2013 Book #6: Player Piano

2013 Book #6: Player Piano

Player Piano is Kurt Vonnegut's first novel, and it's not my favorite. I lump it in with novels like Slaughterhouse Five (my least favorite), the more serious, less ridiculous ones. My favorites are The Sirens of Titan and Cat's Cradle, if that says anything.

Player Piano is a dystopian novel, possibly set not too far in the future, though a date is never given. I think of it more as an alternate history. It was published in the early 1950s, and it feels like it's set then, even though the world is so different. After a major war, which I assume was World War II, those in power decided that the general public was inefficient at work and that machines could do a better job. As most people's jobs were taken over by machines, they were given houses with up-to-date technology, menial jobs in the army or civic jobs, like asphalting roads, and were expected to live comfortably and quietly. While most people exist in that world, called Homestead, only engineers with graduate degrees have high-paying jobs keeping up the machinery (everyone's a doctor!). They make lots of money and are also expected to live happily and quietly. But, of course, there are discontents on both sides, and they finally decide to do something about it. Then Things Happen.

I don't dislike this novel. I really enjoyed reading it, in fact. The end left me unsatisfied, though. It was too predictable and, for a dystopian novel, pretty stereotypical. Player Piano was published about three years after 1984, and I assume Vonnegut had read both that novel and We, among others, and as awesome as Vonnegut usually is, I'm surprised that he didn't come up with something more creative. In the end, I was disappointed.

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  • Player Piano is the only Vonnegut novel I’ve read. I enjoyed it, and it still feels relevant, if you replace the hard manufacturing engineering of the story with the digital engineering of modern times. Might make a good adaptation into a film about the facebook era.

  • I hadn’t thought about it that way, but you’re right. Every industrial or technological revolution is a repetition. I think Vonnegut will always be relevant.

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