Gabrielle's Reviews > Player Piano

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut
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In a world where actuaries in Japan are getting fired by the hundreds because an algorithm now does their job, where Amazon's utterly creepy house robot Echo can organize your life and transfer info on your every move to God knows who, and where Google has created AIs that live on the Internet and talk to each other in an encrypted language so sophisticated that humans can't figure out what they are saying, "Player Piano" is eerily prescient.

In fact, as someone who works for a major insurance company and who knows just how ridiculously dependent we are on your technology working well and how much we want our employees to be devoted body and soul to the company, this book felt disturbingly familiar from the very first page.

In a not so distant future, everything has been automatized and machines do all the work, nobody starves and the only jobs still available are the ones that can't be replaced by machines... and the army. But of course, a chasm exists between those who do simple manual work and the engineers and managers who overlook the exactitude of all those machines, effectively creating a polarized society.

Paul Proteus, an important engineer and manager of Ilium Works, can feel that something is not quite right with his life and with the world, but does not know how to deal with his malaise. His old friend and colleague Ed Finnerty has acknowledged that this way of life is hollow and unfulfilling a long time ago and resists the systematic automation of everything by not fitting into the mold of the brilliant engineer that he is.

One day, Paul is asked to betray his integrity for a better job and a secure social position and he finds himself incapable of doing it. He decides to rebel against this life that now feels so meaningless, but it's not as easy to escape the corporate beast as he seems to think. Especially when computers have a record of your entire lives...

In a parallel story line, we accompany the Shah of Bratpuhr's visit to America, his incapacity to perceive people who are not in charge as anything other than slaves (despite his translator's best efforts), and his amusement at the exotic and illogical American way of life.

The idea of the corporation as a Church, its employees as its worshipers and its executives as clergy is obviously not a new one, but it gave me a uncomfortable shiver. The corporate retreat, which is essentially a brain-washing vacation meant to cultivate your bond to the company and with your colleagues, the long ridiculous titles meant to glorify the simplest of jobs, more executives than executants... I see these things going on every day at work, and it's creepy. Add to that a President who is an actor, because charisma is more important than political skill for that job... *shudder*

I see human labor, skill and intelligence devalued a little bit more all the time, whether because we have become too reliant on our GPS to know how to read a map, or because products are now manufactured to break in a year or two so that we must buy a brand new one that turns out to be cheaper than repairing the old one... It makes me uncomfortable on so many levels...

Some people seem to think that Vonnegut has not yet sharpened his trademark wit and dark humor to their full potential when he wrote "Player Piano", but I found him to be just as brutally funny, vitriolic in his commentary and thought-provoking as in his later works. He had his finger on the simple reality that without a sense of purpose and usefulness, humans will loose their sense of identity and their spirits, and he wrote a great book about it.

Of course, he missed the mark on a few things: the Rust Belt's downfall, for instance. And the very old-fashioned gender-roles made me roll my eyes a few times. But dismissing this work just because a few things are not perfectly predicted would be a mistake. I recommend it to everyone.
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Reading Progress

January 17, 2017 – Shelved
January 17, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
January 17, 2017 – Shelved as: american
January 17, 2017 – Shelved as: sci-fi
January 17, 2017 – Shelved as: dystopian
January 17, 2017 – Shelved as: own-a-copy
February 3, 2017 – Shelved as: used-bookstore-finds
February 8, 2017 – Started Reading
February 8, 2017 – Shelved as: read-in-2017
February 10, 2017 –
page 106
February 12, 2017 –
page 169
February 12, 2017 –
page 224
February 12, 2017 – Shelved as: mandatory-reading
February 12, 2017 – Shelved as: speculative-fiction
February 13, 2017 –
page 294
February 13, 2017 – Shelved as: reviewed
February 13, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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Lisa Happy to see those five bright shining stars, Gabrielle! I also loved it immensely!

BlackOxford Outstanding review. Thanks.

Gabrielle Lisa wrote: "Happy to see those five bright shining stars, Gabrielle! I also loved it immensely!"

Its a stunningly good book!

Gabrielle BlackOxford wrote: "Outstanding review. Thanks."

Thank you! :)

message 5: by Diane (new)

Diane Wallace Great review, Gabrielle!

Gabrielle Diane wrote: "Great review, Gabrielle!"

Thank you Diane! :)

message 7: by Glenn (new)

Glenn Sumi Terrific review, Gabrielle. I have always been curious about this book. You gave me a lot of helpful info.

Gabrielle Glenn wrote: "Terrific review, Gabrielle. I have always been curious about this book. You gave me a lot of helpful info."

Thank you Glenn! I think you'll enjoy it, its such an interesting commentary on the human need to have a purpose!

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