Red Dwarf is blessed with a good number of tie in books, both official and unofficial, but not quite *enough* to have any tension over which will be included or not included in a list such as this. As such, they’re pretty much all here, but since it’s been a while since we’ve talked about any of them in any great details we thought it would be worth taking stock of the pulped tree based tie-ins and sort out the good from the garbage. As always this is just my opinion and, to be perfectly honest, I’ve taken more than a few liberties with the ordering anyway so don’t let it worry you too much.
That all said and done, here’s my top 10:
10. Red Dwarf Quiz Book
Nicky Hooks and Sharon Burnett (Penguin Books, 1994)
Back when I first joined on the online Dwarf community one of my favourite activities was visiting the official WebBoard chatroom and engaging in a trivia battle with djouroboros (this own parish’s Danny Stephenson). Being quizzed on something you hold dear to your heart is something that disgraceful geeks like us love and this quiz book has provided hours of entertainment for me, whether it’s idly flicking through or shouting out questions during drunken nights with friends. The collation of all this knowledge is a impressive feat from authors Hooks and Burnett and to celebrate here are a few choice questions to occupy your brain while you pretend to enjoy the rest of this article. NO CHEATING:
1. Which letter is being painted in the opening credits?
2. Who was Holly’s first love?
9. Scenes from the Dwarf
Rob Grant and Doug Naylor (Penguin Books, 1996)
Scenes From The Dwarf is a fairly unremarkable book and a bastard child of the main ‘Soup‘ script releases. It presents a cut down, dinky take on the traditional script book, focusing on individual scenes rather than whole episodes. On it’s own in a nice addition to any collection, although you can’t imagine picking it up and flicking through it like you would a book of full scripts, but what’s notable about Scenes is this little bugger went through a period of time where it was elevated well above its station.
For reasons probably to do with a limited print run, it became both hugely sought after and ridiculously expensive to get your hands on, making it somewhat of a collectors item, turning usually stable people into insane idiots. In fact, I distinctly remember Big Brother‘s Ian Symes once buying a copy from Grant Naylor Productions’ Seb Patrick for upwards of £40. The twat.
8. Red Dwarf Programme Guide (All Editions)
Chris Howarth & Steve Lyons (Virgin Books, 1993 / 1995 / 1997 / 2000)
We’ve recently seen a titanic effort from G&T forum member Karnie (aka Paul Giachetti) collating and presenting a wealth of information about Red Dwarf and its universe in the two Total Immersion books released last year. Before that, though, came the Programme Guides. Over four editions Howarth and Lyons compiled a treasure trove of episode guides and trivia before the internet and fansites got their grubby hands on the task, and they provided hours of entertaining reading for someone like myself who found they wanted to absorb every single piece of information about the show in the late 90s.
As an encyclopaedia it very much succeeds, focusing purely on the facts of the show and the books, presenting an extensive article on the beginnings and going on to detail every character and episode, supported by quotes from writers and cast and having a very decent stab of creating a comprehensive A-Z of the universe, its concepts, objects and characters. The episode guide gives each episode a nice bullet point list of trivia, which probably represents the most valuable aspect of the book, collecting side knowledge of the production into one place for the first time.
As expected, it doesn’t always hit the mark, with some of the trivia points in the episode guide being later revealed to be apocryphal, and a quite bizarre distaste towards the Smeg Ups permeating certain sections, but it can’t be denied the Programme Guides represent a very impressive body of work and one that was invaluable to many young Red Dwarf fans hungry for knowledge in a pre-DVD world.
7. The Official Red Dwarf Companion
Bruce Dessau (Titan Books, 1992)
The official counterpoint to the Programme Guides is 1992’s Official Companion, by the Quite Well Known journalist Bruce Dessau. Representing as it does the first big popularity peak of the show, The Official Companion is a beautifully produced trip through the five ‘seasons’ of Red Dwarf, giving a focused summary of each character and episode, as well general production from script to shoot and an especially lovely visual effects section.
Coming from the perspective of a journalist hired to do a job, rather than a set of fans slavishly putting to paper everything they can think of, the Companion is very succinct and (mostly) factual, and the access to production photographs and concept art is absolutely unmatched by anything else available at the time. You could get your money’s worth out of this book simply by flicking through and gazing lovingly at the pictures of the set and actors just before or after the camera starts rolling or, in one of my favourites, Mike Tucker and Nick Kool’s happy faces as they fondle their Despair Squid.
