Sci-fi shows are notorious for spanning published spin-offs. These range from reference books, to programme guides, to novelisations and even fan-fiction. However, these are often shoddy, with poor research and lazy writing. This accusation can not be levelled against Red Dwarf, which is usually just as good on the page as it is on the screen. Here, we take a quick look at all the books available, as well as a fair number of related releases.
Yes, novels. Not novelisations of TV episodes, but real and actual novels. In these, Grant and/or Naylor build on the ideas first mooted on the telly, and flesh them out into fuller, more definitive adventures. The characters are given the opportunity to expand, and the plots are allowed to go places that a BBC sit-com budget won’t allow.
Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers – Grant Naylor
A quick word on the title of this book. It’s often given as simply Red Dwarf in ‘also available’ lists and such like, and even in the Red Dwarf Omnibus. The confusion arises from the cover of the book, which shows a road sign (well, a space sign), displaying the legend “Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers”, even though this is not actually the book’s title. However, we always refer to the book as Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers (or IWCD), as do most fans. It avoids confusion, plus it’s quite a nice title anyway.
Christ, that paragraph was dull. Anyway, the book, whatever you want to call it, was first published in paperback by Penguin Books in 1989 (before Series III hit the screens), with the hardback release by Chivers Press coming two years later. BBC Books were interested in the novel, but Grant Naylor feared that people would think the book was just a TV-tie-in if it went under the BBC banner, rather than a piece of work in its own right.
The novel borrows ideas from the episodes The End, Future Echoes, Me², Kryten and Better Than Life. The first section, ‘Your own death, and how to cope with it’, sets up the scenario, with Lister being sent into stasis, the crew being wiped out, Rimmer being revived and The Cat being discovered. However, we get much more than this, as the book picks up from a far earlier point than the series. We see Lister before he joins the Space Corps, trying to get by on Mimas with a passport in the name of Emily Berkinstein. We see his mundane life as part of Rimmer’s Zed Shift, and we see his all-to-brief relationship with Kochanski.
In the second section, ‘Alone in a Godless universe, and out of Shake ‘n’ Vac’, the crew face a number of perils and adventures, such as the ship breaking the light barrier, causing glimpses of the future to emerge; recieving a distress call from a crashed ship, only to discover the only survivor is a demented android; and Rimmer creating a double of himself, only to discover he is his own worst enemy. Here, the action diverges from the series, as Kryten reveals that the Nova 5 is fitted with a duality jump drive, which could allow the crew to get back to Earth within weeks.
This they do, in the final section, ‘Earth’. Lister sets up home in the fictional town of Bedford Falls, Rimmer becomes a multi-billionaire and The Cat owns his own castle in Denmark, complete with his own personal fleet of valkyries. However, all is not what it seems. With Kryten’s help, Lister concludes that they’re all playing Better Than Life – the computer game that detects all your fantasies and makes them come true. However, this is a more sinister version to that shown in the TV episode; the player isn’t aware that they’re in the game, making it much more addictive and harder to escape. While in the game, the player’s body gets weaker, until they die. Wah! Fortunately, all the crew need to do is imagine an exit and pass through it…
As I’ve said, events that transpire in the books are totally different to those in the series. Grant Naylor decided to correct anything in the series that they were unhappy with, the most famous examples being Lister’s relationship with Kochanski and the identity of his relative that is destined to be killed in the future. It’s best to see the books as being set in a parallel dimension to the series, so when we see two things that contradict eachother, it’s not an issue. However, we can’t be sure if events which we only see in one medium also take place in the other. In Ouroboros, Lister states that Kryten killed the crew of the Nova 5, yet there is no prior mention of this in the series, only in Infinity. What else does this apply to? We just don’t know.
Better Than Life – Grant Naylor
Yep, it’s definately called Better Than Life. It was released in hardback by Viking Books in 1990 (betwixt Series III and IV), and in paperback by Penguin Books in 1991. A number of changes had taken place in the TV series at this point, such as the crew moving to the Officer’s Quarters and, most importantly, Holly changing gender. Neither of these things were mentioned in the book, presumably because the factors that lead to the changes in the series (the sets being too grey, Norman Lovett quitting) didn’t apply to the printed medium. Don’t forget that Kryten was already a regular character in Infinity, so there was no need for him to be rescued from a crashed space bike.
