SCP-001 Review: Jonathan Ball's Proposal - A Sheaf of Papers
Culture & Community
by Lack of Lepers
Ladies and gentlemen, and those both, outside, & in between, today we are going to start a series of articles — previously on my blog, but better at home here on the magazine — that review containment fiction articles as objectively and fair-mindedly as possible. While I’m a cynical critic to be sure, no one gets more excited about a truly great article than I do. So we will try to balance those two poles — perhaps precariously — to give in-depth reviews of material from the SCP Wiki, the RPC Authority, and other containment fiction platforms & entries.
We will cover new articles, old articles, and those in between; both notable ones and relatively minor ones, whether by virtue of being unsung, or just because they are truly mediocre. But we should start with a bang to send us off, and so we come to the first sub-series or playlist of content in this effort; the SCP-001s.
If you’re not familiar with the tradition, the SCP-001 slot was always seen as an important number that necessitated a stellar entry. The first known mention of an SCP-001 (SCP-1) is in January 2008 on 4chan’s /x/, only months after the publication of the original SCP-173. The idea of a series of numbered SCP entries is here breached, similar to the preceding creepypasta series The Holders, with these being deflationary and culminating in the “SCP-001” slot. Thus, the idea of SCP-001 and its status as something altogether elevated has existed since the genre has.
To quote bluesoul’s archive:
The next few months were given to discussion about 173, the next post that involved an actual “new idea” was on 2007–09–05, with 256661 and SCP-246, though this was another statue, with another similar pitch in the replies. This thread was also the first to speculate on SCP-001 (referred to as SCP-1, and theorized to be “like, the cursed bones of Draculajesus or something”).
Early versions of SCP-001 included “Eberstrom’s Proposal”, “Taisaijin’s Proposal”, and “Catalyst’s Proposal”; all have since been deleted due to perceived quality issues, but remain archived in various places. Taisaijin’s proposal, a story about the origins of Site-19 (along with Eberstrom’s), was the first. By April 2008, the slot was still being reserved for a definitive article to occupy it; others were nominating existing entries to become the canonical SCP-001. What was sure was that it was to be an apogee of the emerging style.
SCP didn’t decide on a canonical entry, and eventually adopted the opposite; they would hold anything definitive for the slot in abeyance, and reserve it for potential articles, ones worthy enough to be called SCP-001. The EditThis archive shows the following phrase next to the SCP-001 entry:
LOCKED UNTIL SOMEONE MAKES ONE WORTHY OF THE TITLE OF SCP-001. (source)
This led to the tradition of “proposals” for the slot. Over time, they adopted the implicit role of offering origin mythologies for various SCP Foundation components, and doubled out-of-universe as an author’s magnum opus. Today, there are over 40 SCP-001s, and the frequency of new ones is increasing.
Jonathan Ball’s proposal was one of the first to be submitted to an old page on the SCP Wiki that acted as the proto-SCP-001 hub; others that have survived today can be seen, such as Eberstrom’s “Site 19”, DrGears’ “The Prototype” and DrClef’s placeholder slot, titled “Something Big Enough to be worthy of being the First SCP”. (Fishmonger’s “The Game” does not exist in this archive and arguably existed at all.)
(Read more about “First Slots” of containment fiction on the Confic Wiki here.)
I am happy to see that the current SCP-001 page has reintroduced the option to see the entries in chronological order (top right, red link), as they once were prior to a decision made late last year, in an effort to give more parity to the upvote and eyeball distribution for SCP-001 entries — especially new ones.
So, to honor that and the tradition of SCP-001s, we will be going through 001 reviews in chronological order for this magazine series. This ensures that the newest ones will have plenty of time to age and settle. So, without further ado, let’s begin at the first surviving SCP-001, “Sheaf of Papers” by Jonathan Ball.
This SCP-001 was ported to the Wiki almost immediately upon its creation from a previous collection (EditThis), on 27 Jul 2008 by WikiDot user and early Administrator Lt Masipag. The original Jonathan Ball is lost to history. All that potentially remains of Jonathan Ball is maybe WikiDot “user” Anonymous (68.146.211.x), who shortly after the 001’s posting to the WikiDot, changed the title from “Johnathan Ball’s Proposal” to “Jonathan Ball’s Proposal”.
