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Player Piano (Utopia 14)

Автор(ы):Курт Воннегут

Аннотация книги

This book is not a book about what is, but a book about what could be. The characters are modeled after persons as yet unborn, or, perhaps, at this writing, infants. It is mostly about managers and engineers. At this point in history, 1952 A.D., our lives and freedom depend largely upon the skill and imagination and courage of our managers and engineers, and I hope that God will help them to help us all stay alive and free.

But this book is about another point in history, when there is no more war, and . . .

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Kurt Vonnegut Jr

Player Piano

For Jane - God Bless Her







"Graham Green has called Mr Vonnegut 'One of the best living American writers,' and it isn't hard to see why" Isabel Quigley, Sunday Telegraph

"From the start of his novelistic career to the present Vonnegut has been a man with a unigue vision seeking and finally the most effective manner of stating it" Harper's

"The best of the science fiction anti-utopias - and indeed the best of the recent anti-utopias - is Vonnegut's brilliantly satiric Player Piano . . . easily one of the most important anti-utopias since Nineteen Elighty-four" Mark Hillegas, The Future as Nightmare

"Player Piano is one great classics of Gadet Age fiction" Life Magazine

"Kurt Vonnegut stands in the some relationship to American science fiction as J.G. Ballard does to the British scene - i.e. supreme" New Worlds

A Panther Book

First published in Great Britain By Macmillan & Co Limited 1953 Reissued 1967

Panther edition published 1969

Copyright Kurt Vonnegut Jr 1952

This book is sold subject to the Condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

Printed in England by

C. Nicholls & Company Ltd.,

The Philips Park Press, Manchester, And published by Panther Books, 3 Upper James Street, London W.I.


This book is not a book about what is, but a book about what could be. The characters are modeled after persons as yet unborn, or, perhaps, at this writing, infants. It is mostly about managers and engineers. At this point in history, 1952 A.D., our lives and freedom depend largely upon the skill and imagination and courage of our managers and engineers, and I hope that God will help them to help us all stay alive and free.

But this book is about another point in history, when there is no more war, and . . .

Chapter One

ILIUM, New York, is divided into three parts.

In the northwest are the managers and engineers and civil servants and a few professional people; in the northeast are the machines; and in the south, across the Iroquois River, is the area known locally as Homestead, where almost all of the people live.

If the bridge across the Iroquois were dynamited, few daily routines would be disturbed. Not many people on either side have reasons other than curiosity for crossing.

During the war, in hundreds of Iliums over America, managers and engineers learned to get along without their men and women, who went to fight. It was the miracle that won the war -production with almost no manpower. In the patois of the north side of the river, it was the know-how that won the war. Democracy owed its life to know-how.

Ten years after the war - after the men and women had come home, after the riots had been put down, after thousands had been jailed under the antisabotage laws - Doctor Paul Proteus was petting a cat in his office. He was the most important, brilliant person in Ilium, the manager of the Ilium Works, though only thirty-five. He was tall, thin, nervous, and dark, with the gentle good looks of his long face distorted by dark-rimmed glasses.

He didn't feel important or brilliant at the moment, nor had he for some time. His principle concern just then was that the black cat be contented in its new surroundings.

Those old enough to remember and too old to compete said affectionately that Doctor Proteus looked just as his father had as a young man - and it was generally understood, resentfully in some quarters, that Paul would someday rise almost as high in the organization as his father had. His father, Doctor George Proteus, was at the time of his death the nation's first National Industrial, Commercial, Communications, Foodstuffs, and Resources Director, a position approached in importance only by the presidency of the United States.

As for the Proteus genes' chances of being passed down to yet another generation, there were practically none. Paul's wife, Anita, his secretary during the war, was barren. Ironically as anyone would please, he had married her after she had declared that she was certainly pregnant, following an abandoned office celebration of victory.

"Like that, kitty?" With solicitousness and vicarious pleasure, young Proteus ran a roll of blueprints along the cat's arched back. "Mmmmm-aaaaah - good, eh?" He had spotted her that morning, near the golf course, and had picked her up as a mouser for the plant. Only the night before, a mouse had gnawed through the insulation on a control wire and put buildings 17, 19, and 21 temporarily out of commission.

