come even close, and very probably the same for the murderer. It is a very interesting conumdrum that arises from Asimov's careful plotting and rules and I absolutely love it.
Like in The Caves of Steel, the Three Laws of Robotics are of great importance in this novel and Asimov manages to explore them even more as both a mystery plot device (once again, very cleverly so), as well as a philosophical question, using Elijah and the robot Daneel to explore the consequences and limits of the three laws.
I hardly read science fiction, but I kinda like the sociological discussions that go in Asimov's Robot series. The questions of where humankind could be going, the man-machine interface, the way communities develop under special circumstances: personally I find this all very interesting and I think Asimov's done a great job at addressing these questions, but still keeping these themes very relevant to the main mystery plot. Oh, as for other science fiction mysteries: I also liked Inherit the Stars!
Anyway, The Naked Sun is a great science fiction mystery novel that does everything it wants to do fantastically: it is a great mystery novel, it is a great science fiction novel and it's fun. Will probably read the last book in the series (relatively) soon!