Qualityland by Marc-Uwe Kling

Greetings Kittens! I wanted to challenge myself this year after falling short of my reading goals in 2019. I wanted to try to read from genres that I often overlook, while also giving myself permission to do a little more guilty-pleasure reading from my favorite genre: mystery. While Qualityland is not the first book that I read this year, it is the first book that meets challenge #1: read from overlooked genres. The entire book is a satire, and while it is written by a German author, it is very clearly satirizing American culture and politics. I would have been more offended, but the book is clever and funny and hits pretty close to the truth. It’s not going to be everyone’s favorite read, but I can see this gaining some cult classic status pretty quick, especially since HBO has reportedly picked up the rights for an adaptation. Welcome to Qualityland, my dear readers.

Title: QualitylandQualityland

Author: Marc-Uwe Kling

Author website: https://marcuwekling.de/en/

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Publish date: January 7, 2020 (originally published in Germany in 2017)

ISBN: 9781538732960

Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

The tagline for the cover of Qualityland is: “The Biggest Company. The Perfect Algorithm. What could possibly go wrong?” I think most readers can guess the answer to that question, but nonetheless, let’s meet our cast of characters. The story is mostly the narrative of a man named Peter Jobless (in this new world order, your surname is chosen based on the career of your gender equivalent parent at the time of your conception). Peter Jobless runs a machine crushing business that is mostly unsuccessful. In Qualityland, their machines are the best!

In this dystopian future, people do not need to go online and click through purchase decisions on their computers, instead they have devices embedded into their brains through their ear canals (appropriately called earworms) that communicate directly with the various technological aspects of their society and e-commerce. The user doesn’t need to physically order an item from TheShop (the largest internet retailer), because once the user thinks about wanting the item, provided there is enough currency in their account, the item is delivered by flying drone almost instantly to their door. All of this is an accepted part of Peter’s daily routine, up until the day that he receives an item from TheShop that he didn’t think about and doesn’t want. His efforts to return this item with the help of his sort-of girlfriend Kiki, a wise but paranoid old man, and his band of machines-that-he-was-supposed-to-destroy-but-didn’t drive the novel forward with farcical consequences.

There are so many clever allusions in this plot that it’s tough to pick just a few plot points to share here. First of all, Peter has a personal assistant robot that he has named Nobody, so he frequently has an inner monologue going that revolves around Nobody doing things. As a reader, it can be a little confusing to follow at first, but once you catch on, the humor of that situation is endless. This book came out shortly after the 2016 elections here in America, and one of the plots in the story is a new presidential election. The two candidates are a logical and earnest android named John of Us and a bombastic and nonsensical human named Conrad Cook. Cook frequently contradicts himself and shouts out that every idea he disagrees with is a “lie”. Read into that what you will…

Obviously, this book is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It is a satire, taking the worst aspects of capitalism and American politics and culture to their extremes. It is also a little scary to think how close to some of the scenarios presented in the book we have already come. This is Kling’s first novel. He has an international following already, but I believe this title will certainly earn him some American fans. The biggest turn offs for readers are going to be the political scenes that are only thinly veiled references to existing figures as well as the sexual scenes that always lack appeal for certain audiences. From a Librarian’s perspective, this title is well-written, but as a Southern Librarian, this one might be a tough sell for the majority of my patrons (which will not stop me from strategically placing it in displays for the next few months).

Disclaimer: No disclaimer on this one. I heard about it on the All the Books Podcast and requested it from my local library.

My rating:

1 glass of lemonade= a book that can only be recommended to someone whose reading taste you know well, like a best friend.  There may be a fair amount of curse words, spicy sex scenes, or potentially morally repugnant behavior.  This does not mean that the book is bad, just that the audience might be a little more limited.

Sadly, despite the fact that I loved this book and rated it highly on Goodreads, the frequent references to masturbation and the political satire are going to make me hesitant to recommend it to random patrons. I am definitely intrigued to see how far HBO is going to do with their adaptation.

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