The book continues with the ideas from the TV episode Better Than Life, as well as developing the concepts of Backwards, Marooned and Polymorph. We rejoin the crew in the first section, ‘Game Over’, while they are still trapped in the game Better Than Life. The lure of their perfect world is too much, and none of them can face leaving. Not even Kryten, who is trapped in a mountain of dirty dishes. However, when Rimmer’s mind rebels, all the other fantasies get ruined, leaving them no option but to return to the real world.
However, reality does not go smoothly. While the crew have been away, Holly activates Talkie Toaster, who convinces him to use intelligence compression to become a genius again. However, there is a miscalculation, and Holly has just minutes to live, so he shuts himself off. In ‘She Rides’, the second section of the book, the direction-less Red Dwarf finds itself in the path of a planet. Holly is reactivated, and comes up with a plan that Lister likens to playing pool with planets. He and Rimmer go off in Starbug, and Lister attempts the process himself. He succeeds, but Starbug gets hit by the cue ball, causing them to be, um, marooned.
Back on Red Dwarf, the ship is being sucked into a black hole. They escape, but the time dilation means that when they return to rescue Lister from Garbage World (also the name of the section), he is 61 years old. Even worse, when they return to Red Dwarf, they inadvertantly take a polymorph with them. After a pitched battle, Lister dies of a heart attack. However, Holly is at hand to come up with a solution. In the final part, ‘The end, and after’, Lister is dropped off on a version of Earth where time runs backwards, where he lives happily with a resurrected Kochanski.
Note the similarity between sections of the book and White Hole, an episode from Series IV. This is the only instance where a plot that originally appeared in novel form has been transformed into a television episode.
Last Human – Doug Naylor
This book was finally released in 1995, in both hardback and paperback formats. However, the novel’s history is remarkably interesting. In early 1993, Red Dwarf Smegazine announced Red Dwarf III, a sequel to Better Than Life, to be written by Grant Naylor. The title was later changed to The Last Human, which was set to be released in October 1993. However, the release was cancelled, with no official explanation given. Two years later, the book emerged, with the title changed to Last Human, and being credited as written by Doug Naylor. In the acknowedgement at the front of the book, Doug reveals that Rob “expressed a desire to write a Red Dwarf novel of his own”, in the Summer of 1993. Weird. We have no idea how much of The Last Human was written, and indeed what happened to the material. Was it incorporated into Last Human and Backwards? Was it left to rot on someone’s hard drive? Fuck knows.
The book itself is much darker than the previous two books, with the emphasis on sci-fi, rather than comedy. Interestingly, Kochanski is given a starring role, pre-empting Series VII, and the action is moved to Starbug, as per Series VI, with no role for Holly. There are bits of dialogue taken from various episodes of VI, notably Lister emerging from deep sleep (Psirens), the ten o’clock changeover (Legion) and bartering with GELFs (Emohawk – Polymorph II). The idea of DNA is also expanded, as is the luck virus from Quarantine.
The book has a non-linear format, and is the only Red Dwarf novel to have one. There is a prologue, dramatising the birth of the first human. Then, a short opening section, Cyberia, sees Lister sent to a prison colony, for unspecified crimes against the universe. In the second section, Time Fork, Starbug enters a parallel dimension, and discovers the wreck of another Starbug. The only crew-member present is Kochanski, who reveals that her Lister is missing, before snuffing it. The crew then endeavour to find the alternate Lister, which culminates in helping him to escape from Cyberia (yes, it was the alternate version we saw in the first section. Do keep up).
However, the alternate Lister turns out to be a pretty sick fucker indeed. He buries Our Lister alive, unbeknownst to Our Crew, who take him aboard Starbug. However, Kryten soon discovers the truth, and Evil Lister is taken away by GELFs. Meanwhile, Our Lister is trapped in Cyberia. However, he is given a way out, by becoming part of a suicide team, whose bodies will form part of a new planet, necessitated by the presence of The Rage (also the name of the final section), a sentient electrical storm that kills its victims ruthlessly and absorbs their soul as energy.
Meanwhile meanwhile, Michael McGruder, son of Yvonne, is part of the team piloting the Wildflower, the ship which carries a DNA modifying machine. The ship crashes somewhere in deep space, and is discovered by the crew. Kryten uses it to become human, but feels disenchanted by his new status, etc. Anyway, he gets turned back, and the crew use the luck virus, also found on the Wildflower, to find Our Lister. With the help of a shape-shifting GELF called Reketebn, he escaped the suicide mission, and is now living on a barren planet with, amongst others, Michael McGruder. McGruder is under the misapprehension that his father, one Arnold Rimmer, is a hero, so when Daddy turns up to rescue Our Lister, he’s sorely disappointed.
