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Player Piano

Narrated by: Christian Rummel
Length: 11 hrs and 31 mins
Categories: Fiction, Literary
4 out of 5 stars (99 ratings)

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Summary

Kurt Vonnegut's first novel spins the chilling tale of engineer Paul Proteus, who must find a way to live in a world dominated by a supercomputer and run completely by machines. Paul's rebellion is vintage Vonnegut – wildly funny, deadly serious, and terrifyingly close to reality.

As an added bonus, when you purchase our Audible Modern Vanguard production of Kurt Vonnegut's book, you'll also receive an exclusive Jim Atlas interview. This interview – where James Atlas interviews Gay Talese about the life and work of Kurt Vonnegut – begins as soon as the audiobook ends.

©1980 Kurt Vonnegut (P)2008 Audible, Inc.

Critic reviews

"Mr. Vonnegut is a sharp-eyed satirist." ( The New York Times)
"One of the best living American writers." (Graham Greene)

What members say

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Uncanny prediction of today's world of automation.

I love Vonnegut's world view and style; his irreverence towards authority and satirical perspective. What makes him a superior satirist is how he doesn't need to resort to the hysterical. He's measured. His worlds, however inventive, are believable extrapolations of the real one.

I also think his irreverence is particularly mature. In this story which critiques thoughtless, directionless automation of industry in the name of unqualified "progress", he's very aware of the negative consequences of a luddite approach to technology. He's not so irresponsible to say "smash the system" and then walk away without any solutions. He also asks "and then what?" I'm not even sure he's on the side of his heroes who hope to smash the machines and return control to the people. My take home from this is we're damned if we do, damned if we don't when it comes to the use of tech. The best we can do is exploit tech in service of the sort of society we want, and not just for efficiency's sake, choosing carefully what we implement and what we don't for everyone's benefit.

As someone working in AI and concerned about the social and political ramifications of it, I can't believe Vonnegut was so "on it" over 50 years ago. We live in a prepubescent version of the tech utopia/nightmare he predicts. He's one of those writers who can look around him at our madness and synthesize it into a coherent criticism, show us common sense and suggest the humane thing to do.

One of my top ten novels.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Still great, don't worry about it being dated

Despite being full of technical stuff dated in the 50s, the issues and ideas are still relevant and the story telling is timeless. Very well read, with good voice acting across the range of characters. A funny and thought provoking book.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Absolute Brilliance!

What a wonderful book! Funny and serious at the same time it explores what should we value about modern life. Vonnegut writes in a very clear understandable manner that allows the reader to fall fully into his way of thinking, which is laced with heart felt wisdom and insight. Highly recommended!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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brilliant

vonegut vision in player piano is immensely profound. the plot is engaging but the world is the true star of the novel, it's unsettling lyn accurate in many ways. I think Orwell reads vonegut...

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Dated? Great narrator!

Ok, 3 stars is not a bad review, it just means I think it’s good but neither great nor amazing.

This is his first novel from 1952, and I think it shows. It’s an interesting idea and interesting that it occurred to him we might lose our purpose the more automation takes over back then already. However, I think his imagining of what that might look like is quite short sighted.

Also, there was no thought behind what evolution women might have gone through in the time between his own culture and that of this book. We don’t know how much time passed, but it can’t have been long because women went from being home makers and the occasional secretary to being homemakers and the occasional secretary. But of course, the homemaker suffered under the rule of the machines too. What’s left to do, but watch tv if the machines do all the clothes and dishwashing, cooking and whatever else?

I’m glad I didn’t read this novel of Vonnegut’s first. I might have been put off. Putting all that aside, though, it is a good thought experiment on human enterprise.

The narrator was fantastic! Great subtle accents and a good speed, that one could accelerate manually without losing quality.

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  • R.A.
  • 07-06-19

A Genuine 5-Stars

THE SHORT:

If you know (and enjoy) Vonnegut — there’s no reason to hesitate on this one. Without a doubt, it is amongst his best work.

If you don’t yet know Vonnegut, this is *not* a comprehensive introduction to his style and range, but it exemplifies the thoughtful social commentary that is always present in his work. A good place to start, but if ever you don’t like it, I wouldn’t dismiss him without also checking out Slaughterhouse 5, Breakfast of Champions and Sirens of Titan.


THE LONG:
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__THE STORY__
The humour in Player Piano is much drier and more attenuated than other, more fantastical, Vonnegut novels; perhaps because it mostly plays on very on-point social commentary. The story itself is very engaging: Vonnegut paints the picture of a society using ~3 parallel, non-intersecting, threads. Unlike many other novels where such narrative structure is used as a gimmick to create artificial suspense (ie a hook to keep you reading that would not work if you were to re-read the novel), in Player Piano, Vonnegut has used it so deftly that, even though the characters in the various parts have nothing to do with one another, there is no sense of a split story line: all of them carry the central theme forward, seamlessly.

