4 May 2016

Audiobook Review: Harrison Bergeron, by Kurt Vonnegut

Title: Harrison Bergeron
Author: Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Year of publishing: 1961
First published in: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Genre: Science fiction, Dystopian
Source: Open Culture

It is the year 2081. Because of Amendments 211, 212, and 213 to the Constitution, every American is fully equal, meaning that no one is stupider, uglier, weaker, or slower than anyone else. The Handicapper General and a team of agents ensure that the laws of equality are enforced.

One April, fourteen-year-old Harrison Bergeron is taken away from his parents, George and Hazel, by the government.

What a story this is! Written in short, informative sentences, it puts the reality of this twisted world right in front of you to hear, imagine and be disturbed by.

In the distant future, every man and woman in the USA must be equal. Nobody must be smarter, more beautiful or more talented than the next guy. Which means that everybody has to be equally dumb, ugly and socially inept. Those who are not "equal" must wear special "handicaps" that make their everyday life a nightmare. Ballet dancers must wear heavy weights on their ankles. Beautiful people must wear ugly masks. And those with above average intelligence have to wear earpieces that play horrible piercing noises at regular intervals, so that they won't be able to think for too long.

And poor, 14-year-old Harrison Bergeron is "unequal" in every way. Tall, smart and handsome, he poses a threat to the society and is locked up in an institution. He's also covered in every handicap imaginable, which makes him look like a pile of scrap metal. Until one day, he decides to escape.

The audio version I listened to is basically an audio play. You have the narrator, and you have voice actors who act out the dialogue. This is one of the better audiobooks I've listened to, with good narration and animated performances. There's also background music which I found a little distracting.

Now, I've wanted to read Harrison Bergeron for a very long time. And when I found the audio version on Open Culture, I jumped right into it. And I liked this story. I really liked it. It's so absurd and so tragic at the same time. The tragic part is that some of the elements Vonnegut envisioned in this story are not fictional. Some of the best science fiction stories are the ones that reflect our contemporary society, and show its flaws in a new light.

The part that, I think, is the most reflective of our society is Harrison's parents watching TV. They don't even know what they're watching. The wife is too dumb to follow the show, and the husband is convulsing from the ringing in his ears. For me, it's the detachment from reality, the complete indifference to what is going on around you that's the most disturbing part. It's a helluva lot easier to control a society of people that conform to the given norms and are too distracted by the noises to question their government.   

My rating: 5 stars

You can listen to the story by clicking on this linkAnd May the Fourth be with you!

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