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Properly Paranoid / Literature

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Justified paranoia in literature.


  • In Malinda Lo's Adaptation., most of Julian's conspiracy theories about aliens and Area 51 turn out to be true.
  • Kanayama no Hachirozaemon from the late 16th/early 17th century Japanese short story Akimichi. Letting down his guard with Kitamuki is what gets him killed in the end.
  • Most of the Animorphs books mention this to some degree, but the first book from Marco's perspective addresses it best.
    Marco: I live in a paranoid world. But just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean I don't have enemies. I have real enemies. Enemies that would freeze your blood if you only knew.
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  • Jack Parlabane from a number of books by Christopher Brookmyre. As he points out to his fiancée shortly after an attempt on their lives in Country of the Blind when she reproaches him for hiding a gun in the house: "Well, funnily enough, I had this outrageous idea that it might come in useful if someone happened to break in and attempt to murder us."
  • The novel Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is the source of this famous quote:
    "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you."
  • Circleverse: In Circle of Magic, Dedicate Crane and a phalanx of assistants are trying to figure out a cure to the plague that's ravaging their hometown. To do this, they have to work with samples of the disease itself, and do multiple repetitive tasks over and over again, for hours on end, without ever making a mistake in their recordings or spilling anything; to make it worse, Crane is constantly watching everyone, demanding they be cautious and shouting at anyone who makes the slightest slip-up. It would be easy to dismiss Crane as a sadistic Drill Sergeant Nasty, except for the part where one of these assistants does make a mistake, and, because of it, Rosethorn nearly dies from catching the disease. The moral of the story is that medical and sanitation measures are very Serious Business.
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  • Owen from the Deathstalker series has an emergency yacht, that only he knows about, stashed away and it comes in handy when he and Hazel are on the run.
    "Paranoia doesn't just run in my Family, it gallops. Part of the territory that comes with being a Lord."
  • In The Discreet Princess, the titular character is being married off to the late Big Bad's Prince Charming brother. Afraid he might hold a grudge against her, she places a Sleeping Dummy in their bed. Turns out the prince doesn't hold a grudge per se... but his brother made him swear to kill her at the first opportunity. That, in fact, is one of the two Aesops stated explicitly in the story (the other is not to be a Lazy Bum).
  • Another Terry Pratchett example is in the Wizards from Discworld. Completely justified, as promotion among wizards means killing your predecessor. It's said (and paraphrased here) that when a wizard is sick of looking for deadly scorpions among his bedsheets, he's sick of life.
    • A practice halted with the rise of Ridcully to Arch-Chancellor: he's proven to be impossible to kill and, as a result, the whole smoking-boots promotion scheme has ground to a halt, leaving the wizards more interested in a good meal than a good fireballing.
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    • Also lampshaded in Reaper Man with the position of Bursar, where the only person likely to want to kill him off was someone else who derived a quiet pleasure from columns of numbers, all neatly arranged. And people like that don't (usually) go for murder.
    • Commander Vimes's paranoia increases with the price of the Assassins' Guild contracts on him...his paranoia is quite practical and minimally psychological. He often has a chat with failed would-be assassins as they work out where they went wrong and try to wriggle out of his near-fatal deathtraps. It doesn't help that he's a lifelong cop in the most cynicism-inducing city on the Disc. He enjoys it when someone tries to kill him...
    • Then there's Rincewind, who reacts to good luck with terror, since he knows it just means the universe is saving up to be really nasty to him later on. He's a favorite of Lady Luck The Lady; there's a reason the inhabitants of the Disc mostly hope the gods will leave them well enough alone.
    • Susan Sto-Helit fixes "monster under my bed" fears in children not by assuring them that there are no monsters but by giving them a big stick with which to clobber monsters in case they attack. "They didn't need to believe in monsters... but they could be made to believe in the poker."
  • F'lar from the Dragonriders of Pern series. In the first book, he was the only one who believed in a 400-year-old threat that was soon approaching, and his many efforts to prepare for it were regarded as superstition and paranoia by the rest of the world. And then it happened, and surprise, the world wasn't ready for it.
