Novels & Stories 1950-62: Player Piano/The Sirens of Titan/Mother Night/Stories by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
PLAYER PIANO (****)
Sooner or later someone's going to catch the imagination of these people with some new magic. At the bottom of it will be a promise of regaining the feeling of participation, the feeling of being needed on earth - hell dignity. (88)
He has a complete security package, said Halyard.
His standard of living is constantly rising, and he and the country at large are protected from the old economic ups and down by the orderly, predictable consumer habits the payroll machine give him. (153)
Whatever there is to see. The line painters, the man running the hydrant, the people watching him, the little boy making boats, the old men in the saloon. Just keep looking around. There's plenty to see. (160)
"That's what you're here for, to get to know new people, to broaden your horizons," said the loudspeaker. (178)
"The sovereignty of the United States resides in the people, not in the machines, and it's the people's to take back, if they so wish. The machines," said Paul, "have exceeded the personal sovereignty willingly surrendered to them by the American people for good government. Machines and organization and pursuit of efficiency have robbed the American people of liberty and the pursuit of happiness." (282)
THE SIRENS OF TITAN (*****)
Everyone now knows how to find the meaning of life within himself.
But mankind wasn't always so lucky. Less than a century ago men and women did not have easy access to the puzzle boxes within them.
They could not name even one of the fifty-three portals to the soul. (313)
The only controls available to those on board were two push-buttons on the center post of the cabin - one labeled on and one labeled off. The on button simply started a flight from Mars. The off button was connected to nothing. It was installed at the insistence of Martial mental-health experts, who said that human beings were always happier with machinery they thought they could turn off. (426)
"O Lord Most High, Creator of the Cosmos, Spinner of Galaxies, Soul of Electromagnetic Waves, Inhaler and Exhaler of Inconceivable Volumes of Vacuum, Spitter of Fire and Rock, Trifler with Millennia - what could we do for Thee that Thou couldst not do for Thyself one octillion times better? Nothing. What could we do or say that could possibly interest Thee? Nothing. Oh, Mankind, rejoice in the apathy of our Creator, for it makes us free and truthful and dignified at last. No longer can a fool like Malachi Constant point to a ridiculous accident of good luck and say, 'Somebody up there likes me.' And no longer can a tyrant say, 'God wants this or that to happen, and anybody who doesn't help this or that to happen is against God.' O Lord Most High, what a glorious weapon is Thy Apathy, for we have unsheathed it, have thrust and slashed mightily with it, and the claptrap that has so often enslaved us or driven us into the madhouse lies slain!"
THE REVEREND C. HORNER REDWINE (459)
The sermon of the panorama was that even a man without a friend in the Universe could still find his home planet mysteriously, heartbreakingly beautiful. (490)
Salo was punctual - that is, he lived one moment at a time - and he liked to tell Rumfoord that he would rather see the wonderful colors at the far ends of the spectrum than either the past or the future. (495)
"In a very short time," said Rumfoord, "an explosion is going to blow the terminal of my spiral clear off the Sun, clear out of the Solar System."
"No!" cried Salo. "Skip! Skip!"
"No, no - no pity, please," said Rumfoord, stepping back, afraid of being touched. "It's a very good thing, really. I'll be seeing a lot of new things, a lot of new creatures." He tried to smile. "One gets tired, you know, being caught up in the monotonous clockwork of the Solar System."
"You finally fell in love, I see," said Salo.
"Only an Earthling year ago," said Constant. "It took us that long to realize that a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved." (528)
MOTHER NIGHT (*****)
In Goethe’s Faust, Mephistopheles says:
I am a part of the part that at first was all, part of the darkness that gave birth to light, that supercilious light which now disputes with Mother Night her ancient rank and space, and yet cannot succeed; no matter how it struggles, it sticks to matter and can’t get free. Light flows from substance, makes it beautiful; solids can check its path, so I hope it won’t be long till light and the world’s stuff are destroyed together.
