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Player Piano
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Player Piano (1952), Vonnegut's first novel, embeds and foreshadows themes which are to be parsed and dramatized by academians for centuries to come. His future society—a marginal extrapolation,...
Player Piano (1952), Vonnegut's first novel, embeds and foreshadows themes which are to be parsed and dramatized by academians for centuries to come. His future society—a marginal extrapolation,...
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  • Player Piano (1952), Vonnegut's first novel, embeds and foreshadows themes which are to be parsed and dramatized by academians for centuries to come. His future society—a marginal extrapolation, Vonnegut wrote, of the situation he observed as an employee of General Electric in which machines were replacing people increasingly and without any regard for their fate—is mechanistic and cruel, indifferent to human consequence, almost in a state of merriment as human wreckage accumulates. Paul Proteus, the novel's protagonist, is an engineer at Ilium Works and first observes with horror and then struggles to reverse the displacement of human labor by machines.

    Ilium Works and Paul's struggles are a deliberately cartoon version of labor's historic and escalating struggle to give dignity and purpose to workers. The novel embodies all of Vonenegut's concerns and what he takes to be the great dilemma of the technologically overpowered century: the spiritual needs of the population in no way serve the economies of technology and post-technology. Vonnegut overlies this grotesque comedy over tragedy, disguising his novel in the trappings of goofiness.

    Not published—at Vonnegut's insistence—as science fiction, the novel was nonetheless recognized and praised by the science fiction community which understood it far better than a more general readership, a dilemma which Vonnegut resentfully faced throughout his career. Bernard Wolfe's dystopian Limbo and Player Pianowere published in the same year to roughly similar receptions; two "outsiders" had apotheosized technophobia as forcefully as any writer within the field. Throughout his career, Vonnegut was forced to struggle with his ambivalence about science fiction and his own equivocal relationship with its readers.

Excerpts-

  • Chapter 1 Ilium, New York, is divided into three parts. In the northwest are the managers and engineers and civil servants and a few professional people; in the northeast are the machines; and in the south, across the Iroquois River, is the area known locally as Homestead, where almost all of the people live. If the bridge across the Iroquois were dynamited, few daily routines would be disturbed. Not many people on either side have reasons other than curiosity for crossing. During the war, in hundreds of Iliums over America, managers and engineers learned to get along without their men and women, who went to fight. It was the miracle that won the war-production with almost no manpower. In the patois of the north side of the river, it was the know-how that won the war. Democracy owed its life to know-how. Ten years after the war-after the men and women had come home, after the riots had been put down, after thousands had been jailed under the antisabotage laws-Doctor Paul Proteus was petting a cat in his office. He was the most important, brilliant person in Ilium, the manager of the Ilium Works, though only thirty-five. He was tall, thin, nervous, and dark, with the gentle good looks of his long face distorted by dark-rimmed glasses. He didn't feel important or brilliant at the moment, nor had he for some time. His principle concern just then was that the black cat be contented in its new surroundings. Those old enough to remember and too old to compete said affectionately that Doctor Proteus looked just as his father had as a young man-and it was generally understood, resentfully in some quarters, that Paul would someday rise almost as high in the organization as his father had. His father, Doctor George Proteus, was at the time of his death the nation's first National Industrial, Commercial, Communications, Foodstuffs, and Resources Director, a position approached in importance only by the presidency of the United States. As for the Proteus genes' chances of being passed down to yet another generation, there were practically none. Paul's wife, Anita, his secretary during the war, was barren. Ironically as anyone would please, he had married her after she had declared that she was certainly pregnant, following an abandoned office celebration of victory. "Like that, kitty?" With solicitousness and vicarious pleasure, young Proteus ran a roll of blueprints along the cat's arched back. "Mmmmm-aaaaah-good, eh?" He had spotted her that morning, near the golf course, and had picked her up as a mouser for the plant. Only the night before, a mouse had gnawed through the insulation on a control wire and put buildings 17, 19, and 21 temporarily out of commission. Paul turned on his intercom set. "Katharine?" "Yes, Doctor Proteus?" "Katharine, when's my speech going to be typed?" "I'm doing it now, sir. Ten, fifteen minutes, I promise." Doctor Katharine Finch was his secretary, and the only woman in the Ilium Works. Actually, she was more a symbol of rank than a real help, although she was useful as a stand-in when Paul was ill or took a notion to leave work early. Only the brass-plant managers and bigger-had secretaries. During the war, the managers and engineers had found that the bulk of secretarial work could be done-as could most lower-echelon jobs-more quickly and efficiently and cheaply by machines. Anita was about to be dismissed when Paul had married her. Now, for instance, Katharine was being annoyingly unmachine-like, dawdling over Paul's speech, and talking to her presumed lover, Doctor Bud Calhoun, at the same time.

Synopsis-

  • Vonnegut's first novel, an unforgiving portrait of an automated and totalitarian future, was published in 1952. A human revolt against the machines which control life was arranged by the machines themselves to prove the futility of such resistance. Visionary and unrelenting, this is felt by some critics to be Vonnegut's best and most original novel.

About the Author-

  • Hailed by Graham Greene as one of the best living American writers, Kurt Vonnegut is one of the definitive voices in American literature in the second half of the 20th century. Born in Indianapolis in 1922 and a veteran of World War II (Billy Pilgrim of Slaughterhouse Five is his exact contemporary), he worked for General Electric before publishing his first story in 1950 and turning to writing full time. From the beginning, science fiction was an important element in Vonnegut's writing -- his early stories were published in science-fiction magazines -- though his work is in no way merely generic. A scathing and dark wit, a sly intelligence and a richly evolved sense of the absurd make Vonnegut's writing like no one else's. Doris Lessing called him one of the writers who map our landscapes for us, who gives names to the places we know best.
    Vonnegut's first novel Player Piano was published in 1952, and his novels, stories and essays began to appear regularly in the years that followed. It was the publication of The Sirens of Titan (1959) and, ultimately, Cat's Cradle (1963) that established Vonnegut as a major new writer with the general public, both in the U.S. and internationally. The appearance of Slaughterhouse Five six years later brought him an increasingly rare double distinction for a serious writer -- critical acclaim and bestselling success. Vonnegut's other notably titles include God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; Welcome to the Monkey House; Breakfast of Champions; Slapstick; Jailbird; Deadeye Dick; and Hocus Pocus. Time magazine has described Kurt Vonnegut as George Orwell, Dr. Caligari and Flash Gordon compounded into one writer ... a zany but moral mad scientist.

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