With the history out of the way, let’s get into the actual article and review. We’ll notice specs and objective aspects of the article in a section titled Objectives; then comment subjectively, including the feel of it after a type-through performance of the piece (“ghosting the prose”), all in a section titled Subjectives; and finally at the end give an overall impression and review in a section titled Verdict, which will include a rating out of 10.
Clocking in at just under 800 words, formally this is a true classic of the genre, with tight, minimal prose and a concentrated idea. At about a 5 minute read, it performs the initial function and purpose of the containment fiction genre, which is to be bite-sized micro-fiction in a world where, in irony relative to the faster speeds of tasks that we enjoy, we seem to have less time to spare for such endeavors of enjoyment such as reading. This SCP-001 can be consumed in the span of even the briefest and on-the-go lunch breaks. SCPPer’s stats:
Posted: 2008–07–27 16:20 Contributors: Lt Masipag Rating: 739 (+883 / -144) Contributor rating: 82 (+123 / -41) Adjusted rating: 224 (+269 / -45) Rank: #170
Its object class is Keter, which we might expect from an SCP-001, as Keters were certainly at that time seen as the most formidable of anomalies to contain. The special containment procedures are reasonable at about 3 paragraphs, nothing extraneous or excessive, and not a lot of metrics or jargon.
The description is likewise modest, at 3 paragraphs. It is couched in numerous cross-references to some of the earliest articles, those most adjacent to the 001 slot, such as SCPs-002, 003, 004, and 005. A handful of blackbox redactions exist, including one in the containment procedures.
An addendum also exists with the heading “Additional Notes”. It is again, 3 paragraphs long. Whether this structure of repeating 3’s is intentional on the part of the author, accidental, or simply numerologically subconscious, is unknown, but it does give a very satisfying architecture and balance to the work.
There are few to no typos, run-on sentences, or grammatical errors. One subjective grammatical note exists in the second paragraph of the description, when a comma is introduced needlessly (“… closed the report once more and opened it immediately, to read…”). The wording occasionally features redundancies, which make for slight bumps in the polish; for example, “sheet” and “appeared” are both used repeatedly in quick succession in the opening sentences of the description. The tone falters occasionally, such as the second paragraph of the description, where more florid literary devices appear (e.g. “Shortly after reading the report with incredulity”, and “ The next ____ perused SCP-001, it described not ___ but ___”), perhaps a compositional hangover from The Holders. The terminology is inconsistent at times as well, with “the covering sheet” referred to later as “the cover sheet”, when consistency would have read better.
Subjectives Containment Procedures
The containment procedures of Sheaf of Papers are straight-forward and of a competent to advanced level of clinical tone. They are also a masterclass on what containment procedures can be. These are, especially these days, a more fatigued part of the genre and format, with many authors not understanding what an opportunity they present, and how they can be utilized in the way of foreshadowing, or the supplementation (or replacement) of outright narrative. The power of containment procedures is the ability to set the stage, and argue to the reader why this article is important or meaningful (something that should be increasingly important given the current state of bloat regarding new and available SCP articles for potential reading).
First, a frustration that by now is trite, but that in its time might have been novel, is that this object does not have adequate containment procedures. Right off, we get intrigue (why?) and an elevation of the stakes, as well as the sort of mystique that needs to be present in SCP-001s. A good SCP-001 will justify why it is 001; not just because the author wants to have a 001 (or another one), and merely thinks this article is really good. It should be noted that the most successful articles on the site — if you go by upvotes that is — are not SCP-001 proposals.
Additionally, there is the phrase “possible threat posed by SCP-001”. So instead of setting this up to be highly dangerous, the author is injecting some ambiguity and doubt into it before we ever know what it is. The conprocs go on to note that containment of this object itself is a matter of some controversy, with a unique literary device pivoting the perceived importance and severity of the object upon different administrations’ subjective interpretation. This is a remarkably compelling way to write an anomaly, because it doesn’t even give the reader the satisfaction of knowing whether or not it is dangerous. Depending on who you are, it is either an inert anomaly that doesn’t require any conprocs; or, as the article and in-universe current administration takes it, “the most dangerous of all known or possible items… the greatest threat to national and global security known to exist”.