  • In Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly:
    "Why?" Gareth bleated. "What's wrong? For three days you've been running away from your own shadows..."
    "That's right," John agreed, and there was a dangerous edge to his quiet voice. "You ever think what might happen to you if your own shadow caught you? Now ride—and ride silent."
  • The Dresden Files: Harry Dresden approaches this, with good reason. In one book we learn it's contagious; his friend and sometime medic Waldo Butters puts on a bulletproof vest and grabs garlic and a cross as soon as he hears that Harry needs help.note  After all, you never know if that pretty girl asking for help is secretly a cultist being hunted by a sorcerer's ghost, or if that strikingly lovely Femme Fatale is actually the Winter Queen, or if that guy who looks like your resident paranormal consultant is actually a ghost wearing his face, or if those otherwise ordinary-looking humans are Red Court vampires...demon-possessed terrorists, body-jumping necromancers, life-sucking succubi, Navajo skinwalkers, and White Council Wardens can all look like perfectly ordinary humans in this setting.
    Dresden: Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean there isn't an invisible demon about to eat your face.
  • Given the love of assassination and other intrigue in Dune, it's no surprise that one of the first words of Gurney is a reminder to never sit with your back to a door.
  • Everyone in Duumvirate has to balance this and being able to get things done. Too little paranoia, and you take a railgun through the chest. Too much, and your organization cannot get any new members because they might be spies.
  • In the Erebus Sequence, the precautions that Rafaela took against the possibility of Golia poisoning Lucien required a lot more paranoia about the future than Lucien had, which is presumably why she didn't tell him she was feeding him poison for years. She was right, though.
  • Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp lives like this. It annoys his wife quite a bit. But that's not a problem anymore, since he slipped up with this just once...but that was enough to kill her.
  • In Good Omens, many denizens of Hell tend to be this.
    "Hastur was paranoid, which was simply a sensible and well-adjusted reaction to living in Hell, where they really were all out to get you."
    • Shadwell repeatedly demonstrates this, though he's incorrect in his assumption that Aziraphale is a demon.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Alastor "Mad Eye" Moody, to the point that he's notoriously suspected to be insane due to his tendency to see danger around every corner. And he's right. Moody has spent years working as an Auror, catching criminals and sending them to Azkaban, some of them getting out due to money or information and he's not going to let himself be caught off guard. Moody only drinks from his personal hip flask to avoid being easily poisoned, carefully inspects his food before eating it, is constantly on guard to defend himself at a moment's notice, and even has a magical eye that allows him to see in all directions and through things, including invisibility cloaks. Despite all this, the bad guys still catch him off guard.
    • Harry Potter towards the end of the series. Specifically, he manages to guess correctly that Draco is a Death Eater despite the lack of concrete evidence.
  • The Hobbit: Bard is notorious among the Laketowners for predicting all kinds of disasters, like floods and poisoned fish. When the glow of the approaching dragon is seen in Laketown, the more naive townsfolk believe that the river is turning into gold, while Bard immediately assumes that the dragon is coming. He is mocked for it, but before long it turns out he was right, and the preparations urged by Bard allow the townspeople to put up a temporary defense.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • A Peep officer in Echoes of Honor deduces that the prison planet of Hades has suffered a prisoner revolt and been taken over by its prisoners. The Hades facility is one of the most secure prison facilities in existence, it is located on a planet whose local flora and fauna cannot be eaten by humans, whose animals are large and vicious and do not know that they can not digest humans, the management and control facilities are separated from the prisoners by an ocean, there is no technology above muscle-power available to the prisoners, and the prison officers have access to orbital weaponry equal to a squadron of superdreadnoughts. He deduces this revolt because the latest courier dispatch does not include a chess move from Warden Tresca. He is absolutely correct.
    • Bodyguards, most notably Honor's armsmen, are always paranoid and frequently right. In Field of Dishonor, Honor's head armsman is uncomfortable when she changes her plans and decides to go to a restaurant, though he doesn't really think anything will happen. Halfway through the meal, half a dozen thugs come through the door and start shooting.
