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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: Traitor Hangout, by WJ MacGuffin

Traitor Hangout, by “WJ MacGuffin”, the pen name of a certain Paranoia designer/writer, is part of the roll-out of new Paranoia fiction from Ultraviolet Books. It leans more on the “zany” side that the other books, somewhat mimicking the “Zap” style of gameplay in the new Paranoia edition. Since that style isn’t my favorite, I wasn’t really expecting much of this book to be honest… but I must say I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s an extremely fun book, and isn’t at all as much “zap” as I had feared.

The story features Efficiency auditor Clarence-Y, a “mandate nerd” who can cite any of The Computers mandates word by word, but is quite lost in the wild world of human interaction. While generally well-meaning, Clarence-Y is hopelessly naive and actually believes that the Computer has everyone’s best interests at heart. Normally, such blue-eyed optimism would lead to a very short career and a possible end run as reactor shielding… but somehow, Clarence is doing fine. Maybe it has something to do with his one treasonous act, the sheltering of a small lab mouse (named “Ignatius”) which he feeds with food scraps and carries under his coat.

In any case, in the name of Alpha Complex security Clarence is recruited to impersonate a notorious traitor, “Superstar Pirate”. An obvious suicide mission which nobody expects him to survive, making his survival all the more remarkable. Not to mention that he gets caught up in more and more conspiracies while doing his “job”, forcing him to infiltrate a number of additional secret societies armed with… nothing much. It should be impossible, but somehow Clarence, oblivious of danger, survives. And then things get messy.

It’s a fun and well-written situational comedy, with Clarence acting as the naive foil to all sorts of crazy stuff. Sure, people get incinerated, terminated and killed in various other ways – but it’s still a lighthearted romp.

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