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Player Piano

Narrated by: Christian Rummel
Length: 11 hrs and 26 mins
4 out of 5 stars (673 ratings)
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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.

This production is part of our Audible Modern Vanguard line, a collection of important works from groundbreaking authors.
©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

Average Customer Ratings

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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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the very BEST AUTHOR OF the 1900's

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

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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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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    3 out of 5 stars

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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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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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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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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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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Dynamic performance

Its really good; just try the sample if you don’t trust me. I’ve read every Vonnegut thing ever and I really loved this. The narrator really brings it.

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Marvelous and Profound!

Vonnegut creates excellent characters with humor. They tell a story that should be required reading as more & more of our jobs become automated. Brilliantly read - an extra bonus.

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  • Matthew
  • 09-18-16

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • K. Fearnley
  • 09-16-16

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 08-29-17

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
  • 11-18-16

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...