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Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel spins the chilling tale of engineer Paul Proteus, who must find a way to live in a world dominated by a supercomputer and run completely by machines. Paul’s rebellion is vintage Vonnegut—wildly funny, deadly serious, and terrifyingly close to reality.

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@The most beautiful peonies I ever saw,@ said Paul, @Were grown in almost pure cat [email protected] (300).


I began to read this book the week SOL (an acronym Vonnegut would have loved.... like his EPICAC computer mainframe...) testing commenced at the high school I teach at... a full week, in other words, of licensed teachers getting paid to STARE at children take standardized computer-based examinations. These are the tests that apparently establish competence or confirm mental infirmity. The description of Player Piano on the dust jacket made my decision to read the book that much more poignant:

@Want the computer to solve all your problems? Want machines to give you everything you need? Want to be taken care of from cradle to grave by an industrial society that knows what is best for you? Want to find out what hell is really [email protected]

Most of the students I teach (in spite of the best efforts of their teachers...) would answer in the affirmative to each of the above questions. And furthermore, hell, for my 9th and 11th grade students, would be a room without a wall socket, cellphone reception, or a WiFi password. Dystopia? Ha!!!

As a Vonnegut fan / fan of dystopian-themed lit in general, I enjoyed Player Piano. I would not, however, recommend this as an introduction to Vonnegut for new readers--it lacks the fluidity, perceived brevity, and good-humored irreverence other books of his (Slaughterhouse Five, Cats Cradle, Timequake, Breakfast of Champions, etc.) possess. However, as a literary artifact--especially for devotees of Vonneguts work--Player Piano is worth your time; evidence of his future philosophical meanderings and socio-political perspectives are (albeit in a primal state) embedded within.

Vonneguts jabs at the higher education institutions of the future, in spite of the books vintage (1952), read like prophesy. In the U.S., the plethora of hungry-for-profit universities, online PhD programs, @[email protected] degrees, and @Hollywood Upstairs Medical [email protected] institutions (see The Simpsons: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqImk...) tout the idea that @education = intelligence = respect = [email protected], regardless of when/where/how said credentials are obtained. In Player Piano, protagonist Paul Proteus realtor has a PhD in real estate, and he brags of his writing the @longest [email protected] of any real estate student at his university. Later in the book, a state dept. official is discredited and vocationally reclassified when his degree from Cornell is discovered incomplete (and therefore useless/meaningless) due to a mistakenly missing @physical [email protected] credit. Education is the key, of course, but Vonnegut asks us to contemplate the practicality of the keys we choose to cut...

From page 150:

@Doctor Proteus--this is Mr. [email protected]
@How are [email protected] said Paul.
@Dr.,@ said Mr. Haycox. @What kind of [email protected]
@Doctor of Science,@ said Paul.
Mr. Haycox seemed annoyed and disappointed. @Dont call that kind a doctor at all. Three kinds of doctors: dentists, vets, and physicians. You one of [email protected]
@No. [email protected]
@Then you aint a [email protected]

Later in the book, Vonnegut draws interesting (here comes that patented irreverence!) parallels between the waning Native American population of the 19th century U.S. frontier and humankind (imperfect, frail, inefficient, and @[email protected]), in relation to the continued automation of industry and, well, of everything. Player Pianos rebellion, The @Ghost Shirt [email protected], is @...determined to disprove; that Im no good, youre no good, that were no good because were [email protected] (299). In a society where humans, their culture, and their potential contributions to the world are increasingly irrelevant in light of mechanical innovation, Paul Proteus comes to endorse a sort of philosophical luddism--not one rooted in techophobia but rather in necessity: @Men, by their nature, seemingly, cannot be happy unless engaged in enterprises that make them feel useful. They must, therefore, be returned to participating in such [email protected] (285).

I could have fun with this book, as a teacher, paired with some of my other favorite dystopian classics:

Fahrenheit 451,
Brave New World,
Heart of Darkness,
The Road.

Even though Player Piano isnt hitting on @all [email protected] in relation to some of Vonneguts more complete works, there is early evidence of his poignant humor that seems absent in the other dystopian classics mentioned above. Give it a shot if you are a Vonnegut buff!

مشاهده لینک اصلی
For some reason I had thought that I had long ago run through the works of Kurt Vonnegut. He was one of the first writers whose books I can remember consciously deciding that I needed to read each and every one of. The moment is still clear in my memory- I had just been introduced to Kilgore Trout and his trunk of pulp novellas in Breakfast of Champions. Im not quite sure what happened with that goal, but Im guessing I lost the thread of the quest sometime after reading Galapagos back in high school. So it was with much joy that I received the news that my book club had decided to read Vonneguts first novel, Player Piano, published in 1952.