The near-future world that Vonnegut imagined resembles ours so closely that his prescience alone makes the story gripping, and his ability to articulate the discomforts accompanying a technocratic world gives the whole thing a eerie prophetic feeling. I just wish he had been a bit more clear in his final statement: on a first listening, there is not a clear conclusion to the “discussion” he has with the reader, throughout the story.

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__The Narration__

In a word: perfect. I have never heard anything else read by Christian Rummel, and I think he is the first or second narrator out of ~450 audiobooks, for whom I’d considered buying other books simply on account of his talent.

I don’t recall seeing anything about Rummel having won an award for this novel, but I don’t know how that could possibly be the case. Not only does he distinguish characters effectively, without blowing the dynamic range, he absolutely nails several characters, bringing them to life.

I’m not one to be excessively enthusiastic: there’s nothing worse than a huge endorsement to get your expectations up so that the actual product can’t possibly live up to them, but if you’re able to give Rummel a fair listening, I think you’ll agree that his performance is spectacular: a few of the characters are so spot-on, that I wondered if he had met Vonnegut. He definitely transformed the book for me, as I would not have been able to imagine such perfectly matched voicing for those characters. Of course, not *every* character has something special that you wouldn’t get with another narrator, but there’s no doubt he was the perfect choice for this book.

He also carries off some Vonnegut-esque sound effects (onomatopoeic machine noises) to great effect: capturing the playful sarcasm and irony that colours so much of Vonnegut’s writing.

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__OVERALL__

Highly recommended. A book I will listen to again, without a doubt - which is ultimately the highest praise I can give any book :)

If you found this review helpful in deciding whether or not to give this book a chance, please let me know by clicking the button below, so that I can continue to provide helpful reviews (or improve them!). Happy listening!


2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Mary
  • 04-08-18

the very BEST AUTHOR OF the 1900's

if you haven't read Vonnegut, you have missed out on valuable wit and human pespective.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • pierrev
  • 21-08-19

Not his best but not the worst

the middle was a little slow for me and I had a hard time getting through it but loved the way it finished

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Pla77
  • 08-02-16

Relevant today

This is particularly relevant given the rise of AI and references to vacuum tubes can easily be replaced with transistors without batting an eye. Like most Vonnegut he creates the engine, gets it running, takes a short drive and abruptly abandons it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • James
  • 12-12-08

Not Vonnegut's best effort.

I read this a long time ago and bought the A-B. There are some interesting insights in this book that have some application in todays "outsourced" economy. Funy in parts tiresome in others, the ending seems J-V was trying to meet a deadline.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • thomas
  • 20-02-14

Spectacular

What did you love best about Player Piano?

It is hard for me to write a review of a Kurt Vonnegut book, I am clearly not a literary critic, but for me he is the most under appreciated writer in the American literary tradition. This book, his first, is just fantastic.

What other book might you compare Player Piano to and why?

Within the Vonnegut library I would say Sirens of Titan, another early book with big ideas.

What about Christian Rummel’s performance did you like?

It is interesting that all the Vonnegut books on Audible have been done by different narrator's and all of them have done a great, great job. Rummel handled the material so well I cannot imagine any else doing it better. Just great.

Who was the most memorable character of Player Piano and why?

Paul Proteus probably but Kroger and Finnerty really cracked me up....sometimes it is hard to tell (when really Vonnegut) if you are imagining his characters or the subsequent one's that recent writers ripped off from him. These are archetypal characters at times and it is difficult not to love all of them.

Any additional comments?

Thanks Audible, well done.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Z. Brown
  • 28-08-19

Staying power! 3rd read in 3 decades.

Always a favorite title of mine from Vonnegut. This work of fiction reaches forward into the future to illustrate the degrading affect technology has on modern humans and how we are tied to it none the less. I'm fascinated by when this was written how tragically right it was and how fatally unable to change course we may be. Highly recommended by he who has devoured Vonnegut's entire catalog, or at least the portion that was published prior to his death.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 26-07-19

Not Great

Felt like a story when an awful lot was happening but nothing was really happening. Amazing credit to Vonnegut for writing something 70 years ago that’s relevant today . But the story was just not that good, and a bit disjointed.

The only other Vonnegut book I’ve read was Slaughterhouse V. After this, I’m not sure which Vonnegut to expect. I’ll be more hesitant to purchase another Vonnegut book.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 15-04-19

Great Story, Narrator occasionally annoying

home boy has some voices down pat but his regular narration voice leaves something to be desired.

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  • WVU Rick
  • 07-04-19

Ageless Work of Fiction

It is hard to say "the best" when it comes to Vonnegut's body of work. However, this commentary and cautionary tale about the impact of technology and societal change resonates now as much as any time since the book was written. Applying Vonnegut's humorous sense of sarcasm and irony, the question of "can we go back to the good old days?" is covered in depth in this masterpiece. Slaughterhouse Five, Slapstick, Breakfast of Champions and Cat's Cradle (excellent audio as well) offer a lighter read for new fans. This denser plot may not be the best place to start in his collection.