Player Piano

Player PianoAgain I return to Vonnegut and am now recommending his first novel Player Piano. I was pleasantly surprised with this one. This is an incredible debut novel first published in 1952, making it now 70 years old this year. The story follows engineer Dr. Paul Proteus through a world that is near full-automation. Machines run practically everything and only a handful of engineers are needed to maintain the system alongside a group of managers. These managers and engineers believe themselves to be the elite while all others are employed by the government via joining the Army or by joining an organization called the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps playfully called the Reeks and Wrecks.

Being 70 years old, and Vonnegut himself passing away in 2007 mere months before the first iPhone was released, there was no way this novel could have predicted the development of the technology we know today. However, it does imagine a highly technical, although mechanic, world where humans are quickly replaced by machines to complete their work which leaves them few options and little excitement or pride in their lives. Everything is studied/surveyed en masse prior to anything being produced so everyone gets pre-fabricated houses with the same appliances and all entertainment is generalized and must fit pre-determined guidelines.

People take exams when they graduate/reach adulthood and are given a score that prescribes their future. The score, highly focused on IQ level, essentially tells them they can go to college to be an engineer or will have to choose either the Army or Reeks and Wrecks. Their IQ is public record and cannot be changed. Any discussion of anti-automation is considered treason. The word “saboteur” holds a special meaning and is considered the worst offense.

There is a lot packed into this one novel and it still speaks to much of what society grapples with today. Though machines may not be as prevalent, we have computers that can replace what were once people-operated jobs. The surveying of the public is now market research and we all have experienced the dreadful targeted ads. The Reeks and Wrecks would be considered Socialism and railed against politically, and many people are working multiple jobs for demeaning wages. This book was written at a time when the nation’s wealth was more equally distributed, so it is hard to imagine what Vonnegut would have had to say about the number of billionaires today who pay their frontline workers so little they need to utilize food stamps. But that is a rant for another day.

I think this novel holds up quite well now 70 years later. In fact, it may be one of Vonnegut’s best novels though it doesn’t get discussed as much as Slaughterhouse Five, Sirens of Titan, or Cat’s Cradle. Vonnegut focused much of his work on societal observations and problems people faced or society faced as a whole. Player Piano seems to be the most direct that I’ve read yet. There are more I still need to read, and I will get to them eventually.

Happy Reading.

The Sound of Waves

The Sound of WavesThe Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima was published in 1956 (though I believe this was the date for the first English-translated version). This is the first book by Mishima I have read and I came across it randomly, and I was excited to read something without any prior exposure to it. There is a page in the front of the version I read that gives a brief description of Mishima’s life. He wrote several books including a tetralogy called The Sea of Fertility which he considered his greatest work. According to this short insight, “he frequently said he would die when it was completed.” On November 25th in 1970, the day he finished the final novel, he committed seppuku at the age of 45.

I read this book in a day which I believe is a testament to the story itself but more so to how it was written. With how easy it was to read this story, I am interested in reading his tetralogy and will likely do so at a later time. Just another series added to the TBR.

The Sound of Waves focuses on the fishing village located on the island of Uta-jima where a young, poor fisherman falls in love with the daughter of a wealthy man. What follows is the story of a semi-secret love in a village where lives are intertwined so closely nothing remains unknown for long.

What I liked about this book was how it focuses on the essential aspects of life that get forgotten in the overcomplications society imparts upon us. Granted, this was before modern technology (which may make it an even better reminder), but it was still a great story about human interaction and how simple life should be compared to what most of us often experience. It also focuses on honesty and living with integrity. Life is more than our level of intelligence, how much money we make, and who our family members are. It is about how we treat others and ourselves. How we approach life is who we are as a person.

If you are looking for a good story, an easy read, and a relaxing reminder that life doesn’t have to be complicated, then this might be the perfect book for you right now.

Happy Reading.

Cat’s Cradle

Cat's CradleMy Vonnegut trend continues and this time it had me reading his fourth novel Cat’s Cradle. If the novel wasn’t satire, it’d be one hell of a depressing story. However, with Vonnegut’s interjection of humor and ways of pinpointing the absurdity of humanity, the novel is introspective of how we make a mess of things and at its core is a hope of pointing out what is really important.

First published in 1963, Cat’s Cradle is where many of Vonnegut’s fictitious words originate. His creation of the religion of Bokonon also created words such as foma, granfalloon, and karass. This novel is also the origination of ice-nine. All become relevant to the central story but I won’t delve into them to avoid potential spoilers.

One feature I found I really liked about this book is the incredibly short chapters. Right now, time for reading is hard to come by for me and this ~300 page book has 127 chapters leaving many to be only a page or two in length and therefore easier to pick up and put down. Although the book itself is easy enough to read in one sitting if you feel so inclined.

The more I think on the events of this book the more I come to like it as a novel, social commentary, and overall poke in the ribs to every reader. I understand why this is one of his more popular novels. Perhaps it will be one of your favorites.

Happy Reading.

Welcome To The Monkey House

Welcome to the Monkey House book coverWelcome To The Monkey House is a collection of short stories by Kurt Vonnegut. Having recently read Pity the Reader which provided much insight into Vonnegut the writer and Vonnegut the person, I read this collection with much more appreciation, and much more fun, that I think I would have otherwise. I even laughed out loud a few times which I almost never do when reading.

I will also admit that I partially picked up this collection for the story “Harrison Bergeron” which I had read in either high school or my undergraduate years (so many years ago) and had for a long time associated the story with Ray Bradbury (I think because I read the story at first while also reading Fahrenheit 451).

This collection is great. Despite all of these stories being written in the 1950s and 1960s, most of them comment on social issues that persist or are, unfortunately, re-emerging today. I also think it is fun to read stories like these 60-70 years after they were written because they often imagine a future that people from those days thought might come to pass. They were big dreamers back then and lived in a much different world than the one we have today. Of course, these being stories, they include conflict despite the “bright” future they imagine or because of the “darker” future they could also dream up. I will admit that “Deer in the Works” may not be terribly far off from a situation Vonnegut imagined could happen in a future of mega-corporations.

Overall, this is a fun collection and, despite some aspects of these stories being outdated, the stories remain relevant and insightful about the human race and the way we interact with each other.

Happy Reading.

The Sandman

Sandman and the Endless

Sandman and the Endless by Jim Lee & Jeremy Roberts

I have to admit that The Sandman was an interesting journey to say the least. I haven’t read many comics (despite knowing many comic characters and stories [no, not just Marvel ones]), but it is a unique medium that is worth looking into if you have been hesitant to do so. Of course, there are tons of stories within the medium and you simply need to find one you are interested in. I decided to begin Sandman for various reasons: I’ve heard friends talk about it, I’ve seen it show up several times in circles of interest, and one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, wrote it. Granted, a comic is a product of much collaboration and creation and each contributor deserves their due. Some contributors changed throughout the series, but here are those who created the first issue titled “Sleep of the Just”: Neil Gaiman (writer), Sam Kieth & Mike Dringenberg (artists), Todd Klein (letters), Daniel Vozzo (colors), Art Young (assistant editor), and Karen Berger (editor).

I acquired the Omnibus Editions Continue reading