6. Primordial Soup (and Son thereof)
Grant Naylor (Penguin Books, 1993 / Penguin Books, 1996)
Despite featuring better source material than the script book at no. 5, the Soups are more straightforward in their presentations, picking out stand-out episodes, and little in the way of extra material (save for an always excellent Grant Naylor introduction). What’s notable about them is the fact Primordial Soup actually served as a debut for Psirens, as it was published before its first airing due to a broadcast delay. Basically, the 90s equivalent of an over zealous DVD store sending out quick releases of series before the finale has even aired.
I’m massively fond of the first book specifically, as it gave me an insight (a common theme of the best of the factual Red Dwarf spin off books) into the script writing process, snippets of cut lines and even learning the language of the scripts themselves.
I still only read them once, mind.
5. Red Dwarf VIII: The Official Book
Doug Naylor (Virgin Books, 1999)
Before the onset of ‘Chinese’ vending machines and entirely disposable women, series VIII was probably the most controversial topic in fandom. Some hated the new set-up, the jokes and performances, and others were absolutely wrong in every conceivable way. So it’s curious that it’s a series that produced one of the best spin-off books. In the same way that the Series VIII or Bodysnatcher DVDs are still excellent pieces of work regardless of the bulk of the content, this Series VIII script book provides a rare (at the time) look into the production process from Doug Naylor’s point of view. Although it’s a shame that it’s the source of the notorious comments about Red Dwarf VIII having the same budget as dinnerladies, it’s the first time challenges like the budget were really talked about. When you learn that the Dinosaur model was bought for £150, suddenly a few things start to make more sense.
Each episode features a lengthy introduction from Doug and there are many production shots littered throughout, plus all the deleted lines and scenes are included and highlighted. It’s a lovingly put together and incredibly worthwhile companion to the series, and it really would be fantastic to see something similar done for the other series. It beats the Soups for production, even if it doesn’t beat them on scripts.
4. The Novels (Last Human / Backwards)
Doug Naylor / Rob Grant (Penguin Books, 1995 / Penguin Books, 1996)
And here we are at number 4 and the first major contrivance of my list. Obviously the novels are a big part of this rundown, but I didn’t want them to dominate it so I’ve split them into their two distinct groups. First up we have the solo novels – Doug Naylor’s Last Human and Rob Grant’s Backwards. We’ve written many articles on the novels in the past and these two are probably the most interesting entries in the series, showing for the first time the individual visions Rob and Doug both have for the series, post-split.
In my opinion, Last Human (not to be confused with the non-existent ‘The Last Human‘ which was the aborted third Grant Naylor novel) still represents Doug’s finest solo Dwarf (although parts of series X come very close to this). Of the two, this is undoubtedly the most ambitious book, only vaguely following on from the events of Better Than Life and doing a fantastic job of taking the series and characters into entirely new situations. It’s immensely uncomfortable to be presented with the ‘evil’ Lister (and it really can’t be understated what a complete and utter prick he is), but conversely Rimmer’s story involving his son, the memory of Yvonne McGruder and his eventual – and perfect – self sacrifice is one of the character’s finest hours.
Backwards will always feel like a more direct sequel to what came before, and this probably leads to its biggest weakness. It’s my favourite of the two, but it struggles to break free of the old practice of adapting the TV series wholesale. Rob still builds substantially on that material, but it’s very telling that the whole Gunmen sequence was deemed suitable for removing entirely from the abridged audiobook, in order to keep some of the more successful adaptations in tact. The ‘Backwards‘ portion of the book definitely felt like an attempt to take Red Dwarf to new places but it sets a weird tone for the rest of the book, leaving both the Cat and Lister at 15 year olds – something that ends up feeling like a burden on the rest of the story. That said, the expansion of the Ace Rimmer story and universe is what makes this book what it is. I could have happily read an entire book featuring Ace and Spanners, and while the show explained adequately why two such radically different people could spring from one decision, the book takes this to the next level with the beautiful Prologue, Midlogue and Epilogue, covering the decisive moments in young Arnold’s life.
What’s clear with both of these novels is that, when left to their own devices, both writers bloody love Rimmer. And quite right, too.
3. The Making of Red Dwarf
Joe Nazzaro (Penguin Books, 1994)
Two years after the release of The Official Companion comes a book that really gets the blood pumping. Where the companion was mainly a retrospective guide of the show, The Making of Red Dwarf was compiled by Joe Nazzaro to focus pretty much entirely on the Emmy Award winning Gunmen of the Apocalypse. While it’s not a huge book, this focus allows Joe to go into a great amount of detail of every single step of the production process.
