“A psychiatrist could help. There’s a good man in Albany.”
Finnerty shook his head. “He’d pull me back into the center, and I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out there on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” He nodded, “Big, undreamed-of things–the people on the edge see them first.”― Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
This is from Player Piano, Vonnegut’s first novel. I am about halfway through right now. I was talking with my brother about the book and realized I must have read this the first time more than 45 years ago. I don’t recall the whole plot or many of the elements, but I do remember quite a bit of the situations. Unlike some of the later Vonnegut, the writing in this is more conventional in form. Lots of his later stuff is less rigid, even outline-like at times. This is not. It is filled with funny and odd moments, Vonnegut never takes himself seriously in his own work, there is a jolly feel to it, but this book itself is not structured as a series of jokes, as some of his later ones are.
The book is a reaction to the changes in society that mechanization brought in the 20th century in the U.S. That whole shift from rural to urban is talked about in so much great American literature. I know more now than I did when I read it first but I think lots of what Vonnegut wrote about was a lack of purpose in the world, that a lot of stuff in modern urban life makes little sense. He has a character narrate some of these points and I have forgotten what will happen, so this is a rich and good experience, like reading it the first time. Still, the observations he made are still very valid today. The title, Player Piano, is a nod to people not being in charge of their actions or even desires, that everything in modern life is programmed, individuals don’t really make decisions. There are similar themes throughout his work.
I would recommend this to anyone to read, but I show my age. This was written in the very infancy of the computer age, in the novel some information is stored on punch cards, familiar enough to someone my age but now sold as vintage on Ebay and the like. It won’t really be too long before anyone with first hand knowledge of this technology will be gone. Other stuff that makes perfect sense to me, and things that are supposed to be technologically advanced seem a little silly to read now. It might still be interesting to a millennial, but it would probably not exactly convey what Vonnegut intended. The 21st century reader might see this as too quaint, like the science in Brave New World.
The ideas in the book though, they are a bit timeless. Still nothing really new under the sun.