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Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut
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Player Piano (1952)

by Kurt Vonnegut

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,94150927 (3.73)45
  1. 62
    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Anonymous user)
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    R.U.R. by Karel Capek (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Exploring societal implications of replacing humans with artificial labor.
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CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

In a future America after the third great war, machines have taken all dignity from the working man. Doctor Paul Proteus is an up-and-coming engineer and manager who is in charge of the Ilium Works. His father helped establish the machines that now run the economy, and Paul is slated to follow in his footsteps. Paul, though, is overcome with doubts about the new world his father imagined, and his doubts make him vulnerable. Before he knows it, he's lost his wife and his job, and he's been conscripted as the leader of the revolution of man against machine.

As the novel begins, Doctor Paul Proteus is manager of the Ilium Works, the highest paid and most powerful man in Ilium, New York. He also has the highest IQ in Ilium, in a world where your opportunities are decided by machines, based on your IQ and your performance on aptitude tests. Paul is married to Anita, a competitive, ambitious woman whose IQ was too low for her to go to college. Anita mistakenly (or connivingly) told Paul that she was pregnant, prompting his marriage proposal. Later they discovered that Anita is barren.

Paul is vaguely dissatisfied with his life and the world, and he longs for a simpler, nobler life. His old friend Finnerty appears at Paul's house. Finnerty had been promoted higher than Paul, to Washington, D.C., but he's even more dissatisfied. He's quit his job and given himself over to drunkenness. Finnerty causes Paul to get into trouble with the law, and then disappears into the "average man" world across the river from the Ilium Works, where the people displaced by machines are paid minimal wages by the government to do unnecessary work.

Paul has already decided to quit his job and become a farmer when his bosses try to recruit him as a spy. Finnerty, they say, has become a radical rebel leader, part of an underground movement against machines called the Ghost Shirt Society. They plan to pretend to fire Paul, so that he can infiltrate the rebel organization as a spy. Paul tries to quit, but his bosses don't believe him. They think he's just playing along with their scheme. Paul's wife, Anita, after hearing he's been fired, leaves Paul for her new lover, one of Paul's competitors.

Alone and purposeless, Paul wanders into a bar. His drink is drugged, and the next thing he knows, he's in the headquarters of the Ghost Shirt Society. As predicted, Paul is being recruited. More than that, because Paul's father was so important and famous, the Ghost Shirt Society has Paul slated as their figurehead. They've already announced to the world that Paul is leading the rebellion against machines controlling mankind. Paul is arrested, but his bosses still believe he's acting as a spy. When they ask him to inform on the conspirators, Paul realizes he believes in the Ghost Shirt Society and refuses, taking on his appointed role as leader.

Paul is tried for treason, and in the middle of his trial, the rebellion begins. Paul is whisked out of the courtroom by the rebels. Ilium is overtaken. Once the rebellion starts, though, the leaders can't stop it. The people rise up and begin destroying all the machines, without preference. Although the Ghost Shirt Society is successful in a few cities, the rebellion is quickly squashed. Ilium is the last stronghold. As a new day dawns, the people put themselves to work, rebuilding what they've just destroyed. The leaders are distraught, seeing that human nature makes men build and build, without thinking about what they are building. Finally, the leaders give themselves over to the authorities, becoming martyrs to their cause. ( )
  bostonwendym | Aug 25, 2016 |
This dystopian novel takes place in Ilium New York in an age where most of the jobs people used to do are being done by machines. This creates two distinct social classes: the upper class of engineers who maintain the machines and the lower class of people who have nothing to do because the machines have made them obsolete. Our protagonist is Dr. Paul Proteus, a successful engineer who begins to question the quality of life after his occasional trips across the river to where the other half lives.

Vonnegut’s fiction is like a roller coaster ride for me. I go from liking the book, to not liking it, to liking it again, etc. every fifty pages or so. By the time I got to the end of this one, I was back to liking it, but it wasn’t an easy read. One of the things I liked most about Player Piano is that I can see how Vonnegut has extended some of the ideas from one of my favorite books, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Overall, it was worth reading, and I think I even liked it better than Slaughterhouse-Five. ( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
It is a good exercise to revert to 1950's Science Fiction occasionally, in that its prolific nature can be especially close to our current society. "Player Piano" is no exception: fully automated factories, cars that start with the push of a button, and riots for individuality. The book's structure supports the allegories and symbolism present without feeling too overt. A good instructive piece for a contemporary Science Fiction enthusiast who is not well versed in the classics. ( )
  Meghanista | Aug 31, 2015 |
Kurt Vonnegut's first novel. We are in a future world when world war three has happened and the second industrial revolution has been and gone. The world is mechanised and the engineer is the most important person. People who do not have the IQ to be an engineer either join the army or the Reeks and Recs, who clean up, repair roads and other jobs.
Paul, the main character, has a responsible position at Ilium works. Anita his wife is very ambitious for him. The narrative around Paul and Anita takes some time to settle down but once it does this is a good story.
Other chapters take us to an important Arab visitor to the US who is being shown around by a diplomat and has an interpreter with him. The mis-understandings of this group are very funny and they are also a way for the reader to learn more about how society works in this mechanised age when machines do almost everything.
Of course, reading it today is interesting. Kurt Vonnegut didn't foresee the age of computers and computer scientists but machines that do everything for us feels somewhat familiar. This is a mechanical, rather than a micro-chipped world.
A good read from an excellent author. ( )
1 vote Tifi | May 18, 2015 |
Wow! This book is well-told and predictive of many of the struggles with mechanized life that have occurred in the half century since it was written. He nails many things right on the head, even home decorating fads a la Etsy, HGTV, etc. Great book. ( )
  Brian.Gunderson | Dec 27, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kurt Vonnegutprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bacon, C.W.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Binger, CharlesCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Briemen, Reindert vanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Charles, MiltonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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FOR JANE - GOD BLESS HER
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ILIUM, New York, is divided into three parts.
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This silly playlet seemed to satisfy them completely as a picture of what they were doing, why they were doing it, and who was against them, and why some people were against them. It was a beautifully simple picture these procession leaders had. It was a though a navigator, in order to free his mind of worries, had erased all the reefs from the maps.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0440170370, Mass Market Paperback)

Vonnegut's 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:24 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

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 super computer and run completely by machines. His rebellion is a wildly funny, darkly satirical look at modern society.

» see all 2 descriptions

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