Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Book Review by Anna: Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut

Author:  Kurt Vonnegut
GenreScience Fiction, Dystopia, Satire
PublisherCharles Scribner's Sons
Publication Date: 1952
Pages: 352, hardcover
I first read Player Piano a couple of years ago immediately after I first read Slaughterhouse-Five, and from what I remember at the time I was just like.. meh. But I picked it back up a few days ago and breezed through it. And I was reminded again of how it's pretty much a 1984 comedy. The short version? A man vs. machine sketch. And while that's been done time and time again in science fiction, I don't care. It's still relevant. It's this futuristic story about engineering manager, Paul, who is trapped in a world in which the average joe basically lives by the question, "Why the hell do I have to work?" Although he lives the good life of the high society, he starts to feel guilt for the others and decides to quit and help the masses fight against them. However, in the end he discovers that even when they destroy what they hate the most - the machines - the human spirit of innovation just begins all over again until it inevitably evolves into chaos. It's a hard pill to swallow because it reminds us that humanitarian efforts eventually all return to dust, but it's the fleeting moments of courage and rebellion and morality and liberty that make it worth all the while even still. It's hard, but it's truthful. And ultimately that's what I crave.
Rereading it, I noticed elements I didn't necessarily catch the first time - yes it's old as balls and yes it feels a little unfamiliar in some parts because it's obviously catered to America moving towards a more automated society after WWII, but now I see a new relevance: we are experiencing another movement led by the Internet of All Things and all the pricey wearables. And if you can believe the words of Ray Kurzweil, eventually we will become the machines - a hybrid comprised of flesh and titanium.
I did some research after reading it this time, and I found out it was actually written after Vonnegut spent about three years working for General Electric in Public Relations. I can't help but wonder if it was there that he observed how managers and engineers were held in such high regard, influencing the world through machine. Which at this point in time was still a fairly new idea  - especially in postwar America. 
I recommend this book because I think there are elements that are timeless in it. Even though it was mainly progressive during the time it was written, again it's still relevant and brilliant. You'll (hopefully) laugh through his incessant dark humor like I did, but watch out. The next time you are chatting it up with Siri about reminding you to drop a deuce, you'll shudder. Long live the Ghost Shirt Society!  
Rating: 7 - Not his best and because Slaughterhouse-Five has to be superior.