  • Robert Neville near the end of I Am Legend when meeting a human for the first time in a few years. He's also proven to be completely right, as it turns out she's actually one of the vampires.
  • The paper-thin James Bond parody Fission Chips (Agent 000005) from The Illuminatus! Trilogy is seen as a bit of a Bunny-Ears Lawyer by his superiors, with his obsession with BUGGER (Blowhard's Unreformed Gangsters, Goons, and Espionage Renegades) and gentleman spy antics. However, without knowing it, he's actually closer on The Illuminati's trail than anyone—including he himself—knows.
  • In Death: Alice Lingstrom from Ceremony In Death turns out to be a combination of this and just paranoid. She had been gang-raped by a Satanic cult, as well as witnessing the leaders murder a young boy in a sacrifice. Even though she left, the cult continues to harass her. She thinks one of the leaders is a shapeshifter, which is certainly not true. The cult also sent her threatening phone messages, which would certainly be cause for concern. In the end, she panics when she sees one of their illusions and runs out onto the road...right in front of an incoming car. What a brutal Kill the Cutie moment!
  • Journey to Chaos, A Mage's Power: For Kasile, no threat or conspiracy to her throne is too small or silly to ignore. She's positive that there's something brewing in the shadows and she's right but she fingers the wrong person. Her fears are exploited by Duke Selen Esrah in his Evil Plan for the throne. He uses her paranoia to paint the Ceihan Ambassador, and when she jumps into action, accuse her of being manipulated by someone else with designs for the throne.
  • ARM, Earth's State Sec in Larry Niven's Known Space universe, prefer to employ paranoid schizophrenics. They're implied to be responsible for the ease at which humanity's "unarmed" starships before the Man-Kzin wars became weapons.
  • In The Laundry Files, the Laundry seems like a mix of excessive Cold War paranoia and modern bureaucratic nonsense, including such things as paperclip audits, ostensibly to make sure employees aren't stealing the stationery. Except the Laundry is an occult intelligence agency in a world where the Cthulhu Mythos is true and magic is real. The paperclip audits? Because of the Laws of Sympathy and Contagion, paperclips from the same batch can be used to track one another, so an errant paperclip lost on the way home could be used to locate other top secret documents and give away secret locations.
  • Errtu from R. A. Salvatore's The Legend of Drizzt novels is also viciously paranoid, believing that anything bad happening to him is evidence of some sort of conspiracy against him. Given that he's a balor living in the Abyss, he's not too far off the mark.
  • In the Weatherlight Saga of the Magic: The Gathering novels, the powerful planeswalker Urza plots for a millennium to defend against invasion by the Phyrexians. He's definitely crazy, and everyone assumes he's just being paranoid. But when the Phyrexians show up by the million and start killing people, he's the one who leads the (barely) successful salvation of the world.
  • In The Millennium Trilogy, Lisbeth is bitter to extreme; she claims there was a government conspiracy which suppressed the events of her father accident and discredited her to keep people from taking her seriously. As a result she refuses to co-operate with anyone in the medical profession. Many think she was over reacting or actually is crazy, but she's right.
  • In The Mortal Instruments, Alec, after finding out a bit of Magnus's romantic past, is shocked by how many people and the kinds of people (namely the various species and genders) his boyfriend has been with. Needless to say, he becomes a bit paranoid about it. Later that day, they are at a party with a group of their friends and Magnus mentions to a werewolf boy they had just met that he once knew the werewolf that founded the organization the boy was part of. Alec, who had been quietly sulking until this point coldly asks, "Did you sleep with him, too?" This comes off sounding like an overreaction and paranoia about someone casually mentioned as an icebreaker. That is, until you read Clockwork Prince, where it is revealed that Magnus was indeed involved with him at some point. The author stated that she did this to show that Alec had a right to be paranoid about Magnus's romantic past.
