Player Piano

Narrated by: Christian Rummel
Length: 11 hrs and 31 mins
4 out of 5 stars (853 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)
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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!


4 people found this 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.

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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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

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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 person found this 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.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    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 people found this helpful

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mostly good

narrator is very talented, but takes a little getting used to. story dates itself in some unpleasant ways, and doesn't keep the same place as some of Vonnegut's other works. overall worth the listen (until the interview at the end, which is completely cringe-worthy).

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A Glimpse at Vonnegut Making Himself into Vonnegut

I’ve thought about Vonnegut a lot over the last 3-5 years, and I’ve re-read most of what I’d once read multiple times in high school and home from college. His work was my intellectual comfort food and then, all at once, I’d decided I was beyond him.

The big insight that launched my re-interest came when I realized the extent to which we can trace his coming to terms with the trauma of his war-time experiences, culminating in Slaughterhouse-Five. I found real power in the early novels as we watch him inching ever closer to confronting what it meant to witness what the Allies did to the Germans at Dresden, a story more ironic and horrible than anything he could ever invent himself.

For me, Vonnegut gets really good with Mother Night, his third novel, though we can see some interesting things happening in Sirens of Titan, his second. This one is his first, and, coming back to it, I see some glimmers. But, by comparison with what was coming just a couple years later, this is close to a failure.

Among other things, this is badly plotted. Our hero, Paul Proteus, does have a fascinating experience. Unable, in Vonnegut fashion, to share faith with either of the sides in conflict – he’s born and trained to belong to the engineering elite, but he’s temperamentally unable to join them or the active resistance – he eventually gets fired in order to be sent as an undercover agent of the rebels. Everyone assumes he’s someone he is not. (It’s clumsy here, but Vonnegut does it elegantly in Mother Night.)

That section should be the heart of this novel. Instead, it comes something like two-thirds of the way through with the earlier parts all an extended comic sci-fi/dystopia. It’s apprentice work for the excellence that would follow, but at first it’s spread out too slowly and then it’s rushed. In retrospect, I think a good editor could have saved it, but first he or she would have had to know the voice and style Vonnegut would later develop.

This does interest me, though, for the glimpses we see of what I’ll call the proto-revelations of trauma. This is still loosely in the “Harrison Bergeron” phase where, in a kind of libertarianism, Vonnegut seemed to fear the power of unbridled government more than, as he eventually settled into, the unbridled power of late capitalism. In this moment, we see a poignant yearning for some of what the war made possible. Multiple characters, no more ironic than others, seem nostalgic for the shared purpose of battle.

We do get an early sense of the pointlessness of war. One character recounts winning a major medal because, moments after a Nazi attack, he got a generator working again and electrocuted a thousand Germans who’d managed to make their way to an electric fence that was temporarily disabled. That is, we get an acknowledgement that war is pointless and anti-human, but that doesn’t entirely overwhelm the sense that the narrative of war has a power to bring humans together.

There’s a send-up of corporate life that involves inventing a series of pointless Blue/Green/White teams with strong patriotic self-definitions – that is, there’s a sense of the phoniness of what Vonnegut will call Granfalloons in Cat’s Cradle – but he doesn’t seem all the way able to dismiss the “foma” of patriotism.

In other words, I see a residue of his claiming that what he endured had some purpose to it. That residue is eroding – I think it may be mostly gone by Sirens of Titan – but this marks a fascinating glimpse at the man Vonnegut was before he made himself into the Vonnegut we know.

Don’t bother with this one unless you’ve done the other early ones first, but it’s valuable because of what it shows of an artist slowly forcing himself to become himself.

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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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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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  • 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.

5 people found this 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.

3 people found this 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!

1 person found this helpful

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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...

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  • Michael B. Hooper
  • 03-25-20

Good voice actor, good story

The story was good, yet I felt towards the end it seemed somewhat rushed. I won’t go into specifics to avoid spoilers, but still worth a read.

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  • Diane
  • 03-11-19

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.