Book Review: There Is No Antimemetics Division is a Mind-Bending, Lovecraftian Innovation

Book Review: There Is No Antimemetics Division is a Mind-Bending, Lovecraftian Innovation

Memes and memetics refers to the concept of ideas behaving like genes, how cultural information transfers throughout society and, in so doing, mutates. In the context of the SCP Foundation – a 15-year-old community-driven writing project about a clandestine non-governmental organization dedicated to Securing, Containing, and Protecting objects deemed anomalous to baseline reality, now nearly 7,000 objects strong – these ideas may spread, benefit, corrupt, maim, or kill simply by existing in a human mind. The terms “cognitohazard” and “memetic kill agent” are forever etched into common Foundation narratives.

There Is No Antimemetics Division – written by self-published author Sam “qntm” Hughes from 2008 to 2020 – tackles the idea of the inverse: concepts, objects, and entities that censor themselves through memory loss, data corruption, and other anomalous means. These range from impossible-to-remember (non-spherical) objects, a gun that turns targets into anti-memetically cloaked worms, multiple extinct once-great civilizations, predatory ideo-complices that prey on Foundation researchers’ memories and erase them from cognition, and the malicious, omnipresent SCP-3125. It is up to the Foundation’s Antimemetics Division – the last vestiges of a once-worldwide antimemetics community, all since erased by SCP-3125 – and its head, Marion Wheeler, to defeat an enemy capable of destroying a person’s humanity and puppeteering their hollowed body by simply existing in the same sphere of thought.

Such a unique, difficult-to-imagine conception with such ripe potential seems prime for a disappointing, or at least indecipherable, execution. However, Antimemetics Division pulls it off and brings it to heights far above this already-lofty idea by doing the opposite of what you’d expect from the SCP Foundation: focusing on the humanity. You’d think writing a story about humans fighting an imperceivable god-like being would be incomprehensible would be impossible to execute, but Hughes’ beautiful prose, incredible characterization, careful dialogue, and impeccable pacing bring such an improbable narrative to life, and expand it far beyond its origins as a memory-wiping non-sphere.

A common weakness of SCP tales is the sheer mythos behind this fictional universe. Even simple stories may reference dozens of SCPs that may be common knowledge to frequenters of the wiki but can make reading tales tedious, forcing newcomers to stop every few sentences to read through another article anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand sentences long (occasionally with accompanying photo, audio, and Choose Your Own Adventure-style components). I for one love the clinical, cold, scientific style of traditional SCP entries, but tales are meant to be an escape from this often-restricting format. Antimemetics Division circumvents the problem by mixing a selection of in-universe documents into a group of narrative chapters, with various references and extra material sprinkled throughout for SCP buffs to pick up. The online version also contains hyperlinks to these referred stories and articles.

The book starts off strong with an infamous entry, SCP-055 – a non-spherical object incapable of being remembered, other than by what it is not. It’s one of the very first of near 7000 entries, first written in 2008 when the SCP Foundation was in its infancy, and served as the launching pad for the rest of qntm’s 12-year endeavor. It’s really the first chapter, “We Need To Talk About Fifty-Five” that starts the book. It follows Marion Wheeler meeting with O5-8 – one of thirteen members of the O5 Council, topmost leaders of the SCP Foundation – as she reintroduces him to antimemetics after he “misses” his mnestics (silent “m,” a powerful memory drug) regimen. It’s a slow burn chapter, and I do believe it to be the weakest part of the story given its first half is rather disappointing in terms of prose and structure. All is forgiven by the time Marion begins explaining the concept of antimemes, where Hughes’ aptitude with prose and immense ability to utilize setup and payoff first begins to shine, dialing up to an 11 by the final quarter as he pulls off a brilliant plot twist that makes the somewhat drab first half more than worth it.

And that’s only the first narrative chapter, one of the simplest in terms of concepts. Future chapters only add to this solid foundation in realizing such a high-concept story, coming together to form a wonderfully realized Lovecraftian horror show that consistently pulls the reader along its twists, turns, and complete derailments.

The characters, too, are wonderfully realized. The main leads, Marion and her – forgotten – husband Adam, are distinct but share a characteristic drive and genius that comes off brilliantly through their actions and internal dialogue. Whilst Marion is nihilistic, rough-around-the edges, and tired, but knowledgeable, qualified, and professional – to be expected of someone dealing with unwinnable odds on a daily basis – Adam is much more optimistic, loose, openly loving, and completely out of his depth. Yet both are adaptable to no end, unflinching, and determined in front of inconceivable odds. These opposing personality traits lead their few one-to-one dynamics to be incredibly engaging and full of chemistry, and the tragedy of their relationship creates a wonderful emotional core to a story set in a purposefully cold, detached universe. It is this exceedingly human relationship that drives the plot, and eventually saves it, poetic given the antagonist’s purpose to eradicate the very concept of “humanity.” 

It’s an ode, a celebration, a declaration of love toward humanity with all of our strengths and flaws

Secondary characters, too, get wonderful care. The aforementioned O5-8 plays the role of one of the Foundation’s highest leaders perfectly, a man so unknowably knowledgeable, powerful, and adept that he retains a sense of control even when far out of his weight class. Paul Kim shows up in one chapter before becoming SCP-3125’s first victim, yet he cements himself as exactly the type of person an antimemetics researcher is: innately intelligent, creative, determined, and competent from day one, capable of piecing together a plan and acting when his own mind was wiped like blackboard. The fact that he succumbs instantly only speaks to the depth of the threat at large. Bartholomew “Bart” Hughes, whose legendary status as the “Macguffin to Save Humanity” is set up since SCP-055 was edited to include him in January 2009, seems prime to become a Mary Sue character – he shares his last name with the author, for crying out loud – but deftly avoids that pitfall; his one chapter to shine paints him as a painfully human character, a man terrified to sacrifice his life despite knowing he is the only person on Earth with the qualifications needed to kill a god of the ideo-sphere, yet confident and humanly tenacious in building the weapon necessary to slay it even when he himself loses his humanity. 

This emphasis, and passion toward, human nature is the crux of the whole book. Yes, it’s a technical marvel, an exercise in the creativity of some of the internet’s brightest minds with excellent prose, pacing, and use of various literary devices, but they are all in service of delivering a story about people overcoming impossible odds to fight for their right to exist, to be human. In that respect it is a truly beautiful narrative, masterfully setting up the impossibly powerful enemy and finding logical ways for the protagonists to defeat it. Perhaps one could argue that the solution is contrived, and I can’t argue with the convenience of it, but the amount of lead-up leads me to believe that their victory is deserved.

There Is No Antimemetics Division is an ode, a celebration, a declaration of love toward humanity with all of our strengths and flaws: ingenuity, ineptitude, empathy, apathy, loyalty, treachery, love, hate, but perhaps most importantly, our capability to persevere on top of cosmically impossible odds. To kill SCP-3125, a fundamentally unkillable idea, Marion, Adam, and Bart find a better idea. The Special Containment Procedure for SCP-3125 is the Foundation’s third tenet: to protect humanity.