Qualityland

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By Marc-Uwe Kling

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In the near future sci-fi world of Qualityland, algorithms help create an idyllic life for its citizens, but what if the perfect world wasn’t built for you?

Welcome to QualityLand, the best country on Earth. Here, a universal ranking system determines the social advantages and career opportunities of every member of society. An automated matchmaking service knows the best partners for everyone and helps with the break up when your ideal match (frequently) changes. And the foolproof algorithms of the biggest, most successful company in the world, TheShop, know what you want before you do and conveniently deliver to your doorstep before you even order it.

In QualityCity, Peter Jobless is a machine scrapper who can’t quite bring himself to destroy the imperfect machines sent his way, and has become the unwitting leader of a band of robotic misfits hidden in his home and workplace. One day, Peter receives a product from TheShop that he absolutely, positively knows he does not want, and which he decides, at great personal cost, to return. The only problem: doing so means proving the perfect algorithm of TheShop wrong, calling into question the very foundations of QualityLand itself.

Qualityland, Marc-Uwe Kling’s first book to be translated into English, is a brilliantly clever, illuminating satire in the tradition of Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, and George Orwell that offers a visionary, frightening, and all-too funny glimpse at a near future we may be hurtling toward faster than it’s at all comfortable to admit. So why delay any longer? TheShop already knows you’re going to love this book. You may as well head to the cash register, crack the covers, and see why that is for yourself.

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TECHNICAL NOTE

This book is not internet-enabled. You can, however, still add comments to it. But it’s very unlikely that anyone will read them. You can share this book. But not with all your friends at once. If you do share it, of course it’s possible that someone will read your comments after all, and perhaps even comment on your comments. In order to change or update the contents of this book, the publisher would need to hire someone to break into your house at night, creep over to your bookcase, and cross out or edit sentences with a felt-tip pen or ballpoint. That’s possible, but unlikely. If you want to copy this book in a print shop, it might be cheaper than buying the book, but the copy wouldn’t exactly be a replica of the original.




QUALITYLAND VERSION 1.6

VERSION NOTES

Dear readers, noble alien life forms (whose existence is highly probable), valued AIs, and respected search algorithms,

I wish you an enjoyable read. What you have before you is Version 1.6 of this work. This most recent update has created an all-around better reading experience—including the following improvements:

• Major logic loopholes in Chapter 2 have been resolved.

• Defective punch lines in Chapter 7 have been replaced.

• Compatibility for the far-sighted has been improved.

• The newsfeed has been personalized.

• New option of “flicking back” to repeat difficult passages.

• Improved synchronization with the reader’s upper temporal lobes.

So all that’s left to say is—have fun in QualityLand!

Calliope 7.3




* * * QualityLand * * *

Your Personal Travel Guide

INTRODUCTION

“Come to where the quality is!

Come to QualityLand!”

So you’re off to QualityLand for the first time ever. Are you excited? Yes? And quite rightly so! You’ll soon be entering a country so important that its foundation prompted the introduction of a new calendar system: QualityTime.

As you don’t yet know your way around QualityLand, we’ve put together a brief introduction for you. Two years before QualityLand was founded—or in other words, two years before QualityTime—there was an economic crisis of such severity that it became known as the crisis of the century. It was the third crisis of the century within just a decade. Swept along by the panic of the financial markets, the government turned for help to the business consultants from Big Business Consulting (BBC) who decided that what the country needed most was a new name. The old one was worn-out and, according to surveys, only inspired die-hard nationalists with minimal buying power. Not to mention the fact that the renaming would also divest the country of a few unpleasant historical responsibilities in the process. In the past, its army had been known to… well, let’s just say they overshot the mark a little.

The business consultancy firm commissioned the creatives at the advertising agency World Wide Wholesale (WWW) to come up with a new name for the country, as well as a new image, new icons, and a new culture. In short: a new country identity. After a considerable amount of time and even more money, after suggestions and countersuggestions, everyone involved finally agreed upon the now world-famous name: QualityLand. Can you imagine any name more perfectly suited for appearing after “made in” on products? The parliament voted in favor by a large majority. Or rather, by the “largest” majority, because the new country identity strictly forbids the use of the positive or comparative in connection with QualityLand. Only the superlative is allowed. So be careful. If someone asks you what you think of QualityLand, don’t just say that QualityLand is a wonderful country. It’s not a wonderful country. It’s the wonderfullest country there is!

