Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut

book cover of Player Piano

Apparently this is Vonnegut’s first novel, and of those of his I’ve read so far it’s by a long margin his best. It’s the only one with characterisation deep enough to get invested in anyone’s storyline. It has some really funny satire of corporate culture.

It includes a pertinent and important critique of capitalism, in the sense that increasing levels of mechanisation should liberate humanity from increasing amounts of unpleasant work (which is what the ruling class here claims has happened), but under capitalism this is impossible, because you need money to pay for life’s necessities and the only way to get it is by working – pretty hard, when almost all the jobs are being done by machines! While under socialism you would have the ever-decreasing amount of work being shared between everyone capable, under capitalism you get a steadily-growing group of unemployed workers, who are therefore destitute. Vonnegut’s protagonist, Paul Proteus, gets a little misdirected and blames the machines themselves instead of the economic system, but you can easily identify the real problem ;)

The novel is really weak on the inclusion of girls and women; it seems that almost every woman is a housewife (presumably because there are not enough jobs for even just a fraction of the male population…) but not actually everyone because Paul’s secretary is a woman. At any rate, it seemed bizarre that a novel so concerned with how men should spend their lives would just ignore women completely.

While that was unsatisfying, I really enjoyed this overall. As you can see, four stars.


photo of Jessica Smith is a left-wing feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also very interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.