As well as the problem of The Rage, which has drained Starbug’s power, Our Crew also have to fight against Evil Lister, who is discovered lurking on board. After shooting Our Lister’s knackers and near-destroying Rimmer’s lightbee, Evil Lister is taken by The Rage. Rimmer, who is too weak to project himself, comes up with a solution to The Rage: infecting it with the Oblivion Virus, which would also completely destroy Rimmer. He dies a hero, and the crew escape. They use the DNA modifier to terraform a perfect planet, and Lister and Kochanski start to rebuild the human race. Awww.
Backwards – Rob Grant
Rob Grant’s alternate sequel to Better Than Life arrived a year later, in both hardback and paperback formats. Think of this as an alternate strand on the alternate plane of reality that is the Red Dwarf novels. If you take our advice, you’ll not bother trying to debate which is the ‘proper’ version of the story; just think of parallel dimensions and that. Although the action takes place on Starbug, Holly does appear briefly in Backwards. Ideas are expanded from Dimension Jump and Gunmen of the Apocalypse, as well as, um, Backwards.
Placed at the beginning, middle and end of the book are tales from Rimmer’s childhood. ‘Every Good Boy…’ tells the story of the decision of whether or not to keep Rimmer back a year at school, much like the beginning of Dimension Jump. ‘The Difference – 1’ and ‘The Difference – 2’ show a sports day race in Arnold’s dimension, and a sports day race in Ace’s dimension. This is a simply perfect way of illustrating the gulf between the two characters.
The action in the opening sections flits between the crew and Ace. ‘Reverse Universe’ shows Lister, on the run from the law, reunited with his crewmates. By the time they return to Starbug, they have missed their flight window to return to their own universe, and won’t get another one for twelve years. Ulp! A quick switch to ‘Smoke Me A Kipper, I’ll Be Back For Breakfast’ shows Ace preparing for his maiden voyage in Wildfire, the dimension-jumping craft. However, a burnt-out version of the ship arrives at the test base, which rather freaks them out. Ace soon works out the problem, and takes off for dimensions new.
‘Back to Backworld’, and Lister and The Cat have de-aged into adolescants. Despite this, they manage to successfully take off, although when they return to their own universe, Red Dwarf is not there. In ‘Nipple-sized Pastry Cutters, Gonad Electrocution Kits and Easy-listenin’ Music’, we learn that the ship has been taken over by Aganoids, a horrible race of Simulants who end up destroying eachother in a race to be ‘The One’ to torture the soon-to-return humans. Only two survive. Meanwhile, Ace’s ship materialises very close to Starbug, nearly destroying the thing in the process. Lister goes outside to repair the damage, only to be greeted by Pizzak’Rapp, an aganoid who was ejected into space and had the enormous fortune to land on Starbug. Ace takes him out, but is killed in the process.
Next, Djuhn’Keep, another aganoid gets on board. The crew deal with him by shooting a hole in Starbug’s hull, thus ejecting him into space. However, he manages to infect Starbug’s navicomp with the Armaggedon virus. In the final section, ‘High Midnight’ (the original title of Gunmen), Kryten contracts the virus himself, and it manifests as a Western dream, etc. Rob Grant’s sick sense of humour comes into play here, as the crew get rather brutally injured in the game. Kryten eventually defeats the virus, but is also killed, as is Rimmer, whose lightbee became infected. What’s more, it’s too late to save the ‘Bug. Lister and The Cat manage to escape in the Wildfire, and jump to a dimension where they were killed in Better Than Life, but Kryten and Rimmer survive.
Irritatingly, Backwards ends on a cliffhanger of sorts. The ‘new’ Rimmer proclaims: “You picked a rare old time to show up. We’re about to be…”, before the ‘new’ Kryten shuts him up. Will this ever be added to? Rob Grant has said that he plans to write a sequel to Backwards, but we’ve heard nothing since. Also, Doug has hinted that he might resolve the cliffhanger to Only The Good… in book form, but we’ve heard nothing since. It seems, for the time being, that the Red Dwarf novels end here. Wah!