I’ve mentioned that a lot of the factual books on this list have ended up being superseded by the eventual release of the DVDs and their comprehensive documentaries, and this is particularly true of The Making Of because it touches on pretty much everything you’d see in The Starbuggers, but regardless, you could read it today and still learn something new. The best example of this is the inclusion of the studio floor plan for the episode, showing where the audience was seated, the main Starbug sets all joined together from cockpit, to mid section to kitchen, and the ‘guest set’ (the saloon interior for this episode) off to the side. That’s to say nothing of the unique production and set photos, storyboard to final shot comparisons and a tonne of interviews.
As a snapshot of the ridiculous amount of effort and skill that goes into making a single episode of Red Dwarf, nothing does it better than The Making Of.
2. The Man in the Rubber Mask
Robert Llewellyn (Penguin Books, 1994)
As with most of these books, I’m ranking them by the impact they had on an adolescent Red Dwarf fan in the 90s, clamouring for any amount of new information he can on his favorite show. Robert Llewellyn’s autobiographical account of his time on Red Dwarf from 1989 up to 1993 (until the new revision some 18 years later) is the absolute motherload of behind-the-scenes goodness, all told from the actor’s unique perspective. There’s a fascinating look into how the make-up and special effects department joined forces to create Kryten’s mask and suit, set against a backdrop of Robert’s inability to get an erection, an amusing insight into the true personalities of his co-stars, legendary accounts of Rob and Doug’s processes and, most importantly, one of the first, and for many years only, detailed account of just whatever the hell Red Dwarf USA was. The upset and inner turmoil caused by his decision to take the job in USA, while his co-stars remained uninvolved, is one of the highlights of book, beaten only by the amazing anecdotes of his time in LA and the ridiculous situations surrounding the filming of the pilot.
A lot of the stories have since been superseded (and in some cases down right contradicted – it turns out our Bobby does enjoy the odd embellishment here and there) by the DVD documentaries, TMITRM‘s (TMITRM!) value as a historical record of the early days of this ridiculous TV show remains as valuable as ever.
1. The Novels (Red Dwarf / Better Than Life)
Grant Naylor (Penguin Books, 1989 / Penguin Books, 1991)
Of course, number 1 on any list of Red Dwarf books has to finish with the original novels. No doubt inspired by Douglas Adams and his multiple versions of Hitchhikers, Rob and Doug started from the beginning to revisit the origin of the show and spin the story off into its own direction, and the results are damn near perfect Red Dwarf novels.
It’s obvious from the very first chapter that the intention wasn’t to just simply retell the story, but expand on the universe and the characters in a way that can only be suited to the written word. In The End we first meet Rimmer and Lister walking down a corridor set built from wood and Paul Montague’s dusty memories; in the novel Red Dwarf we first meet Rimmer and Lister as the latter is giving the former a lift in a stolen space hopper, careering through the bustling streets of the lowliest districts of Mimas. Same characters, same Universe but everything is bigger, richer and more detailed – events that might’ve been relegated to bunk room reminiscing if they were included in the show, are here given their own life. No one approach is better, but the point remains these books are more than a simple retelling.
Ironically, that can also lead to one their biggest flaws. When you’re spending most of your time creating this unique feeling version of the universe, extended periods of verbatim adaptation from a TV episode can stick out somewhat, but this is a small problem when you’re treated to an extended scene of Petersen vomiting copiously in the shadow of a Holly’s gargantuan visage, or a suicide told from the perspective of a rubber plant. In fact, the pre-accident chapters in the first book are by far the strongest, and if I was to pick another hole in the novels it’s that after that, we don’t have much time enjoying the status quo of a post-accident Red Dwarf until everything goes so completely and utterly to shit for everyone involved, and you find most of your time is being spent in Better Than Life wondering whether what you’re reading is perhaps a little too detached from the TV show.
The fact that I’ve spent the last paragraph writing about flaws with what are supposedly the best Red Dwarf books does lead me to a general point for this whole article, though; the TV show is king, and everything listed here has the almost impossible job of living up to the show that is entirely responsible for their existence – even the novels. Everything listed above does at least something to live up to that, and that now brings us neatly to the books that fall somewhat short.
