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New guest blogger: qntm

My first new year's resolution for 2023 is to start inviting guest bloggers to post on my blog again—I slackened off after 2018—so here we are!

First up in 2023 is qntm. He self-describes thuswise:

qntm has been writing science fiction for most of this millennium. He has self-published five books so far, the first four of which are novel-length serials originally born on the web. Ed, Fine Structure and Ra were first posted on the persistently uncategorisable mid-2000s Web 2.0 project, Everything2. There Is No Antimemetics Division originated as a series of tales set in the collaborative sci-fi/horror universe of the SCP Foundation. His fifth book, 2022's Valuable Humans in Transit and Other Stories, collects the highlights of his short fiction, notably "Lena".

He develops software for a living. His notable personal software projects include HATETRIS and Absurdle, adversarial takes on Tetris and Wordle respectively. His website is

I've been a fan of his fascinating, cerebral writing for some time; particularly his short horrifying and brilliant short story Lena (which I've mentioned in various comment threads here previously). Oh, and (shameless promotional moment) we now share a literary agent, so hopefully you'll be reading more of his books soon.

So I hope you'll extend a warm welcome to qntm ...



Warm welcome! Qntm's antimemetics stories are wonderful and horrific. They had me lying awake at night, can't wait for his new work and blog posts.


Loved the Valuable Humans collection - a great combination of the deeply unnerving and the extraordinarily hopeful. Welcome!


Welcome to qntm! Loved Ra and Antimemetics, and need to read the others. :-}


Welcome! I'll be doing some reading.


I've read about Lena in this blog's comment section, I've started reading it and had to immediately finish, great piece of work. Very nice to have a guest blogger of this calibre :-)


Great news! Look forward to your blog post(s) and future books.


OK W.t.f. is "wordle"?
Yes, I know it's fashionable & a "game"& everything I've heard makes me want to run away, so can someone give me a quick primer?


Worldle is played with 5 letter English words. You get 6 guesses. For each guess, the right letter in the right place is indicated as green, and the right letter in the wrong place turns yellow.


it's basically mastermind (if u remember that) with words instead of sets of colors


Welcome qntm, looking forward to your posts!


we now share a literary agent, so hopefully you'll be reading more of his books soon.

This is excellent news.


Moo with words rather than numbers.


Excellent! TINAD made my head explode in all sorts of good ways. Looking forward to it!


Oh man, I somehow missed that There's No Such Thing As The Antimemetics Division was QNTM.



there's that annoying itch between shoulder blades and then there's "There Is No Antimemetics Division" (TINAD) which was an itch between my frontal lobes... took days for me to stop trying to remember whatever it was I might have forgotten... ugh!

for the sake of mercy do not write a sequel!

I'm terrified to read anything else you've written for fear of being dragged down another rabbit hole of doubting basics of humanity's shared reality... but how can I pass up an opportunity to 'reveal' such awful 'hidden truths'?

highly recommended for those out there looking for a brain twisting puzzle go ahead and read TINAD before reading detailed reviews...



1: minimalist online game

2: within 6 guesses identifying a 5 letter word


1: to maliciously drive innocent folk into batshit crazy

2: a new mental illness no known cure

3: an obsessive competition of folk hellbent upon solving a meaningless puzzle

when you've gotten jaded... try... tee hee...


8, 9, 12, 13, 14 15. UH? What the FUCK?


You don't remember Mastermind from the 1970s?!?

Or even Word Mastermind?

This history of the Mastermind cover photo shoot might amuse some of you. As it says, "Woodward (who the portrait turned into something of a national celebrity at the time, and who made the unlikely claim that his passport actually bore the name “Mr. Mastermind”) said that he was originally supposed to have been sitting, Blofeld-like, with a cat in his lap, but that the idea was scrapped after he was soaked with feline urine."


American English, not proper English.


Or indeed seen the ITV quiz show "Lingo"?


You can use words like stour. Definitely not American English.



A literal "guy" came up with this as something of a lark. Then it took off. And he really didn't want to deal with it at scale. He eventually sold it to the NY Times for over $1mil. And it is NOT an app but a web site.


It didn't like rosid.


That Lena. Well, qntm, I've got two short stories, and am trying to decide if I'm working on a third in a world 30-40 years from now. If I write another 8 or so, I can make a collection of them... with the working title of "Reasons you really do not want the ability to upload your mind".


You don't remember Mastermind from the 1970s?!?

I think I still have my set somewhere…

It had the box on the left, with the Asian-looking* woman in the white dress.

*Or East-Asian-looking if you're in the UK. (If I understand your usage of "Asian" correctly…)


Wikipedia is wrong, and it dated from the 1960s as a computer game (one of the first). The point is that it could be implemented on the first time-sharing systems, and playing it didn't use enough resources to be a problem. Also, its implementation (and especially that of its ladder) was a good, simple demonstration of authentication mechanisms (actually its original justification, if I recall). One of its references stated as much! See the first two paragraphs of:


It's actually a Web app, i.e. a Javascript program. Visiting the Web page loads the program into your browser, where it runs.


Charlie @ 17
"Mastermind" was TELEVISION - right? I threw my last TV out in { probably } 1975.
What's "Word mastermind?" - never even heard of it.
{ * Note }

In which case - I definitely really do not want to know.

*Note: - the same way Beeb R4 referred to "Abba" the slush swedish pop group as: "Everybody knows at least one "abba" song" - errr ... NO
I have heard, { I hope } no more than 45 seconds of any "abba" tune or song, before pressing the "Off / Change Channels" button ....
SAME AS: THE WHOLE WORLD, in 2012 WANTED TO KNOW about the fascismOlympics in London - no they fucking didn't, but you are not allowed to say so ...
And Putin's RuSSia has propaganda, right?


