the Little Red Reviewer

Gimme all the satire, the darker the better!

Posted on: March 20, 2021

Horror might be too scary for me, but I love satire.  The more biting, the better. 

 

If you enjoy satire, if you enjoy laughing your head off, if you enjoy hollering to your spouse “honey get over here, i have to read this out loud to you, it’s so funny!!!”, Qualityland by Marc-Uwe Kling is the next book you should read. 

 

Published in Germany in 2017, the novel finally came to the English reading world in 2020. From the bland cover, my first thought was this was a book about agriculture? Maybe about sustainable agriculture?  Yeah . . . .  no!  If Facebook and Amazon were algorithm steroids pumped into the movie Idiocracy if written by Douglas Adams, you might be getting close to the make fun of everything free for all that is Qualityland. I can only assume Southpark has made their version of this too.

In the nation of Qualityland, it isn’t the government that watches your every move, it’s the algorithms that run everything from the countrywide communication devices to TheShop (knows what you want before you do!) to QualityPartner (matching you with the top person for you!).  There’s no government big brother here, only algorithms that watch and record your every move, every preference, every conversation, and every internet click. So the programs and systems you count on can serve you better! Can bring you more of what they know you love!

 

If Cory Doctorow wrote this book, it would be terrifying. 

 

But Marc-Uwe Kling wrote it, so it’s hilarious. 

 

In Qualityland, children are named after the occupation of their parents, so you get funny names like Melissa Sex-Worker,  Cynthia Helicopter-Pilot, Sandra Admin, and Tim E-Sportsman. Melissa’s current career by the way, is making sure online news articles have the right comments. And she comments on everything. Sandra’s job is writing click-baity headlines. Doesn’t matter what the article is actually about (an algorithm wrote the actual article, no one cares if a human ever reads it), Sandra’s job is to make sure as many people as possible click on the headline.  

 

The story follows Peter Jobless, who runs a scrap metal shop.  After Peter’s girlfriend Sandra Admin left him (at the prompting of her QualityPartner profile), his social score dropped below ten and his horrified friends unfriended him.  Peter’s secret is that his basement is full of slightly malfunctioning robots, which is a much longer story than this blog post has time for.  Peter may not have many friends IRL, but his robot friends include an e-poet/novelist, a drone who is afraid of heights, an obnoxious older model tablet, a hulking military robot who Groot-like only says the word “Kaput”, a heartbroken male sexbot, and a handful of others. 

 

The story begins when TheShop delivers something to Peter that he most definitely doesn’t want, and doesn’t need.   The algorithms of TheShop are never wrong! Even if he doesn’t think he needs this item, deep down he must need it! Surely even he can find a use for this item!  Does TheShop have a returns department? Of course they do! But their algorithms are never wrong, surely Peter must want this item! 

Peter doesn’t want the item, and he’ll break the entire system so that he can make sure TheShop knows their algorithms aren’t always right. 

 

But if TheShop’s algorithms aren’t 100% right all the time, does that mean QualityPartner might not be right all the time? Does that mean the social scoring system might not be right? 

 

Ahhh satire.  Thank you for making something that should be terrifying into something that’s hilarious and pitch black! Scary things lose their bite when you are laughing in their face and seeing right through them. 

 

Alongside Peter’s plot line is a slightly darker political story. The two political parties (who never state an actual platform) are readying their candidates for the upcoming national election. One Candidate is a retired celebrity chef who can’t help but scream “you’re wrong! That’s a lie, you’re wrong!” on televised debates, while the other candidate is literally a robot.  In Qualityland, all elections are fair and transparent, so when you go to vote not only does your electronic personal assistant suggest who you should vote for, but you can also see how many votes all the candidates have at any moment. What you can’t see is how the algorithm works for which articles show up on your news feed. 

 

Many of the chapters feel episodic, and that’s okay because the point of this book isn’t to have a super deep plot where characters grow and learn about themselves. The point of this book is how this kind of world might work and how fucked up that is, and what a slippery slope it is before we don’t even notice what’s happening.    You’ll still get wrapped up in Peter’s storyline and his mission to prove the algorithms wrong, I promise. 

 

In between the chapters are little asides and articles, such as Visitor’s Guides to Qualityland, advertisement, and news articles and their comments.  My favorite was the “Books Tailors Just For You!” advertisement, and not just because of the Star Wars joke.  Did I mention this book has some excellently placed Star Wars and other pop culture jokes? Poor Jennifer Aniston. 

 

I like laughing, and I bet you do too.  Let’s laugh together in Qualityland.

 

oh, one last tip?  If you listen to Qualityland as an audiobook, make sure Siri and Alexa aren’t listening.  Or for extra kicks, play the audiobook through your speakers so Siri and Alexa can listen, and see what starts showing up on your “recommended for you!” items on Amazon and your sidebar ads on Facebook.

 

7 Responses to "Gimme all the satire, the darker the better!"

Ha, this looks great! Thanks for the book intro!

Liked by 1 person

oh, it was such a good book! If you come across it I hope you give it a try.

Liked by 1 person

I’ll add it to my to-read list! 😉

Liked by 1 person

For a moment I was like „oh shoot, I requested a German language book in English from Netgalley, how daft am I“ (I’m Get an), only to check and realize that I had mixed this up with Questland by Carrie Vaughn… nonetheless, this sounds like fun. I will check it out in my old fashioned paper bookshop… 😀

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I am not „Get an“, I am German. And a crappy typist…

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yeah but oooooh, what’s Questland? and there’s got to be copies of Qualityland floating around in German. Would be interesting to be able to read it in both languages and see what got lost in translation.

Liked by 1 person

Oh yes, I’m sure I can find copies of Qualityland. I already listened to the audio sample in German but didn’t like it. I might be able to get a copy from the local library!

Questland: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53968516-questland

Sounds like fun, which is why I requested it from Netgalley. Plus I love her Kitty Norville novels. And her SF short stories are good. Bannerless was an interesting novel as well…

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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