  • Lawrence Watt-Evans wrote a fantasy short-short story "Paranoid Fantasy #1" which features a protagonist who goes through a whole series of elaborate protection rituals as part of his daily routine, then bumps into his obnoxious and unprepared neighbor, who immediately gets set upon, trussed up and hauled away by a band of cackling trolls and gargoyles. The protagonist then mentally comments that these kidnappers are the easy threat to deal with, and the really bad stuff comes out at night...
  • In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian starts out improperly paranoid about his portrait. But he becomes very Properly Paranoid indeed the moment that James Vane shows up.
  • Many of Thomas Pynchon's characters fall under this trope. Every single character in Gravity’s Rainbow to some extent, but subverted in Slothrop, whose knowledge of many conspiracy theories leads him to create imaginary ones in his head, suspect everyone he knows and eventually lose his mind.
  • Safehold:
    • In the first book, Zhaspahr Clyntahn, Grand Inquisitor of the corrupt Church of God Awaiting (which should tell you all you need to know), convinces his fellow church leaders to launch an attack on the kingdom of Charis out of a paranoid delusion that the innovative nation is out to subvert the church's will. Though, as Charisian Archbishop Maikel Staynair lampshades, Clyntahn is actually correct about this, as this is the goal of the Brotherhood of St. Zherneau.
    • The Brotherhood of St. Zherneau themselves can also be considered this. Given that they're the only known holders of the true origins of Safehold's people in a world that's been raised to view high technology as either evil or the powers of the Archangels, the Brethren are frequently remarked to be "insanely" cautious about who they'll authorize to be let into the Inner Circle. But as much as the protagonists gripe about it, not once is their caution said to be unwarranted.
    • Book 10 mentions Anton Sugawara, the anthropologist who first postulated the existence of the Gbaba, the Absolute Xenophobe species who drove humanity to the point of needing to establish the Lost Colony of Safehold in the first place. It's mentioned that most people, in both the general public and the government, didn't believe his theory. At least, the government didn't publicly believe his theory, while quietly beginning to turn their navy into a real military force, and appointing Sugawara the first Navy Minister.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events is all about this, seeing as Olaf is the Baudelaires' Implacable Man. As Klaus put it regularly for the adults: "We see him everywhere because he is everywhere."
    • In addition, one of their foster relatives was an extremely paranoid woman who avoids using various things because of various grave safety hazards that would only occur in ridiculously specific scenarios. Let's just say that after a storm that virtually destroyed her house shortly after she was kidnapped by Olaf, her paranoia about these things is perfectly justified... at least in the film version.
  • Bean does this in Shadow of the Hegemon and Shadow Puppets, to the point where it almost becomes funny. He writes cryptic, hidden-meaning-filled messages to allies, encodes them, then encrypts and password-protects the emails themselves. And then changes email address every few days, between migrations from city to city. He gets his closest friends to do this as well, and it turns out to be for good reason: the moment one of them tries flying under their own name, their plane is shot down.
    • One example is when he and Petra are going their separate ways by taxi. Bean notices three taxis in line, but doesn't like the look of the first two drivers, and insists that Petra take the third one, whose driver wears a friendly smile. He takes one of the other two himself. Turns out that, yes, the drivers of the first two cabs were agents of his enemy, and try to kill him. The driver of the third cab was an agent as well, but of someone friendly to Bean and Petra, so she's taken to a safe place.
  • Sherlock Holmes is careful to check any packages he might receive in the mail, which turns out to be a very wise decision when Culverton Smith sends him a spring box in an attempt to infect him with a deadly disease.
  • In The Sister Verse and the Talons of Ruin, John believes he's constantly being watched by someone or something. He is, and it's possessing him.
  • Jerusha PalaThion, the Hegemony's police commander on Tiamat in The Snow Queen Series, is convinced that the eponymous character is targeting her personally, in an effort to break her. At times, PalaThion almost manages to convince herself she's being irrational, as she can see no reason Arienrhod would do such a thing. But Arienrhod has her reasons, and PalaThion is right.
