Petri Wessman's weblog

Minireview: The Computer Is Your Friend

The Computer Is Your Friend is an anthology of five Paranoia short stories, forming an intro of sorts for the new Paranoia novels from Ultraviolet Books. Three of the stories are direct prequels for the novels, while two are stand-alones.

“Rule Zero” features Troubleshooters who stumble upon something mysterious (and deadly) while chasing after a helpbot and trying to assassinate each other. It ties in with the book Stay Alert, where a helpbot is also found in a critical role. “Hay Fever” tells the story of how Clarence-Y (from Traitor Hangout) found his pet mouse (or the other way around). “Data Exhaust” provides backstory on a certain coup at the Department of Threat Obfuscation, paving the way for the book Reality Optional. The other two stories are “Market Research”, where a “totally random” and “voluntary” market research survey slowly reveals a bigger conspiracy, and “Action Request”, where we learn the wisdom in never, ever requesting a Troubleshooter team to “fix your problems”.

I liked all of the stories, quite a bit. All of them work nicely as stand-alones, and the novel tie-ins expand on the stories without intruding on them. As a bonus, they aren’t quite by-the-book typical Paranoia tales (i.e. Troubleshooters shooting at each other, framed as a mission). Of course, that happens too, but the main plots mostly involve other groups with varying motives.

It’s a quick read, with a low page count – but as a nice bonus, the book is now available for free (just follow the book title link above). It’s a bundle of various ebook formats, with no DRM, so… there’s really no reason not to pick this up if you have an e-reader and want some light humorous summer reading. These tales should work nicely as an intro into Paranoia, even for people who have no idea of what the game is about.

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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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