A Belated Review of Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut

“Those who live by electronics, die by electronics. Sic semper tyrannis.” — Ed Finnerty, Player Piano

The following is a selection of articles recently published in well-known publications:

When it is neither possible nor practical to perform an experiment to either prove or disprove a hypothesis or question, one still has an option at his or her disposal: the thought experiment, which involves the theoretical examination of a situation and the use of logic to determine the accompanying results that are possible or even likely.

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In 1952, Kurt Vonnegut published his first work of fiction entitled Player Piano that employed the method mentioned above.  Specifically, Mr. Vonnegut imagined a future for the United States in which labor has been replaced entirely with automated machines, a situation that certainly would have required the power of imagination at the time of its publication.  In this imagined future, consumer need for the entire country is determined by a central computer that directs industry accordingly, thus producing the supply that matches the calculated demand.

American society finds itself divided in to two classes: the engineers and managers, a patrician minority that oversees the machines, and the remainder of the population consisting of a plebeian majority that is in the paid service of the government performing menial work.  For the plebs, life has become meaningless and pointless, since they are unable utilize those innate skills and talents that they would so desperately like to use; disillusionment and despondency is universal.

However, although a sequestered elite, all are not true believers among the engineers and managers.  Dr. Paul Proteus, the son of the chief designer of this Second Industrial Revolution that had relegated so many to listless lives, cannot quash his qualms about the state of society and its division of class.  Through acquaintances both new and old, Proteus navigates the ruthlessly competitive world in which he finds himself a part and becomes involved with the “Ghost Shirt Society” and the rebellion that is brewing.

Despite having been published in 1952, Mr. Vonnegut paints a disturbing and visionary picture of what life could resemble in a world dominated by machines, and when one considers the ever-evolving role of technology in every aspect of life today, there is a good deal to consider.

“And a step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction.” — Dr. Paul Proteus, Player Piano

Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type), eBook

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill