Reality Optional is a new Paranoia novel from Gareth Hanrahan, one of the main developers of the new Paranoia game edition. I’ve enjoyed his work on the game a lot, and I really liked this book too. In fact, it managed to be better than I was expecting, and I was expecting something quite good to begin with.
The story concerns one Jerome-G, a loyal (well, “ish”) employee of the Threat Obfuscation Department, tasked with creating new fake threats (so as to cover up real ones, according to the Computer’s brilliant plan). Things are fine and well (within Alpha Complex limits) until one daycycle when his “fake” threats start becoming real. The really do seem to be pirates (of the “yarrr!” variety) in the transtube tunnels, there really does seem to be a robotic independence movement, etc etc. Not that Jerome-G has too much time to worry about this, since he has apparently raised the ire of a Violet-level executive and his latest assignment (starting now) is reactor shielding duty. It’s a good thing he “accidentally” “found” this neat set of high-tech goggles, which allow him to view and bypass some Alpha Complex security settings. It’s a not-so-good thing that the goggles in question also seem to be raising a lot of interest. The kind of interest that wants to see Jerome-G become reactor shielding and the goggles moved to a more… deserving owner.
It’s a really fun tale, and reads somewhat like an old-style spy thriller (with distinct Paranoia overtones). This time around, there really is a theme of “paranoia”, since Jerome-G needs to figure out who (if anyone) he can trust in a world where everyone has at least three ulterior secret motives. He is also convinced that a secretive uber-conspiracy controls everything in the background… and he may well be right. Gamewise, this book mostly reflects the “Straight” story style (with a dash of inspired craziness here and there) – while the Computer does at times execute citizens on a whim, the main dangers are getting demoted, fined, or otherwise lost in bureaucratic hell.