Dr. Paul Proteus lives in an allegedly utopian world. All industry has been mechanized, the sweat of the workers brow replaced by the drip of oil from the pistons and pulleys manufacturing all the household goods, widgets and whatsits that EPICAC, a giant computer inhabiting the immenseness of the Carlsbad Caverns, has computed that Americans need in order to be happy. Only those who can program or repair the machines still have jobs in the traditional sense, the rest of the countrys vast labor pool being forced to join either the army or what amounts to the Works Project Administration building bridges and roadways. As a member of the elite cadre that maintains the machines, and thus their power, you would think Proteus would be far more satisfied with his life. Yet hes not. He feels more at home slumming in bars with the disaffected across the river than he does in his immaculate home with his status-seeking wife and its only a matter of time before this dissatisfaction with the world becomes out and out rebellion.

This book is classic Vonnegut in the sense that he has clearly seen the future repercussions of what his society was moving toward and railed against it as best he knew how. I cant help but draw comparisons to the rampant unemployment of today and the growing hordes of dispossessed unable to find even the most mundane of jobs. A service economy with no one to service. Vonnegut knew that, regardless of how often we rail against the strictures of employment, the majority of people derive satisfaction in earning an honest dollar. Remove this obligation and you are also likely to remove the sense of self worth a person has. Regardless of whether or not its healthy to base ones self worth on their employability, this is the cultural message we inherit at birth- the value of honest labor. Of course, its easy to rail against a system that disenfranchises millions but, as Vonnegut shows in Player Piano, its damn near impossible to root it out.

What is missing from Player Piano, and the reason I cant give it that fifth star, is the trademark sense of humor that runs rampant through his other books. Sure, hes got his dystopian world and his biting satire but there is no sense of detachment or whimsy here. This is Vonnegut at his most acerbic, the cynicism that he would return to in his final years of writing during the Bush reign. This is a book written by a man who fully understands the harm that humans inevitably wreak upon ourselves and our world, but who has yet to admit to himself that its all just one giant joke and the best thing we can do is lean back, sip our whiskey, and say @so it [email protected]

مشاهده لینک اصلی
For his first book in 1952 Kurt Vonnegut made an entry in a long string of dystopian novels stretching back to (where else) Eugene Zamyatins 1921 classic We. Its not the best entry.

The We Lineage
In order of quality:
Brave New World
Player Piano

These books all deal with futures in which social class has ossified and production has mechanized. They deal with the automation of society, and with socialism (in wildly different ways).

Vonnegut was a socialist. The way he deals with it is boring. The long section in the middle set at a company team-building retreat seems padded, even before we get to the complete play contained in it. And (as usual) he has no idea what to do with women. The new machines take away work from both genders: mechanical work for men, dishwashing for women. Seriously, thats it. Lead character Paul Proteuss wife is a shrew (although she does, in fairness, get one scene thats not bad).

Shitty Wives in Literature
Edith Stoner
Mildred Montag
Dominique Francon
Rosamond Vincy
Anita Proteus

Vonneguts point - that people need to work to feel useful - seems surprisingly valid. I say surprisingly because not having to work sounds fine to me. But we continue to see unemployment as a great personal embarrassment, and we continue to more or less invent stuff for people to do. My job is about three levels removed from anything that could remotely be considered useful. So, decent point: simplistic and boring execution.

Vonnegut famously graded his own books. His best book by a long shot, Slaughterhouse-Five, gets a cocky A+, as (more arguably) does the okay Cats Cradle. He gave Player Piano a B. I think he was being generous.

مشاهده لینک اصلی
seriously loved this book 100%

مشاهده لینک اصلی
** spoiler alert ** You could see Vonneguts genius in his first novel.

On a blog I read, the Devil Vets been thinking about hope and hopelessness in dystopian fiction. I think Player Piano is good example of how hope plays into dystopian narratives. The Ghost Shirt Society of the book rises in rebellion against the soul-numbing mechanized society even though they know they will fail. Why? Simply to show that it can be done. That there can be light at the end of that tunnel, if power is wrested from the managers and engineers who hold it in that society. @Hope in [email protected] indeed.

But then, thats one of Vonneguts favorite themes (literally from the beginning, as we see) to kick around. You might have the whole world against you, you might know from the beginning that stretching your wings will just result in being shot out of the sky, but the exercise of whatever freedom you can snatch is worth the fall.

Of course, he didnt rely simply on ideas. The man could spin a yarn. The whole section of the book where Proteus has to go on an annual weekend team-spirit-building retreat had me chuckling through my anger. I hate that kind of workaday pep rally crap, and that particular scenario sounds like my idea of four days of hell. And the chapter in which Proteus buys a small, old school farm - thinking that will calm his need to get out of the @we are all [email protected] system - and his wife takes it completely the wrong way sort of broke my heart. Though, I have to admit, I felt some for the wife - its not like he spent any time communicating his feelings or situation to her.

The running thread of the Shah of Bratpuhr touring the US, with his guide in more and more dire straits, was a nice touch. Sometimes that kind of show-and-tell subplot can feel tacked on or unnecessary, but Vonneguts storytelling allowed it to weave in and out of the major action.

final thought: No surprise, I agree with him. If you take away a persons chance to do for themselves, you take away a major reason to get out of bed every morning. Im not saying we all have to work hard or die. Im just saying, yeah, we all need that feeling of dignity that honest work can provide, whether for decent wages or just for our own benefit.


مشاهده لینک اصلی
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