Even the towns you are likely to visit on your travels used to have other, insignificant-sounding names. Now they have newer, better names, or as one would say in QualityLand, the newest and best names. Growth, the industrial center, expands and prospers in the south, while the university city of Progress pulsates in the north and the old trade capital Profit thrives in the country’s heartland. And then, of course, at the forefront of them all, there’s the undisputed capital of the free world: QualityCity!

Even QualityLand’s inhabitants were renamed. They couldn’t just be ordinary people, after all; they had to be QualityPeople. Their surnames in particular sounded very medieval and didn’t fit with the new progress-oriented country identity. A land of Millers, Smiths, and Taylors isn’t exactly a high-tech investor’s wet dream. And so the advertising agency decided that, from that moment on, every boy would be given his father’s occupation as a surname and every girl the occupation of her mother. The deciding factor would be the job held at the time of conception.

We wish you an unforgettable stay in the land of Sabrina Mechatronics-Engineer and Jason Cleaner, the most popular middle-class rap duo of the decade. The land of Scarlett Prisoner and her twin brother Robert Warden, the undefeated BattleBot jockeys of the century. The land of Claudia Superstar, the Sexiest Woman of All Time. The land of Henryk Engineer, the richest person in the world.

Welcome to the land of the superlative. Welcome to QualityLand.




A KISS

Peter Jobless has had enough.

“Nobody,” he says.

“Yes, Peter?” asks Nobody.

“I’m not hungry anymore.”

“Okay,” says Nobody.

Nobody is Peter’s personal digital assistant. Peter picked out the name himself, because he often feels as though Nobody is there for him. Nobody helps him. Nobody listens to him. Nobody speaks to him. Nobody pays attention to him. Nobody makes decisions for him. Peter has even convinced himself that Nobody likes him. Peter is a WINNER, because Nobody is his WIN assistant. WIN, an abbreviation for “What I Need,” was once a search engine, into which you had to enter questions—very laboriously—by speech command, and before that by typing by hand! In essence, WIN is still a search engine, but you no longer need to ask it questions. WIN knows what you want to know. Peter no longer has to go to the effort of finding the relevant information, because the relevant information goes to the effort of finding Peter.

Nobody has selected the restaurant Peter and his friends are sitting in according to their calculated preferences. He has also ordered the appropriate burger for Peter. The “best recycled meat burger in QualityCity” reads the paper napkin in front of him. Nevertheless, Peter doesn’t like it, perhaps because the restaurant selection had to correspond not just to his tastes, but also to his bank balance.

“It’s getting late, guys,” says Peter to his friends. “I’m going to head off.”

A few indeterminate grunts come by way of response.

Peter likes his friends. Nobody found them for him. But sometimes, and he’s not sure why, his mood turns sour when he hangs out with them. Peter pushes aside his plate, which still contains more than half of the recycled burger, and pulls on his jacket. Nobody asks for the bill. It comes immediately. The waiter, as in most restaurants, is a human being, not an android. Machines can do so many things nowadays, but they still can’t quite manage to carry a full cup from A to B without spilling it. Besides, humans are cheaper; they don’t have any acquisition or maintenance costs. And there aren’t any wages in the gastronomy industry either; you work for tips. Androids don’t work for tips.

“How would you like to pay?” asks the waiter.

“TouchKiss,” says Peter.

“Certainly,” says the waiter. He swipes around on his QualityPad, then Peter’s tablet vibrates.

