There Is No Antimemetics Division by qntm

I’m a little late to the party, but I just finished the wonderfully imaginative There Is No Antimemetics Division (2020) by qntm. The premise is that our world is full of things with antimemetic properties. An antimeme is “an idea with self-censoring properties; an idea which, by its intrinsic nature, discourages or prevents people from spreading it.” Many of these are dangerous and require “secure containment procedures.” The story follows agents of a mysterious bureaucratic organization called The Foundation who chase down an increasingly bizarre menagerie of increasingly dangerous SCP critters.

The book originated in an online experimental fiction community called SCP, which stands for Secure, Contain, Protect. The project’s contributors write their contributions in a dry bureaucratic-reporting language, and seem to take their cues from random real-world things they pretend are dangerous things needing containment.

The title of the book is a line spoken by a Foundation character early on, who has forgotten that the Antimemetics division exists due to the influence of a dangerous uncontained SCP entity. The whole plot is built around agents having to work with things like that. They deal with their own unreliable memories with a mix of puzzle-box protocols and “mnestic” (mnesia being the opposite of amnesia) drugs. The plot is reminiscent of the Doctor Who antagonists Silence — aliens who you can see but forget about immediately once you turn away — but much more fully realized.

The whole thing is very clever (at times too clever — there’s a chapter with large parts redacted to make a plot point), but just charming enough that you don’t mind. The style is somewhere between Lovecraftian cosmic horror and Ballardian banality, with a stiff dose of near-Douglas-Adams camp.

I’ve just started exploring the underlying experimental metafiction community at SCP-wiki and it makes me feel old with its inventiveness. The book is a relatively conventional offtake from a very unconventional narrative corpus with very weird rules that nevertheless work (for example, it makes no attempt to maintain canonicity and everyone can contradict everyone else). No wonder it feels fresh.

Simon De La Rouviere of the excellent Scenes with Simon newsletter, which I’ve mentioned before, did a talk about SCP for the Summer of Protocols last year that tries to unpack the community and evaluate it as a kind of protocol metafiction.

Whatever it is, I like it. I’d like to try doing something like SCP in the future.

Antimemes, as I understand, are just one aspect of the Foundation universe. They’re a very interesting premise. Antigenes make no sense of course; a gene that doesn’t spread would by definition not survive. But the same is not true of memes. Memes happen to be adaptive for humans, since they power our cultural evolution, but they need not be. Clearly there are creatures whose survival depends on antimemetic phenotype traits, like camouflage coat patterns. Humans too make use of secrecy and stealth in some behaviors. The generalized notion here is powerful. Maybe every creature has a communication phenotype that’s X% memetic and 100-X% antimemetic.

I’ve been unconsciously practicing antimemetic blogging here to some degree for the last few years, for example in the anti-SEO numbered entries of the Captain’s Log blogchain. It’s quite amazing but I can’t remember a single idea from that series. It’s a personal memory blank. There are weaker antimemetic patterns, like titles with series parts, blog posts with few/no inbound or outbound linking etc. Newsletters are much more strongly antimemetic than blogs.

There are lots of writing techniques you can use to prevent an idea from going viral, and not even being noticed by people not primed to detect it. You might wonder why you’d ever need such techniques, but once you’ve had your fill of viral writing and meme-making (which I have), and are well known enough the default amount of attention you get is > δ > 0 (which I am), this becomes both creatively interesting to explore and pragmatically useful for some topics (for example when you want to openly write controversial things but go unnoticed by trolls primed to attack you for them). The trick is doing antimemetic writing without resorting to brute-force secrecy, cryptography, or steganography. Any idiot can simply write posts in private cozyweb channels, encrypt posts and only share keys with trusted people, or use steganographic deceptions. The real trick is to write in intrinsically anti-memorable ways where despite the reader wanting to retain an idea they think is important, they forget it. Cognitive burn-after-reading techniques.

Anyhow, highly recommend the book, the community, and Simon’s talk.

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. Elliot Corvinova says

    I absolutely love the SCP lore and universe. I’d argue that there is actually a meta-canonicity to the whole thing once you’ve read enough as certain entries make claims about other entries’ purposes for existing but not being entirely true. There are also some interesting 4th wall breaking entries where SCP foundation members begin to suspect that they are fictional entities.

  2. Very interesting talk. After watching it I though about a potential SCP alike project: “Time Travel Tourist Reviews”. It’s a simple format that could fit with the collaborative wiki approach. I can also imagine a very simple minimal template for it.

    The more I think about it, the weirder it seems to me that it doesn’t exist yet…

  3. Reminds me of Mieville’s The City & the City which involves (minor first-few-chapters spoiler) strict rules against seeing, recognizing, or interacting with members of the other city that is colocated with one’s own.

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