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Player Piano

Narrated by: Christian Rummel
Length: 11 hrs and 26 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (11 ratings)
Non-member price: $51.19
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Publisher's 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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  • Christopher Bowers
  • 18-09-2017

Poor narration

I am a huge Kurt Vonnegut fan, and was hoping to really enjoy listening to this book. I love the story, but the monotone (digitally sourced?) narration makes this impossible to listen too. Do not buy Kurt Vonnegut books from this series!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Mary
  • 04-08-2018

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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  • Pla77
  • 08-02-2016

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
  • 12-12-2008

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
  • 20-02-2014

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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  • Daniel N. Peters
  • 22-03-2019

Great story, and supreme performance

I have always been a fan of Vonnegut. This did not disappoint. A must own.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 21-02-2019

An Unpopular Opinion...

I can’t say that I enjoyed this book as much as I’ve enjoyed the rest of Vonnegut’s work. The story is dull in comparison to his other novels. I found the plot to be very predictable at times and there are parts of the book that are an absolute drag to get through. The narration is excessive and sometimes seems like pointless rambling. Another aspect of the book that I found to be disappointing was the lack of a clear point or moral, a characteristic that Vonnegut’s work has been known for. I admit, however, to being a bit biased. I’m a huge Vonnegut fan. And considering this is his first novel, it’s not terrible for a first effort.

Aside from all that negative jazz, I enjoyed the actual performance of the audiobook. Top of the line production. The performance of the dialogue in the audiobook was a wonderful treat and made the book somewhat bearable to get through.

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  • Dubi
  • 30-09-2018

The Future Is Here

There is a book or a documentary (there may be more than one) that compares visions of the future as presented in the mid-20th century, particularly at the 1939 New York World's Fair ("The World of Tomorrow"), and shows just how wrong they were -- often comically. Kurt Vonnegut's first novel, Player Piano, by contrast, holds up well 66 years into the future, its vision having by and large come true in many ways, sometimes chillingly.

Based on his own experiences working for General Electric in the late 1940s, Player Piano imagines a future in which people are replaced by machines controlled by computers and the world is run by feckless managers and engineers. In the 1950s they called it automation -- we now call it robotics. People losing their jobs to robots is a reality that is part of our current political and economic discourse; unchecked corporate power is another hot button issue; and our 1% class structure is a near corollary to Player Piano's world where management lives north of the river in Ilium and the unemployed masses live to its south, the twain rarely meeting.

The populist anti-establishment screeds sprinkled throughout Player Piano cut across today's ideologies. The issues of corporate influence and the economic elite certainly echo liberal thought, but job loss to robotics and a Luddite nostalgia for a simpler past are hallmarks of conservatism. The nature of the working class left behind by automation also cuts across ideological lines -- demographically, they resemble red state conservatives, but their plight (especially how they're treated by the elite) resembles blue state liberal views.

Vonnegut's Luddite attitude toward technology is one example where he got it completely wrong. Those losing jobs to robotics may lament their unemployment, but no one is unplugging their WiFi or central air conditioners. And there are many new careers in technology than KV imagined. He mocks the corporate justification for automation -- improving people's lives -- but in today's world, few want society to go off-grid, they just want to keep their jobs or get new ones. On the other hand, he totally nails the manipulation of the populace via weapons of mass distraction, as did Huxley in Brave New World (which Vonnegut admits to happily ripping off).

This being his first novel, Vonnegut adhered closely to traditional literary structures. There are only hints of the meta-fictional style that is emblematic of his later work. The characters are straightforward, the plot line linear, the dialogue realistic. The most interesting departure from standard narrative structure is that some scenes seem designed to set characters up to deliver extended riffs and rants that communicate the author's belief system rather than furthering plot or characterization.

Vonnegut wrote Player Piano as a social satire of his own times, but by setting it in a dystopian near-future, the book was cast as science fiction. At the time, Vonnegut said it was news to him that he was a science fiction author -- he did not want to be seen as part of what he then thought of as a second rate pulp fiction genre. Of course, he went on to embrace the label and become one of its foremost practitioners, even taking a traditional WWII story and transposing it into science fiction (Slaughterhouse-Five).

For me, this completes my re-reading in audio of all of Vonnegut's novels I devoured in print as a youth -- seven of them leading up to the first that I read upon its initial publication (Breakfast of Champions). I remain amazed at how most of them (especially the lesser known titles) hold up to the passage of time, at least thematically (some details, like vacuum tube technology that drives Player Piano's world, have to now be rethought as integrated circuits). I also remain amazed at how well Vonnegut graded himself in Palm Sunday -- he gave Player Piano a B, and I have to concur. It's very good, especially for a first novel, but doesn't rise to greatness of the A books that followed.

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  • Ben C.
  • 15-07-2018

Cynical, satirical, and a little bit lyrical.

The diversity of character personalities was refreshing, though my favorite character didn't change as much as I had anticipated. Great critique of how science can enhance or drain the human condition.

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  • emma
  • 10-07-2018

Super talented narrator

Christian Rummel is a genius. Perfect collaborator for Vonnegut. ;)
This book is timely as it deals with machines sort of like how we grapple with AI now. It raises issues we are currently debating.

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  • Matthew
  • 18-09-2016

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.

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  • K. Fearnley
  • 16-09-2016

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.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 29-08-2017

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!

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  • Joseph K.87
  • 18-11-2016

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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  • Diane
  • 11-03-2019

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.