Since its launch, TouchKiss has rapidly established itself as a leading payment method. Researchers from QualityCorp—“The company that makes your life better”—have discovered that lips are far more forge-proof than fingerprints. Critics claim, however, that it has nothing to do with that, but instead with the fact that QualityCorp wants to achieve an even higher emotional connection between its customers and products. But if that really was the goal, it certainly hasn’t worked with Peter. He gives his QualityPad a dispassionate kiss. With a second kiss, he adds the standard 32 percent tip. After eight seconds of inactivity, the display goes black, and his dark mirror image stares back at him blearily. An unremarkable, pale face. Not ugly, but unremarkable. So unremarkable that Peter sometimes thinks he might have confused himself with someone else. On those occasions, such as now, he feels like a stranger is staring back at him out of the display.

Outside of the restaurant, a self-driven car is already waiting for him. Nobody called it.

“Hello, Peter,” says the car. “Do you want to go home?”

“Yes,” says Peter, getting in.

Without any further questions about the route or address, the car sets off. They know each other. Or the car knows Peter, at least. The car’s name is shown on a display: Carl.

“Lovely weather, don’t you think?” says Carl.

“Small talk off,” says Peter.

“Then let me play you, in accordance with your tastes, the greatest soft rock hits of all time,” says the car, turning on the music.

Peter has listened to soft rock for twenty-three years: his entire life.

“Turn it off, please,” he says.

“With pleasure,” says the car. “It’s not to my taste anyway.”

“Oh no?” asks Peter. “So what do you like?”

“Well, when I’m driving around by myself, I usually listen to industrial,” says the car.

“Put some on.”

The “song” which immediately drones out from the speakers suits Peter’s bad mood perfectly.

“The music’s okay,” he says to Carl after a while. “But could you please stop singing along?”

“Oh yes, of course,” said the car. “My apologies. The rhythm got to me.”

Peter stretches out. The car is spacious and comfortable. That’s because Peter treats himself to a flat rate mobility plan in a vehicle category which he can’t actually afford to be treating himself to. One of his friends even mockingly commented today that Peter must be experiencing a quarter-life crisis. From the way he was going on, anyone would think Peter had bought himself a car. And yet only the super-rich, plebs, and pimps have their own wheels. Everyone else relies upon the mobility service providers’ huge, self-driven fleets. “The best thing about self-driven cars,” Peter’s father always used to say, “is that you don’t have to look for a parking space anymore.” As soon as you reach your destination, you just get out. The car drives on and does whatever it is that cars do when they feel like no one’s watching. In all likelihood it goes off and gets tanked up somewhere.

Suddenly, Carl brakes sharply. They’re at the side of the road, close to a big intersection.

“I’m very sorry,” says the car, “but new safety guidelines have classified your neighborhood as too dangerous for self-driven cars of my quality. I’m sure you’ll understand that I need to ask you to get out here.”

“Eh?” asks Peter eloquently.

“But you must have known,” says Carl. “You received the updated terms and conditions for your mobility plan 51.2 minutes ago. Didn’t you read them?”

Peter doesn’t respond.

“You approved them, in any case,” says the car. “But I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear that, for your comfort, I’ve selected a stopping point which will enable you to reach your home, at your average walking pace, within 25.6 minutes.”

“Great,” says Peter. “Really great.”

“Was that meant sarcastically?” asks the car. “Unfortunately I tend to have problems with my sarcasm detector.”

“You don’t say.”

“That was sarcasm now, wasn’t it?” asks the car. “So you weren’t really pleased just then either, were you? Do you not feel like walking? If you like I could call you a car of lesser quality corresponding to your neighborhood’s new classification. It could be here in 6.4 minutes.”

“Why was the classification changed?” asks Peter.

“You mean you haven’t heard?” says Carl. “Attacks on self-driven cars have rocketed in your area. Gangs of unemployed youths are getting their kicks by hacking the operating systems out of my colleagues. They destroy the tracking chip and wipe the navigation system. It’s awful. The poor things are driving around day and night like zombie cars, completely devoid of any sense of direction. And if they get caught, they end up being scrapped because of the Consumption Protection Laws. It’s a terrible fate. I’m sure you know that since the Consumption Protection Laws came into force all repairs are strictly forbidden.”

“Yes, I know. I run a small scrap-metal press.”

“Oh,” says the car.

