📚 Finished reading Q by Christina Dalcher.

Set in in a United States of the (near?) future, this book imagines a society where your status, what you’re allowed to do, what access you have to things, even where you must be is governed by your “Q” score. Q is a kind of measure of intelligence, ability and moral worth. It can be thought of as an enhanced social credit score, a quantified meritocracy.

Life can be very good for those with high Q. At least materially; the threat of losing one’s position is of course ever-present. But the experience is grim for those who have been tarred with the brush of having a naturally low Q.

The book tells of the experience of Elena, a mother who has two children with very different Qs.

The story goes that she herself was very influential in the development of the Q system. The slightly incredible suggestion is that it originated from a system she and others got instigated at their school when they were students to help them cope with the relentless bullying in the before-times. Today though any concerns of bullying are gone; she’s a respected lecturer, high Q. Her husband is a high-up government official largely in charge of managing the Q system. They lead an easy life of relative luxury. In some ways, the Q system is their doing and they certainly benefit from it.

Until they don’t, or at least Elena doesn’t. Her callous husband cares little for their child with insufficient Q. The powerful in society certainly don’t care at all. But, hey, it’s OK. Every child has a place. Trying not to spoil anything, it’s just not a place Elena wants her child to go. And her new need to dig into the workings of the system lead her to discover the twisted goal it’s taken on and the horrific methods that it uses to that end.

It’s not a subtle book. There are plenty of vibes of things that exist today. The Chinese social credit system comes to mind, as does the “Nosedive” Black Mirror episode. More generally ,the pernicious inequalities foist upon us all depending on what the society you happen to be in today values and permits - witness the semi-panic in the recent AI hype cycle where folk with reasonably high-status jobs worry that they’ll be replaced with a computer - and the politics that follows..

The stratification of modern-day schooling and with a potential over-emphasis on tests is already a part of today’s world in many places. As is a veneration of a meritocracy that doesn’t really think through its more problematic consequences. Genetic engineering and its consequent potential for selecting the attributes of future babies are work in progress. And we should never forget the still frequently overlooked history of the role that eugenicists have played in the United States - “Three generations of imbeciles are enough” - and elsewhere, including of course the most infamous instantiation of all.

Book cover for Q