Paul turned on his intercom set. "Katharine?"

"Yes, Doctor Proteus?"

"Katharine, when's my speech going to be typed?"

"I'm doing it now, sir. Ten, fifteen minutes, I promise."

Doctor Katharine Finch was his secretary, and the only woman in the Ilium Works. Actually, she was more a symbol of rank than a real help, although she was useful as a stand-in when Paul was ill or took a notion to leave work early. Only the brass - plant managers and bigger - had secretaries. During the war, the managers and engineers had found that the bulk of secretarial work could be done - as could most lower-echelon jobs - more quickly and efficiently and cheaply by machines. Anita was about to be dismissed when Paul had married her. Now, for instance, Katharine was being annoyingly unmachine-like, dawdling over Paul's speech, and talking to her presumed lover, Doctor Bud Calhoun, at the same time.

Bud, who was manager of the petroleum terminal in Ilium, worked only when shipments came or went by barge or pipeline, and he spent most of his time between these crises - as now - filling Katharine's ears with the euphoria of his Georgia sweet talk.

Paul took the cat in his arms and carried her to the enormous floor-to-ceiling window that comprised one wall. "Lots and lots of mice out there, kitty," he said.

He was showing the cat an old battlefield at peace. Here, in the basin of the river bend, the Mohawks had overpowered the Algonquins, the Dutch the Mohawks, the British the Dutch, the Americans the British. Now, over bones and rotten palings and cannon balls and arrowheads, there lay a triangle of steel and masonry buildings, a half-mile on each side the Illium Works. Where men had once howled and hacked at one another, and fought nip-and-tuck with nature as well, the machines hummed and whirred and clicked, and made parts for baby carriages and bottle caps, motorcycles and refrigerators, television sets and tricycles - the fruits of peace.

Paul raised his eyes above the rooftops of the great triangle to the glare of the sun on the Iroquois River, and beyond - to Homestead, where many of the pioneer names still lived: van Zandt, Cooper, Cortland, Stokes . . .

"Doctor Proteus?" It was Katharine again.

"Yes, Katharine."

"It's on again."

"Three in Building 58?"

"Yessir - the light's on again."

"All right - call Doctor Shepherd and find out what he's doing about it."

"He's sick today. Remember?"

"Then it's up to me, I guess." He put on his coat, sighed with ennui, picked up the cat, and walked into Katharine's office. "Don't get up, don't get up," he said to Bud, who was stretched out on a couch.

"Who was gonna get up?" said Bud.

Three walls of the room were solid with meters from baseboard to molding, unbroken save for the doors leading into the outer hall and into Paul's office. The fourth wall, as in Paul's office, was a single pane of glass. The meters were identical, the size of cigarette packages, and stacked like masonry, each labeled with a bright brass plate. Each was connected to a group of machines somewhere in the Works. A glowing red jewel called attention to the seventh meter from the bottom, fifth row to the left, on the east wall.

Paul tapped the meter with his finger. "Uh-huh - here we go again: number three in 58 getting rejects, all right." He glanced over the rest of the instruments. "Guess that's all, eh?"

"Just that one."

"Whatch goin' do with thet cat?" said Bud.

Paul snapped his fingers. "Say, I'm glad you asked that. I have a project for you, Bud. I want some sort of signaling device that will tell this cat where she can find a mouse."


"I should hope so."

"You'd need some kind of sensin' element thet could smell a mouse."

"Or a rat. I want you to work on it while I'm gone."

As Paul walked out to his car in the pale March sunlight, he realized that Bud Calhoun would have a mouse alarm designed - one a cat could understand - by the time he got back to the office. Paul sometimes wondered if he wouldn't have been more content in another period of history, but the rightness of Bud's being alive now was beyond question. Bud's mentality was one that had been remarked upon as being peculiarly American since the nation had been born - the restless, erratic insight and imagination of a gadgeteer. This was the climax, or close to it, of generations of Bud Calhouns, with almost all of American industry integrated into one stupendous Rube Goldberg machine.

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