Unique, and certainly for its time, we see this subjective fulcrum and pivot point means that the anomaly’s object class is also somewhat subjective, and dependent upon who is thinking what about it. The conprocs suggest that it was previously a safer and less prioritized object class, and that at one point, there weren’t even that many security installments around it, and it was used liberally in testing.
So the scale and potential energy of this anomaly is spanning the known spectrum of classification; and even a little beyond it. A sentence in the conprocs notes that the current administration has requested a new object class beyond Keter that should apply to this anomaly uniquely, and convey an exceptional sense of importance and/or danger. We see more great work in justifying this anomaly as deserving of the 001 designation.
This set-up expands the conventional conceptualizing of the O5 Council or the leadership of the Foundation as a more static body & philosophy existing throughout the time and history. In doing so, it suggests that so much of the organization and its operations are a matter of a series of subjective paradigms; making not just this anomaly, but all others and the manner in which they are approached and treated, more unsettling. It’s at least comforting to know that everyone can agree a given anomaly is dangerous and should be taken seriously; that here is treated as a luxury that isn’t promised at all.
The actual containment specifications here, the briefcase and where it is located, are a stark contrast to this build-up, and adds more intrigue. It would seem that this is a simple anomaly to contain, if it can be housed safely in a briefcase, with the only potential for a breach being unanimous O5 officer consent. That sounds like a “Safe” on the box test. We also see some interesting treatment that further justifies the gravitas of the anomaly, in that it is given its own site for containment; perhaps the first high-profile provincial or provisional site; that is to say, one constructed specifically for the purpose of containing one anomaly, and one that might be its only means of containment through time.
This provisional site is wired for detonation, which in my opinion is the only shortcoming of the conprocs conceptually. Given the ambiguity of this anomaly, and the lack of understanding around it, a detonation to destroy it in an emergency would fly in the face of second-order thinking. (This can be encapsulated in the principle and parable of Chesteron’s Fence: “Whenever you remove any fence, always pause long enough to ask why it was put there in the first place.”) While it would be important to keep this from entering the wrong hands, this seems to be still a bombastic treatment of the anomaly, and exists to raise the stakes cheaply.
The anomaly — a stack of papers stapled together — is so unassuming, that the first sentence literally includes the word “simple”. The mundane object is neatly described in tidy fashion, and the title given to the seemingly alien contents — “Confidential Report on Special Items — Classified” — invokes a sense of unspoken lore (this being a sort of foreshadowing to other such parallel preternatural efforts of documentation and containment, such as the Department of Anomalies). Very little treatment is done to introduce this as an anomaly, and differentiate it from an ordinary object; the sheaf’s pages are in flux with respect to contents and quantity.
The second paragraph is where the article sees its first trips. The prose is not as polished here, with redundancies in word choice and some questionable grammatical insertions. More so though, this paragraph reads like what would be an addendum or interview log just a few years later; this point in time arguably prior to the maturation of those elements in the genre. It ends up coming off like a paragraph out of a Holders article, only in the past tense. It doesn’t feel as clinical as the rest of the article, and represents a bit of sag in the read.
However, this paragraph is where the anomaly really takes off as well. We see that, with the beneficial context of the first 5 established SCPs, this sheaf of papers has some causal or correlative relationship with anomalies and their documentation. This is where the anomaly becomes so enjoyably conceptual. The whole thing is a riff on the ambiguity of predictive causation; is the act of reading the pages helping the Foundation by making them aware or even warning them of impending anomalies, or is it creating the anomalies? Obviously, the object’s danger and importance depends on your answer, hence the paradigmatic and administrative pivoting seen in the conprocs.
This is the meat of the article and, while sure, is an old philosophical concept that simply cast into the Foundation-verse, is the sort of refreshing take that confic the genre represents as a whole. The construction is careful as to not tilt the ambiguity in one way or the other; making this a maddening conceptual puzzle. It is Schrodenger’s indeterminism and Heisenburg’s uncertainty in anomaly form.
