What is the story of Goodbye Strangers?
Behind the Curtain begins with a seemingly unrelated story about a spaceman, James Killjoy, suffering a nervous breakdown and leaving the planet. It shift then to a fictionalized narrative of the creation and history of the Goodbye Strangers project. As the author and his collaborators work on the project, the echoes of these individuals persist in the characters and relationships within Space Madness, a story-within-a-story set in the city of North Mural.
Within the world of Behind the Curtain, the Goodbye Strangers project takes off and eventually becomes a pop-culture phenomenon, as the team works towards Strangers: V.H.Z., a project set in a fictional future where strangers are discovered by the larger world and made into inert "drone units" via "extrusion", and are used to facilitate rapid technological advancements.
The events, though fictional, nonetheless echo reality. The team suffers some breakdown and disbands, and the creator is disgraced and left outcast. The author's need to detach from reality creates Default - a character who is in need of his own escape, following the exile from some unspoken falling out with Fifi, some now larger-than-life personification of guilt and retribution.
Shortly after his disgrade, the author of Goodbye Strangers is kidnapped by the Partisans, a group of authors and other creatives who state that strangers are real, and that they are actual sensitives. They demand to know how and why their works were included in Primer, and where the author got his information from. The author is interrogated and interviewed, with these interrogations intersecting with the "Walltown" module. The creator is thereafter unheard from.
The world of Behind the Curtain is then revealed to be much more advanced in technology than previously stated, with James Killjoy's scientific work influencing this narrative's history, as well. The Goodbye Strangers project, now absent of its original creators, is made part of the "Mirinet" advertising network, leading into a future that looks nearly identical the V.H.Z. future.
Default, meanwhile, loses himself within the narrative of Space Madness, a fantasy crafted to his every desire. Within North Mural, Default works on a collaged-together sequence of disparate creative material (which we never see, but which can be assumed to be mirroring Primer and other referential modules), as well as Zeroworld, another story predicting the ominous V.H.Z. future.
But even this fantasy breaks down, and the story of Space Madness gets more and more twisted as it is pervaded by the author's anxiety, and fears of environmental collapse.
Default's use of psycholy allows him to discern information from outside of the Space Madness timeline and dimension, and he creates a detailed collection of novel excerpts, abstract drawings, and supplemental text which, as a whole, set up the layering of worldbuilding that his creative project requires. The reality-breaking structure, however, proves too heavy to support itself. It cannot be reconciled, and as Default uses larger and larger doses of the drug, his work falls further into its abstraction.
Default is left in a catatonic state, and his estranged boyfriend, Bracey, becomes more and more disturbed as higher drug doses seem to reveal a "larger plane" to reality, in which higher dimensional entities are able to see into his mind, and in which he exists only as trapped in a "thought prison" by some higher force - this paranoia echoing his very real nature as a fictional character.
Bracey and Default reunite after a long separation. They are shortly afterwards captured by Olivia North and Argona Cox, and placed into the Red Hell machine, leading to presumably fatal consequences. Following this finale, Olivia and Argona's scientific achievements lead the world, once more, into the V.H.Z. future.
Watching these events, however, is Valeks, a character who seems able to move between narrative dimensions. Having explored the world of the dimensionarians and meoms, he rides the megameom into Red Hell. The megameom's power allows Default and Bracey to be rescued by leaving the narrative itself. In doing so, all three manage to escape the world's destruction. The "higher dimensional entities" of Bracey's paranoias are revealed as the relationship between the author and his fictional characters, and that rather than being trapped, they're all connected to each other. The same Megameom that rescues Bracey and Default from Red Hell, then steps into the world of Behind the Curtain to rescue the author from his own assault at the hands of the Partisans; these entities, as well, being yet another echo of his internal fears and memories. They all team up together to leave the narrative entirely, integrating with the author's self that exists in the real world and outside of the project.
Still within the fictional world of Space Madness, the spaceman, James Killjoy, watches earth from high above in his spacestation. He holds a book called The Fearful Frontier, which has some unspoken and unexplained significance. The letters on the pages are revealed as Alphabetarians, and the story of Behind the Curtain is revealed as a fictionalized art project based on the past, created in the distant V.H.Z. future.
The flood washes away everything, and the story concludes.
What are the strangers?
That can be answered a number of ways; in terms of what the strangers represent on an emotional level, a particular memory comes to mind. I would describe cats as being a comfort animal for much of my life. Having stuffed cats in my room, keeping cards with cool images of cats. When I was in grade school, I remember taking the battery out of some object (a flashlight, or toy), and noticing that it was the kind with the black cat on it. I remember the sense of intense emotion; wanting to keep it, because I didn't want to throw away the image of a cat. And I felt very strange, and a bit sad when I threw it away.
This sensation is part of what the strangers feel like to me. They're not real, and even when they're not harmful, they're not "good". It might be a sign of mental illness to keep dead batteries because one doesn't want to throw out an image of a cat. But, the sadness is real.
That's sort of like the Buddhist idea of attachment leading to suffering, right?