Basically, the book is all about identity – how we forge our own personal identities, how we put on a false identity for others, and how those two (or more) identities can remain separate while either coexisting peacefully or clashing violently. (http://www.vonnegutlibrary.org/readin...).
We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. (535)
“Howard- “ he said to me, “ future civilizations-better civilizations than this one-are going to judge all men by the extent to which they’ve been artists. You and I, if some future archaeologist finds our works miraculously preserved in some city dump, will be judged by the quality of our creations. Nothing else about us matter.”
“Um,” I said. (580)
“You hate America, don’t you?” she said.
“That would be as silly as loving it,” I said. “It’s impossible for me to get emotional about it, because real estate doesn’t interest me. It’s no doubt a great flaw in my personality, but I can’t think in terms of boundaries. Those imaginary lines are as unreal to me as elves and pixies. I can’t believe that they mark the end or the beginning of anything of real concern to a human soul. Virtues and vices, pleasures and pains cross boundaries at will.” (625)
“Most things in this world don’t work-” he said, “but aspirin do.” (636)
As a friend of the court that will try Eichmann, I offer my opinion that Eichmann cannot distinguish between right and wrong - that only right and wrong, but truth and falsehood, hope and despair, beauty and ugliness, kindness and cruelty, comedy and tragedy, are all processed by Eichmann’s mind indiscriminately, like birdshot through a bugle. (645)
An agent took me down on an elevator and out onto the sidewalk restoring me to the mainstream of life. I took perhaps fifty steps down the sidewalk, and then I stopped.
It was not guilt that froze me. I had taught myself never to feel guilt.
It was not a ghastly sense of loss that froze me. I had taught myself to covet nothing.
It was not a loathing of death that froze me. I had taught myself to think of death as a friend.
It was not heartbroken rage against injustice that froze me. I had taught myself that a human being might as well look for diamond tiaras in the gutter as for reward and punishment that were fair.
It was not the thought that I was so unloved that froze me. I had taught myself to do without love.
It was not the thought that God was cruel that froze me. I had taught myself never to expect anything from Him.
What froze me was the fact that I had absolutely no reason to move in any direction. What had made me move through so many dead and pointless years was curiosity.
Now even that had flickered out. (685)
REPORT ON THE BARNHOUSE EFFECT (***)
I have discovered a new force which costs nothing to use, and which is probably more important than atomic energy I should like to see it used most effectively in the cause of peace, and am, therefore, requesting your advice as to how this might best be done.
De mortuis nil nisi bonum. (733)
UNREADY TO WEAR (***)
The mind is the only thing about human beings that's worth anything. Why does it have to be tied to a bag of skin, blood, hair, meat, bones, and tubes? No wonder people can't get anything done, stuck for life with a parasite that has to be stuffed with food and protected from weather and germs all the time. And the fool thing wears out anyway - no matter how much you stuff and protect it! (737)
At first, Madge's and my psyches were clumsy at getting along outside our bodies, like the first sea animals that got stranded on land millions of years ago, and who could just waddle and squirm and gasp in the mud. But we became better at it with time, because the psyche can naturally adapt so much faster than the body. (739)
TOMORROW AND TOMORROW AND TOMORROW (****)
"We'd hop in, and Pop's drive up to a filling station and say, 'Fillerup!'"
"That was the nuts, wasn't it - before they'd used up all the gasoline." (750)
"Hell!" said Gramps. "We said that a hundred years ago!" (753)
HARRISON BERGERON (****)
"If I tried to get away with it," said George, "then other people'd get away with it - and pretty soon we'd right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else. You wouldn't like that, would you?"
"I'd hate it," said Hazel.
"There you are," said George. "The minute people start cheating on laws, what do you think happens to society?" (765)
"A drupelet, Mr. Wehling, is one of little knobs, one of the little pulpy grains, of a blackberry," said Dr. Hitz. "Without population control, human beings would now be packed on the surface of this old planet like drupelets on a blackberry! Think of it!" (775)
INTRODUCTION TO "BAGOMBO SNUFF BOX"
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages. (793)
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