“Yeah,” says Peter.

“So I’m sure you’ll understand my position,” says the car.

Peter opens the door without another word.

“Please rate me now,” says the car.

Peter gets out and slams the door shut. The car grumbles for a while because it didn’t receive a rating, but eventually gives up and drives on to its next customer.

Nobody leads Peter home by the quickest route. Peter’s home is a small, dingy used-goods store with a scrap-metal press. He lives and works there. He inherited the shop from his grandfather two years ago, and since then he has barely been able to make more than the rent. When he’s just 819.2 meters from home, Nobody suddenly announces: “Peter, be careful. At the next crossing there are four youths with previous criminal convictions. I recommend you take a slight detour.”

“Maybe they’re just running a homemade lemonade stand,” says Peter.

“That’s very unlikely,” says Nobody. “The probability of that is…”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” says Peter. “Take me via the detour.”

At precisely the moment when Peter arrives home, a delivery drone from TheShop turns up. Peter is no longer surprised by occurrences of this kind. They don’t happen by chance, for chance simply no longer exists.

“Mr. Peter Jobless,” says the drone cheerfully. “I am from TheShop—‘The world’s most popular online retailer’—and I have a lovely surprise for you.”

Peter takes the package from the drone with a grunt. He hasn’t ordered anything; ever since OneKiss, that’s no longer necessary. OneKiss is TheShop’s premium service and the pet project of the company’s legendary founder, Henryk Engineer. Anyone who registers for OneKiss, simply by kissing their QualityPad, will from that moment on receive all the products they consciously or subconsciously desire, without the inconvenience of needing to actually order them. The system independently calculates what its customers want and when they want it. Since the beginning, TheShop’s slogan has been, “We know what you want.” No one disputes that anymore.

“Why don’t you go ahead and open the package right away?” the drone suggests. “I always love seeing how delighted my customers are. And if you like, I can upload an unboxing video to your Everybody site.”

“There’s no need to go to the trouble,” says Peter.

“Oh, it’s no trouble,” says the drone. “I always record everything anyway.”

Peter opens the package. Inside is a brand-new QualityPad. The latest quarterly model. Peter hadn’t been aware of wanting a new QualityPad; after all, he has the model from the last quarter. It must have been a subconscious wish. Completely devoid of emotion, he takes the tablet out of the packaging. The new generation is significantly heavier than its predecessor; the older models kept getting blown away by the wind. Remembering the unboxing video, Peter forces a smile and makes a thumbs up sign for the camera. If any of Peter’s friends were to look closely at the video, they would most certainly find the look on his face disturbing. But Peter’s friends aren’t interested in unboxing videos. Nobody is interested in unboxing videos.

Peter plants a kiss on his new QualityPad. Nobody greets him in a friendly manner and Peter immediately has access to all his data. He crumples up his old tablet and throws it into a waste disposal bin, which, not by chance, is standing at the ready. The waste bin thanks him and goes across the street toward a fat little girl who is unwrapping a chocolate bar. Three self-driven cars brake slightly in order to let the bin pass. Peter watches the scene absentmindedly.

The delivery drone’s touchscreen lights up.

“Please rate me now,” she says.

Peter sighs. He gives the drone ten stars, knowing that anything less will inevitably lead to a customer survey about why he’s not completely satisfied. The drone whirrs happily. She seems to be pleased with her rating.

“That’s my good deed done for the day,” says Peter.

“Oh, and by the way,” adds the drone, “could you perhaps take in a couple of little packages for your neighbors?”

“Some things never change.”




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THE BIGGEST COALITION

Martyn is wearing a nametag. It says, “Martyn Foundation-President-Supervisory-Board-Presidential-Adviser-Chairman.” He normally only uses the last part of his surname, but when conducting tours he likes to make use of its impressive, downright aristocratic length. He is proud of his father’s success. A feeling which, unfortunately, is not reciprocated. When Martyn was a child, his father told him that he was stupid so often that for many years he believed it without question. Only at the age of 19 did the groundbreaking thought occur to him that perhaps not everything his father told him was true, and, ever since that moment, he has considered himself to be very clever. Unfortunately, however, he really isn’t the brightest, and amongst all the things his father can quite rightfully be accused of, lying to his son about his mental capacities is not one of them.

