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Minireview: Stay Alert, by Allen Varney

Stay Alert is a new Paranoia novel, from the also new Ultraviolet Books. Written by Allen Varney, designer of the new Paranoia game edition (originally titled “Paranoia XP”, until Microsoft started making threatening noises), it’s a fairly “classic” Paranoia story, reading mostly like a complex Troubleshooter mission.

The main viewpoint is Fletcher-R, recently (as in: hours ago) promoted to Red clearance from the Infrared masses due to a happy accident. He quickly realizes that Red clearance gives him extremely nice perks (compared to lowly Infrared), but also that Troubleshooters may actually not be the bright and shining examples of righteousness he has been taught (and drugged) to believe. He manages to escape multiple quick deaths largely due to a new experimental drug called “Leery”, which – among other side effects – gives him hyper-alertness. Tasked with retrieving a lost helpbot (with distinct Microsoft Clippy overtones), he is also given somewhat conflicting objectives by his secret society, and a leadership position on his Troubleshooter team… which he quickly realizes puts him in the (laser) sights of the rest of the team.

As noted, it reads largely like a classic, complicated Troubleshooter mission, with massive confusion about what is actually going on and who is plotting what. To a large degree, this is good, as it mirrors the helpless confusion Paranoia players ideally feel. On the other hand, the writing is a bit unclear at times, and the reader becomes somewhat confused too, which is more in the “bug, not a feature” category. The same can be said about many of the more complicated Paranoia game scenarios, too, of course: they can be so convoluted that the GM is left somewhat bewildered even after multiple read-throughs.

It’s a fun read, with lots of black humor, and manages to mirror the feel of the game world very nicely. On the other hand, there isn’t all that much new here for experienced Paranoia GMs or players, which can be seen as a minor minus point. The title of the book reflects the drug the main character ingests, so since this is book one of a trilogy (“The Troubleshooter Rules”), I suspect the titles of the next two books (“Trust No One”, “Keep Your Laser Handy” I’d assume) will also reflect the themes in those books.

If you like Paranoia and/or are interested in learning how the game world works, this is a very nice and entertaining read. People reading it without any background information will probably end up somewhat confused (though possibly also entertained).

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