In QualityLand, where big corporations use algorhythms to determine what inhabitants need or want at any given time, Peter Jobless receives an item that he does not want or need. He sets out to return it, but encounters some unexpected obstacles. At the same time, the politically progressive android John of Us is running against a right-wing demagogue for the presidency of QualityLand.
This is a very funny satire describing a terrifying dystopic future that is not so far removed from our current reality as we might wish. Big tech companies like TheShop or Everybody, a social network, have taken over completely, and every citizen is profiled and monitored so that no opportunity to make money or cement the status quo is missed, while a social credit system distinguishes the elite from the average and the useless. Peter is one of the useless, a lovable loser who undermines the system by not destroying defective robots that are brought to him for scrapping, but instead keeps them in his cellar where they can do whatever they want.
It is kind of impressive how much social commentary Kling manages to pack into the book while making it as entertaining and charming as it is. There are only a few moments where everything grinds to a halt for some background information and philosophizing. These scenes mostly involve a wise old man, who introduces Peter, and the reader, to concepts like the Three Laws of Robotics, the possible development of a superintelligence, or the inner workings of the algorhythms. Although important details are included in these scenes I found them a little tedious and not quite fitting in mood when compared to the rest of the book.
Far cleverer instead are the small texts between chapters which contain advertisements, short excerpts from guidebooks on QualityLand, or news briefs plus comments on them. They expand the view of the fictional world without detracting from the main story, and give Kling the opportunity to get some easy laughs. Much effort is also put into numerous small details that surprised me many times with the sharpness of Kling’s observations and the skill with which he exposes seemingly all of the stupidities of boundless consumerism and the quest for perfect lives. Many of his quips managed to make me laugh and wince at the same time.
While this is not a perfect book by far because of the aforementioned pacing problems and an ending that is not quite up to par, this is such an entertaining read, with an engaging plot, thought-provoking moments, and a bunch of undeniably charming characters, that it is easy to overlook some deficiencies. That it also manages to be that wickedly funny is the cherry on top.
CBR12 Bingo: Reader’s Choice replacing Friendship