Thursday, January 3, 2013

Vonnegut's Player Piano--Our Future Controlled by Engineers and Managers?

 In preparation for a seminar we will have this spring at the McConnell Center, I recently had the chance to read Kurt Vonnegut's first Novel, Player Piano.  Its a really fine book and well worth the read today.  The University Bookman published my review essay, which starts below.

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I have long resisted reading Kurt Vonnegut. In this life of finite time and seemingly infinite and ever expanding good things to read, his biography or writing just did not seem enough to clear the bar to justify pushing some other unread book aside. I am very glad, however, that I found the excuse and the time this winter break to read Vonnegut’s Player Piano.

Vonnegut, born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1922, published Player Piano in 1952 (though to encourage book sales among science fiction readers, it was originally published with the meaningless title of Utopia 14). At thirty years old, this was Vonnegut’s first novel and comes seventeen years before his most famous Slaughterhouse Five. In an early 1970s interview, Vonnegut gave more than mere inspirational credit to Huxley’s Brave New World for his plot, though he also talked about his time working in a General Electric factory as providing additional source material.

Like Huxley’s classic, Player Piano takes place in a world after a war (they all take place after a war, don’t they?) in which superior engineers and mechanization have seemingly saved democracy and the lessons learned in war were then turned toward bringing “standardized progress” to domestic life. Unlike Huxley’s book, though, which is brightly painted with details and technological imagination, Vonnegut’s portrayal of a future society is flatter and feels markedly more dated.

See the rest of this review at The University Bookman