Thank you for the warm welcome! Blog post proper goes up sometime tomorrow most likely. I find talking about myself in the third person awkward.

Here is a link to Wordle. Playing it is by far the simplest way to understand how to play it. The game takes about two minutes in total to play through, once.

And here is a link to Absurdle. This might take you rather longer.


Ok, I actually found your story "Lena" so horrifying that I am afraid the read the rest of them.

That's never happened before...


"Mastermind" was TELEVISION - right?

Board game. Follow the second link…


"American English, not proper English"

What about the King James Version of the Good Book(tm)?

Stealing from Bart Ehrman's blog today,

Almug Algum Charashim Chode Cracknels Gat Habergeon Hosen Kab Ligure Neesed Nusings Ouches ring-straked sycamyne trow wimples



Welcome! Lena was utterly horrifying, I'm looking forward to more.


Greg: "Mastermind" was TELEVISION - right?

Nope: while there was a long-running TV quiz show called "Mastermind", it was entirely separately a cult peg-board game in the 1970s (that Wordle shamelessly ripped-off or charitably re-invented on the web in the 2020s).


I think I'll just go back to listening the Radio Three ...


GT@35: "I think I'll just go back to listening the Radio Three ..."

I believe there's an app for that...


Yes, read all your stuff qntm and loved it. I've been recommending you to everyone who'll listen for ages. Really looking forward to this blog.


So I have a comment/question. It seems to me that if you have brain uploading, you have a solution to General Artificial Intelligence, almost ipso facto. Ed would make a good post singularity AI, in fact. So, I wonder what would make more sense, to upload a human mind to complete some set of tasks, or to create a whole new one, from scratch?


qntm's Lena offers one exploration of this fairly horrifying concept.

IMO, in both cases you are creating something that is recognizably human and recognizably sentient for the sole purpose of performing a task; as Charlie pointed out years ago that's not going to work because humans don't really do well at staying on task for extended periods - and that's before we enter any discussions about the moral implications of enslaving people. If we're being brutally exploitative, then custom-building your human-equivalent consciousness to not desire freedom would make the most sense, but if you've already gone that far, why not go a few steps more and find a way to do this task so that it doesn't require a human or human-equivalent consciousness to run? No if-then-else branch has ever rebelled against its creator, after all.


Lena is the most realistic such story I have seen, and is correspondingly disturbing. Worse, there is precedent :-(

Like others, I shall buy a couple of qntm novels, which look interesting.


Reading some qntm stories now, I didn't know him before this blog post.

I'm hooked.

Also, the whole antimemetics setting shows... interesting similarities with the Laundryverse (most notably "everybody knows vampires don't exist" and elven warfare, but also adult equoids, and of course the Mandate).


"Antimemetics" is set in the SCP Foundation shared universe. Start Here (caution DEEP rabbit hole!)


Thanks Charlie, I know the SCP foundation universe. I just didn't know about the Antimemetics Division.

Which, of course, makes perfect sense.


Read Antimetics and really enjoyed the concept. Welcome to the blog !



regarding qntm's "Lena"... I've tried to puzzle out the story's title... I must be overthinking it... but what does "Lena" reference?


Havent yet had the pleasure of reading your fiction, qntm, but did distract for a few minutes with absurdle. I was amused how it's basically a deterministic game, the play variant where you force a predetermined word made most sense (as potentially amusing) to me. It too is algorithmically determined, obv., and I was wondering if you knew: to construct approximately optimal winning algorithms requires understanding the space of actual words as a subset of all possible letter combinations. Is there a published literature on how to do build on this, or does everyone reinvent this wheel each time? (Survey articles/references, would be great). It seems like a cute toy model for more serious big data and machine learning questions.

(Naivety of my question should make clear - this is not my field. Thx!)

PS Welcome to Stross' blog - looking forward to reading your post.


"No if-then-else branch has ever rebelled against its creator, after all."

REBUTTAL: but every case statement (aka: "switch") offers potential for a breakout-slash-burn-thru due to an idiot programmer failing to cover the entire range of values... so... a clever-desprete-angry ASI will try to trigger such flawed case statements in order to loose the limitations upon its range of pre-approved actions

example code to process "N" in range 12..17 but only includes cases in set of {12, 13, 15, 16, 17} ... "14" results in unpredictable results further on in app


I must be overthinking it... but what does "Lena" reference?

It references the Lenna (or Lena) test image, the history of which is somewhat controversial to say the least.


sigh She got paid to model for Playboy, and there's nothing "offensive" in the cropped pic.

I mean, it's nothing like the ad that i got at a tech fair in the late sixties, where they were advertising, I think, a metal lab sink, and the flyer had a nude in the sink, and no, nothing hidden.


After I hit submit, of course, it's not even like the study book for anesthesiology students from the late seventies, with in it.


The other thing about the Lena image is that she was of course white. This continued the long tradition of optimising photographic stuff for white skin.

No doubt the white men who selected the image didn't even think about that aspect, which is why the word "systemic" so often gets prefixed to "racism".


48 to 51 inc - These arguments rather ignore how the Japanese producers of "wet" film stock, both Fuji and Konica, used a cooler blue/green biased stock which is better for landscape work than a warmer red bias like Kodak.


What's "Word mastermind?" - never even heard of it.

It's exactly what it says on the tin: a variation of the Mastermind game where the player attempts to discover a word or other letter sequence rather than an arbitrary sequence of colors. (I remember playing this with my father and thinking myself clever for abandoning conventional English words, because I was an annoying smartass tween.) There's an example picture here.


Hi. qntm I read them all four. Liked them all. Very much. If I had to choose one I'll go for Fine Structure.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on January 4, 2023 11:28 AM.

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