[…] The degenerate autocracy of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World runs on soft power – sex and drugs and suggestion. George Orwell foresaw an inhuman future controlled by the stark yet artful lies of a brutal surveillance state. But Vonnegut, who had worked at General Electric just after the second World War, saw a future where engineers and managers would sincerely do their best to improve the world by building ever more efficient machines to do all the work for us. The result: a new form of dystopia.
In Player Piano’s future America, the old professions and trades have been automated, one by one, until only the oligarchs, engineers and senior managers still have real jobs – and even they are beginning to automate themselves out of existence. Everyone else of working age has been drafted to the army (but without loaded guns, for fear that they’ll mutiny) or assigned to a catch-all, make-work programme called the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps – “Reeks and Wrecks”.
Doctors and lawyers, but not dentists or barbers, are already obsolete. Theoretical science faculties in the surviving universities, being of little practical use, have been amalgamated with the remnants of the schools of liberal arts, their old facilities taken over for yet more schools of engineering. A few writers are still tolerated, but they have to conform to one of 12 practical, sure-sale genres, such as dog story of the month, or else go into public relations.