A book set in the future: Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut.
Kurt Vonnegut is one of my all-time favorite authors. You may have noticed that I snuck two of his books into my reading list this year (sneaky sneaky!). Vonnegut offers rare insight into the human condition and this novel, written in 1952, eerily predicts a future very close to the one in which we currently live.
Protagonist Paul Proteus lives in a world run by machines. Human beings created technology so advanced that it began replacing many of the functions that humans used to fulfill. In this bleak future, only those inclined toward Engineering better machines or managing the Engineers are granted the best positions in society. They attend college and live amongst society’s Elite. The rest become Reeks or Wrecks and perform whatever drudgery falls below the efficiency of machines. It is a tenuous world where even the Elite are constantly kept on their toes as the machines slowly but increasingly replace everyone, even the Engineers. Once a computer deems you redundant, there is no recourse.
Naturally, the Elite are happy with the automation of society, but the human beings left without purpose are very unhappy. Although they have food, shelter, healthcare, etc., they suffer from a lack of purpose. Man is not meant to be (or feel) redundant. Our protagonist, Paul Proteus, is one of the Elite. Yet, as we see from the outset, he is not happy with his lot. Unlike his peers, Paul also recognizes the unhappiness in the “lower caste” within society and empathizes with their frustration. In his secret heart, Paul is really one of them. This novel explores the drive and creativity of the human spirit, and the horrible repercussions that come from modernization of our world extinguishing that flame. As society moves ever closer to this same future, one must question if it is truly for the best.