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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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5,17655865 (3.73)50
  1. 62
    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Anonymous user)
  2. 00
    R.U.R. by Karel Čapek (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Exploring societal implications of replacing humans with artificial labor.
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English (51)  French (2)  Italian (2)  All (55)
Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
A player piano's keys move according to a pattern of holes punched in an unwinding scroll. Unlike music synthesizers, the instrument actually produces sound itself, keys moving up & down, driving hammers striking strings. Like its counterpart, a player piano can be played by hand also. When a scroll runs the ghost-operated instrument, the movement of its keys produce the illusion of an invisible performer playing the instrument.
Vonnegut uses the player piano as a metaphor to represent how the novel's imaginary society is run by machines instead of people. Early in the book, Paul's friend & future member of the Ghost Shirt Society, Ed Finnerty, is shown playing a player piano, suggesting the idea of humans regaining control.
The novel follows Doctor Paul Proteus, an Ilium Works engineer. In this future USA machines do everything, making people almost afterthoughts. Specialization is the norm. All wealthy upper-class people have doctorate level degrees, with eight years of schooling for everyone. This creates a society of well-educated thinkers, not doers. Paul seems to be on his way up the success ladder in this techno-utopia--a perfect wife, a fast-track position & a shot at a major promotion. But he's plagued with doubts about modern life. Thru a strange series of events, he joins a revolutionary organization, the Ghost Shirt Society, & even becomes its leader, at least in name. The past where humanity was all of the hope for the world is where the ghost shirt society got their inspiration. These Ghost Shirts, their name taken from the Native American Ghost Dance, succeed in destroying much of Ilium's mechanized infrastructure. Yet, they realize the lack of hope in their mission. At the end it becomes clear that their goal was to give humanity hope instead of revolutionizing society.
  thebblack | Jun 23, 2017 |
The race to produce weaponry during WWIII pushed humans out of the manufacturing field - they're too inefficient and unreliable. Machines left engineers the elite of society relegating/separating the rest of the population to mere existence in little boxes, all the same with IQ absolutely determining one's fate.

"What have you got against machines?"

"They're slaves."

"Well, what the heck - I mean, they aren't people. They don't suffer. They don't mind working."

"No. But they compete with people."

"That's a pretty good thing, isn't it - considering what a sloppy job most people do of anything?"

"Anybody that competes with slaves becomes a slave."

A promising engineer begins to question the morality of life subservient to the efficiency of programmed machines (the segregation of society into useful and dependents) and ponders pursuing an alternate life trajectory.

"It was an appalling thought, to be so well-integrated into the machinery of society and history as to be able to move in only one plane, and along one line."

Written in 1952, it seems Vonnegut will always be relevant:

"He stared at the President and imagined with horror what the country must have been like when, as today, any damn fool little American boy might grow up to be President, but when the President had had to actually run the country!"

Plus, igniting or enhancing daily questioning of the absurdity of society. ( )
1 vote dandelionroots | Apr 1, 2017 |
Hoo. Ending surprised me, but maybe I'm easily surprised. ( )
  Jon_Hansen | Mar 27, 2017 |
I was less enthralled than I hoped I would be. This isn't my favourite Vonnegut experience, but a great book regardless. The themes are mostly relevant still, but a lot of the technology was lost on me because of when it was written. A decent look at the future of society and self. ( )
  meaghangray | Feb 26, 2017 |
A society in which everyone's' basic needs are met, in which machines perform the most difficult and boring jobs, sounds pretty idyllic, doesn't it? But in this book Vonnegut asks what role people would play in such a world. What challenges them? What can they strive to achieve? What gives them a sense of purpose? Do they even need one? These and other questions posed by this story are as meaningful today as they were when it was first published over 60 years ago. It's still a good read.
( )
  DLMorrese | Oct 14, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kurt Vonnegutprimary authorall editionscalculated
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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