QualityLand by Marc-Uwe Kling

Reviewed by Rod McLary

QualityLand was a best seller when it was first published in Germany in 2016.  It has now been translated from the German to English and is to be published around the world. 

The story is set sometime in the near future in a world which is largely run by robots and artificial intelligence.  After a financial crisis of considerable magnitude, it was decided that the country [unnamed] needed a new name, a new culture and a new image.  Marketing decided on ‘QualityLand’ signifying a ‘new’ country where everything is the best.

Everything is run by algorithms which are considered to be infallible.  Shopping orders arrive even before you are aware you need something; and, if you are in a relationship which isn’t going well, never mind – you will be informed by QualityPartner as soon as a better match is found for you.

People are allocated to a ‘Level’ in the community ranging from 1 to 90 and movement up or down the levels can occur at any time.  For example, if you break up with your boy/girlfriend, you may move down a couple of levels; if you succeed in obtaining an important job, you may move up a few levels.  Your level determines what services are available to you.  If you drop into single figures, you are branded as a ‘Useless’.

It is in this world that our hero emerges – Peter Jobless [in QualityLand, your surname comes from the occupation your same-sex parent had when you were conceived] is a metal-press operator.  His job is to crush robots and electronic devices which aren’t doing what they are meant to do.  Business is not good and his girlfriend has just moved onto a ‘better match’.  Consequently, Peter has dropped a couple of levels and now is categorised as ‘useless’.

One day, the smart door of his apartment announces [you read that correctly] that ‘a OneKiss drone’ has arrived with a parcel for him.  The parcel contains an item which is usually used for intimate purposes between consenting adults.  As Peter is not in a relationship and does not wish to use the item on himself, he attempts to return it for a refund.  Thus commences a story which seeks to highlight the de-personalisation of the individual and subjection of the people to algorithms which are considered to be infallible and unchallengeable.

However, it does not quite hit the mark.  What ensues is really a series of one-off set pieces which are mildly humorous but lack any real continuity or connectedness.  The concept of a future centred on technology could have provided an opportunity for biting satire on the increasing reliance people have on technology and the intrusion of that technology into our daily lives.  But perhaps the author had no wish to do that but to write instead a comedic book of mild interest.

There is one section which rises to the challenge in which Peter assembles the most disparate crew since Dorothy and her friends went down the Yellow Brick Road to see the Wizard of Oz.  Peter and his crew [an android Romeo, a QualityPad, a robot with homicidal interests and his new human girlfriend] – with the assistance of a driverless car that has no sense of direction – travel to confront Henryk Engineer the CEO of TheShop to return the item of contention.  Peter is not successful but there are some genuinely funny episodes along the way.

Running alongside the story of Peter and his attempts to rid himself of the unwanted item is a presidential race between Conrad Cook – a human – and John of Us – an android.  Again, this story comprises a series of incidents which are mildly amusing but do not really say much about the inherent comedy of an election race between a human and an android.  The identity of the winner is best left to discovery by the reader.

QualityLand is by no means an uninteresting book.  It has some moments when humour triumphs but these are outnumbered by those where it is simply mildly amusing and without much point.

Marc-Uwe Kling is a German author, songwriter and stand-up comedian.  QualityLand was on the German best-selling lists for months and sold in excess of 500,000 copies internationally. 

QualityLand

[2020]

Marc-Uwe Kling

Translated by Jamie Lee Searle

Orion Books

ISBN 978 1 4091 9114 8

339pp; $32.99

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