Martyn has made the best of his limited possibilities: he has become a politician. A popular, well-established choice, parliament being a kind of modern-day monastery: a place where the upper classes can get rid of their superfluous sons. And Martyn has even made it into the QualityParliament, albeit only as a backbencher. For the last eight years, his main role has been to conduct tours through the parliament buildings for selected students, otherwise known as QualiTeenies. Martyn always takes the girls-only groups, and today he’s hit the jackpot. The schoolgirls are from an airline hostess academy.

“As I’m sure you know,” he says to the twelve 16-year-olds in front of him, “there are two big political parties in QualityLand. The QualityAlliance, and of course the Progress Party. The parties used to be named differently, but they were changed in keeping with the new, progress-oriented country identity.”

“Which means,” says one of the girls, “that they conveniently got rid of a few troublesome adjectives in the process, like social, Christian, green, and democratic.”

Another smart-ass, thinks Martyn. Wonderful.

He directs his gaze at the heckler, and his augmented reality contact lenses superimpose her name: Tatjana History-Teacher. It’s always the history teachers’ children that cause trouble. How wise the government had been to do away with history lessons sixteen years ago and replace them with future lessons. In future lessons, the pupils are taught—by means of exciting and visually impressive methods—that in the future everything will be good, because—this being the core message—in the future all problems will be easily solved through technology.

Two of the girls at the back of the group are whispering about their grades. Martyn likes the look of one of them. He hears her murmur: “I always get 100 points for body mass index. But that dumb-ass teacher says he’s not going to give me the full grades in sex appeal again, because he doesn’t like how I babble on. What a douche!”

With a focused gaze and a long wink, Martyn bookmarks the girl for later. A confirming PLING resounds inside his right ear. He unconsciously runs his hand through his luscious, full head of hair, which is genetically protected against balding, then clears his throat and continues: “And then of course there’s the Opposition Party, whose founders clearly never had any hope of being part of the government, given that the party is called the Opposition Party.”

“A parliamentary outlet for discontent,” says Tatjana History-Teacher, repeating words she often hears her mother say when drunk. Martyn is already mentally preparing her zero-star rating.

“Because our revered president is on her deathbed,” he says, “there will soon be another election. The doctors have predicted that she will leave us in precisely sixty-four days. In order to enable a seamless transition, we will vote in exactly sixty-four days. Well, in principle the large parties all want the same thing anyway—in other words, the best—and that’s why I assume the two big parties will soon announce that they intend to form a big coalition again after the election. Sorry—of course QualityLand won’t be ruled by a big coalition, but the biggest! Any questions?”

“Why do you think voter turnout is getting lower and lower?” asks the smart-ass.

“I think,” says Martyn, “that the current government successfully addressed this problem when we decided to stop publishing voter turnout numbers. The next logical step, by the way—keeping the election results secret as well—is currently a hot topic of debate behind closed doors.”

The girls laugh obediently, even though Martyn wasn’t joking.

“Transparent individuals in a nontransparent system,” says Tatjana. Martyn ignores her.

“Hey, man, why are you in the Progress Party anyway?” asks the pretty girl whom Martyn has bookmarked for himself.

“Well,” says Martyn, asking himself this question for the first time, “I think, um, because they’re the biggest of the, um, the biggest parties.”

In truth, Martyn prefers to rule rather than oppose, even though in reality he does neither one nor the other. He sits on a backbench and applauds when the leaders of his party speak, and boos when someone from the opposition speaks. He does both with a contented smile, without ever listening to what’s being said.

He leads the girls to the visitors’ level of the assembly room. He points to the man currently at the speaker’s podium. “That guy there is in the Opposition Party.”

“For years,” calls the politician, “QualityLand has been waging war against the terrorists of the realm that our media now refers to only as QuantityLand. QuantityLand 7, to be precise. Is it, therefore, not a little counterproductive that certain armament companies are still allowed to export weapons to the enemy? Must our soldiers really be torn to shreds by our very own weapons?”