The third paragraph in the description takes this one step further in terms of intensity, and confirms the insinuations given in paragraph two. Essentially, no one in the in-universe situation doubts that there is some causation going on here; the contention is just in the direction of it. Is the sheaf of papers creating the anomalies, or are discovered anomalies automatically added to the sheaf? Depending on your answer, this is either an incredibly useful item, or the progenitor of anomalies and the paranormal troubles of humankind.
The addenda (here titled the ancestral “Additional Notes”) further spells out the philosophical query, in more plain and explicit terms; no new SCPs appear unless SCP-001 is opened and read.
This is where perhaps the only real miss for the article is most evident, the rest being split hairs and only relative weaknesses. The repeated casting of “the current administration” sets this SCP-001 in a more awkward posture regarding the ongoing expansion (in-universe and out) of new SCP objects and designations. It would I think have been more anticipatory and lasting to have this administration’s polarity regarding the philosophical ambiguity reversed, so as to accommodate this extra layer of application. We can also imagine the additional horror imposed by this orientation; that the SCP is the mechanism of both its own occupation, adversarial conditions, and not to mention the ethical and existential implications for the kept-in-the-dark populace of the Earth.
In-universe even, we have to concede that the SCP designation slots are bloating, this puts the position of this article at odds with the reality. While room for future administrations’ use of SCP-001 is addressed in this portion of the article, we would expect them to modify this upon that time, and so this article has to be observed as an internally-preserved one; an archived snapshot of a past administration.
Given the remaining paragraphs of the addendum, which read like an Executive Order from a soft-dictatorial power, we see that the true horror of this entry is no direct result of the object, but of the human response to it. It’s the human activity around the anomaly that is so unnerving. Imagine yourself as a livid proponent of the opposite take on the matter, and living under the opposite regime, something not at all unlike the bicameral system of politics in something like the United States of America (excuse my homerism).
Given that the object galvanizes people to one side or the other of the isle fairly equally, half of those involved are guaranteed to be extremely unsettled existentially; either the current SCP Foundation administration — not immune to political idiosyncrasies (something that plays with current-day meta-analysis quite well) — is either actively destroying reality by creating more SCPs by which to occupy itself, or preventing perhaps the most utile anomaly possible. It’s clear this object was and might again be classified as Safe, but it is also in a probability wave of being anachronistically the first Thaumiel class SCP-001.
8/10 + ⚾ = 8.5/10
This is an absolute classic of containment fiction, and not simply because it is the oldest surviving SCP-001. It fully justifies its argument as SCP-001 and evolves thinking on what can be static portions of the format, and it does so without making compromises to that format. It places the envelope pushing — such as a revolving object class and containment procedures — firmly in the context of in-universe concern; this is a feat that not many modern authors are capable of.
It covers the subject material fully enough, but in my opinion states a little too much, particularly in the addendum; these are dots best connected by the reader. However, taking the safe road here with respect to clarity is likely warranted, given the highly conceptual nature of the anomaly. It’s brief, punchy, yet sticks with you — the mark of a great idea. The pieces of it reinforce one another to make taut sutures and no edges unapproximated, or gaps unclosed. The author does a fantastic job insinuating the larger, day-to-day horrors of this object, and that they do so with an anomaly with “no nefarious qualities and is not animate as such”. This is therefore an excellent example of infusing mundane objects with the sort of Lovecraftian wonder & terror that early SCP was so occupied with, and so damn good at.
Its major flaws are in its decision to come down on one side of the ambiguity than the other; while the result is still good, I believe it would have been a better long-term strategy from a compositional standpoint, both in-universe and out, to take the opposite interpretation. Ultimately, the article tilts heavily on the bureaucratic angle of the Foundation, as opposed to a research or scientific one; while being a matter of taste, this doubles as its own commentary on what can be the focus of horror articles in this universe.
All-in-all, a solid 8/10 of an article, with an extra little baseball emoji (base + Jonathan Ball) worth half point for being a very good first SCP-001 instance; a great effort out of the gate for the surviving of these proposals, and a great bar for future entries to measure themselves by.
© Lack of Lepers
© Confic Magazine
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