  • The title character from the story "The Vigilant Rabbit" from David Sedaris' Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk thinks that he's this. There's a deconstruction/subversion in that he keeps harmless but inquisitive animals out of the territory he's supposedly protecting—doing so on point of death or maiming—but doesn't figure on the real dangers that appear at the end.
  • Star Wars Legends: By the tail end of Galaxy of Fear, Zak Arranda has understandably become wary and convinced of the danger in situations that appear safe. His sister feels less so, just because she's Force-Sensitive and is usually warned. In a contrast from the early books, it becomes Tash who wants to take some pleasure in wherever they are now, and Zak who is wary and anxious. Who's right is up in the air—Tash is perfectly ready to accept that strange things are real and isn't careless of her brother's fears.
  • Tairen Soul: In Lord of the Fading Lands, upon beginning to court Ellysetta, Rain insists that she keep a squadron of Fey soldiers near her at all times. Ellysetta — whose life was peaceful and completely ordinary just hours ago — protests, claiming that she can't possibly be in that much danger. And then the assassins start coming. And the evil mages. And her best friend, who is now Brainwashed and Crazy... Additionally, Rain's lifeforce is tied closely to Ellysetta's, so even if she didn't have people out for her blood, she would be still be hunted by Eld who wanted to off him.
    • Gaelen refuses to abstain from wielding Azrahn, citing that it could mean the difference between Ellysetta's life or death. The other Fey despise him for this, but come the second book's finale the fact that he uses Azrahn and her attackers don't is the only thing that saves her life.
    • King Dorian tests his closest advisers and family for mage marksnote , something his wife is deeply insulted by. Not all of them pass the test.
  • Taken to an almost comical extreme in This Alien Shore by C.S. Friedman. The only people who're paranoid enough to pilot a spaceship into hyperspace and come back alive are functionally insane, and in our own dimension they require massive amounts of medication to do more than lie on the floor whimpering.
  • Tortall Universe: In Trickster's Choice, Aly insists that Mequen keep a sword by his bedside — just in case the nobles visiting plan to assassinate him — ignoring his protests that doing so is rude and unnecessary. Mequen still dies in the ensuing battle, but Sarai is able to use the sword to save the rest of their family.
  • Azania in Victoria is basically "feminazi" in a literal sense, a Lady Land whose politics are fascist, militarist, paranoid and misandrist. They are, however, entirely justified by events, in that there is indeed an international conspiracy to isolate, invade and destroy their country being fomented by their arch-enemies, the Christian fundamentalists in the Northern Confederation, who find the very existence of a "feminist" state intolerable. And then they need every bit of internal security and armaments they have in the struggle against the invaders.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Commissar Ciaphas Cainnote , of his self-titled series, is a stunning endorsement of this trope, as the only reason he hasn't been killed hundreds of times is that he always suspects something more sinister lurking under the surface, and he is always correct. In his very first appearance even, the short story "Fight or Flight", he looks at a cult of Genestealers several star systems away and loss of communications with a nearby fleet and immediately thinks "incoming Tyranids", his preparations preventing the planet being eaten long enough for the fleet to arrive and kill all the bugs.
  • In the historical novel Wings of Dawn: If Lord Hawkwood would just stop going through the I Know You Know I Know routine, he and Thomas could've joined forces and solved each others' problems a lot sooner. It doesn't hurt to be cautious when you're the only person you can trust to keep the Dark Ages from lasting indefinitely, though.
  • The Zombie Survival Guide points out that being Crazy-Prepared to the point of paranoia isn't a bad thing in the midst of an actual Zombie Apocalypse. To quote the book, "It's one thing to believe that everyone is out to get you. Quite another when it's actually true."
  • Vernor Vinge's Zones of Thought: In A Deepness in the Sky, Sherkaner Underhill thinks that aliens from outer space are influencing world politics by altering information as it flows through the internet. To combat this, he sets up an intelligence division that consists only of his immediate family and who only communicate to each other in person, and pretends to go senile so nobody takes him seriously.


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