Objections are called out in the hall. Martyn boos as well, encouraging the girls to copy him.

“Mr. Songwriter,” intervenes the Speaker of Parliament, “once again I must remind you to keep to the new country identity. ‘War’ is not the politically correct word. It is referred to as ‘Security Operation for the Protection of Trade Routes and Natural Resource Supply.’ And we no longer say soldiers, but ‘QualitySecurers.’”

“Call it whatever you want,” says the opposition politician as he leaves the podium. “It doesn’t change what it is.”

The sitting is interrupted by a hologram display announcement: “This parliamentary debate is brought to you by QualityPartner. QualityPartner—‘Love at first click.’”

A new speaker steps up to the podium. A tall man, rather stocky, white, 67 years old, his face creased with wrinkles.

“You’re in luck,” says Martyn. “The new Defense Minister himself is speaking today! Conrad Cook. I’m sure you recognize him.”

The Defense Minister really does enjoy enviable levels of recognition for a politician. Before his work in the cabinet he was a famous television chef. He also owns a large empire of food manufacturers. His likeness is plastered over chocolate bars, breakfast cereals, and pickled sausages, and every child knows his face.

“Mr. Songwriter,” begins the minister sharply, “I’d like to add my thoughts to the mix.”

“Did you know that Conrad Cook’s father was a successful cook too?” asks Martyn, trying to add a fun fact.

“You don’t say…” mumbles Tatjana.

“You’re always trying to find a fly in the soup!” the minister exclaims.

Genre:

  • "QUALITYLAND is very funny and very scary -- my kind of book."—Mike Judge, creator of HBO's Silicon Valley, writer/director of Office Space
  • "Eerily prescient and peppered with near-future projections (including the cryogenic resurrection of Jennifer Aniston), Qualityland reads like the best Black Mirror episode as written by Kurt Vonnegut. Kling delivers scythe-sharp satire, steering us through a hysterical dystopian adventure of technological determinism, all while skewering consumer culture, politics, free will, and making me rethink my relationship with my Roomba. Witty, wise, and terrifyingly funny, Qualityland is a genius gem and an absolute must read. I laughed my phone off."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px Helvetica}span.s1 {font-kerning: none}Kira Jane Buxton, author of Hollow Kingdom
  • "Kling's dialogue is witty and sharp, the relationship between Peter and the droids is handled with a great deal of humour and warmth, and more often than not Kling lands his jokes--Qualityland is incredibly funny--a rare feat for a science fiction novel."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px 'Times New Roman'}Locus
  • "A hilarious romp through an absurd hypercapitalist dystopia...This is spot-on satire."—Publishers Weekly
  • "QUALITYLAND is the best kind of satire, offering up a funhouse mirror version of our world that is so smart and so cutting, you have to laugh to keep from crying."—Rob Hart, author of The Warehouse
  • "The times we live in demand a satire as sharp and unrelenting as QUALITYLAND. The funniest parts will make you cringe. But rather than merely beat the reader over the head with doom and gloom, this novel goes further, showing the value of endurance and even hope in an age of emptiness."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px 'Times New Roman'}Robert Repino, author of D'Arc and Mort(e)
  • "How much you enjoy this is in direct proportion to how much trouble you think we're all in. Sleep tight."—Kirkus
  • "Kling's sharp observations target the economy, the law, xenophobia, relationships, security, and government, sparing few and exposing with delightful brutality how close QualityLand is to reality."—Booklist
  • "The plot unfolds in a way that surprises, which is quite refreshing when dealing with storylines which create a cautionary tale about corporate overreach."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px 'Times New Roman'}The Nerd Daily

On Sale
Jan 7, 2020
Page Count
352 pages
ISBN-13
9781538732977

Marc-Uwe Kling

About the Author

Marc-Uwe Kling is a German author and songwriter. Qualityland spent months on the German bestseller lists, has sold more than half a million copies to date internationally, and is currently in production as an HBO series. Kling lives in Berlin.

Learn more about this author