5. A Question of Smeg
Nicky Hooks and Sharon Burnett (Penguin Books, 1997)
Oh look at this, aren’t I clever. I’ll admit that coming up with five bad Red Dwarf books wasn’t particularly easy. There are the three cast iron contenders and after that it gets very difficult. The second Red Dwarf quiz book makes this list because of my own pettiness regarding the inclusion of Series VII, but also to represent the sides of the quiz book format that I just don’t like. Awkward flicking back and forth between question and answers, ridiculous questions no one could ever possibly hope to know the answer to, out and out factual errors, being reminded you actually know fuck all about the show you claim to be obsessed with.
I’m a terrible person and this is a very poor start to my Low list. Let’s brighten the mood with a little bizarre racism, shall we?
4. Red Dwarf: The Role Playing Game
Todd Downing, Samantha Downing et al, (Deep7, 2004)
During a particular lull in book based merchandise both official and unofficial, Deep7 created a rule book for a traditional style paper RPG, putting considerable work into expanding the Red Dwarf universe into something that can be inhabited by a group of players. It’s the expanded universe aspect that is the most notable, with all new concepts and character types supported by a tonne of original artwork. The most pressing concern in a game such as this is the creation of a new cast of characters, leading to the possibly genius / possibly questionable decision to expand the cast of super evolved animals from cats and dogs into rats, rabbits and, bizarrely, iguanas depicted as Rastafarians.
And despite the great effort taken, and the impressive supporting artwork, it’s the iguana entry that ended up relegating the RPG to the shit list. I’ll say nothing more but to quote you a few choice extracts and allow you to draw your own conclusions:
They don’t concern themselves with other beings’ standards of body odor … Their living quarters are usually akin to a third world trailer park … Yes and no questions are probably the best kind to ask of an Iguana with any hope of instant reply (and it will almost always be punctuated with “mon” – in a West Indies accent)
3. Red Dwarf Space Corps Survival Manual
Paul Alexander (Mandarin, 1996)
It is presented as the Survival Manual issued to JMC crew after completing basic training, and is written by Colonel Mike ‘Mad Dog’ O’Hagan. Ultimately it actually serves as a sort of child-like exercise book with various questions filled in by the VII era crew.
I appreciate the effort to give some extra personality to the JMC (and actually this is one of the first instances of the Corporation being presented as insane clowns, rather than any sort of serious organisation) and a lot of the stuff is ok, but it can’t escape the fact that it’s added fiction, involving the show’s characters, and it’s clearly not written by Rob or Doug. Character based jokes are basic at best (Lister is rather fond of curry and lager, Kochanski is organised and professional, the Cat is a child etc.) and that’s the main failing that the book just can’t get past. Despite some problems, at least the RPG forged a new path away from the main characters, and I can’t help but feel that would be something that would’ve benefited the Survival Manual and removed much of the unfavourable comparison to the show.
2. Red Dwarf Log No. 1996
Paul Alexander (William Heinemann, 1995)
Poor Paul Alexander. Over the years he’s taken a great deal of the flak for the unpopular Series VII, representing as he does the most prominent example of a new writer being brought in to replace the considerable gap left by Rob Grant.
And here he is again, getting a kicking for one of his tie-in books. It’s ranked below the Survival Guide, purely for being less imaginative. It’s presented as some form of shared diary (quite why they’re going around filling in survival manuals and diaries together is something I’ve never really worked out), again with each character chipping in and giving us constant reminders about their most of basic of character traits.
It’s not out and out awful – nothing on this list is, really – but in such esteemed company there’s no other place for what is basically disposable fan-fiction.
1. The Log: A Dwarfer’s Guide to Everything
Craig Charles and Russell Bell (Penguin Books, 1997)
I’m sure everyone reading this will at least agree with me that we love Craig Charles, the actor. A great many of you also love Craig Charles, the poet. While we rarely see much of the latter, the former Craig has moved from inexperienced but earnest into a genuinely great actor, able to deliver great scenes such as the ‘Father and Son’ conversation.
Craig Charles the comedian, though? Well, that’s a more divisive subject, as anyone who’s seen his mid-90s stand-ups videos would probably attest. The Log is basically a book of Craig Charles jokes, desperately pretending to be in some way related to Red Dwarf. And let’s be perfectly clear, apart from the fact that Craig happens to be wearing his Lister costume in all the pictures, and it’s called ‘A Dwarfer’s Guide to Everything‘ this is not a Red Dwarf book in any way, literally or spiritually.
I’ll admit that a great deal of my hatred towards this book come from the intense disappointment I felt when I first read it, and in reality Craig Charles is an amusing person and the book isn’t all that terrible, but I really can’t stress enough that using the word “smeg” everywhere and cobbling together sci-fi themed observational material does not a Red Dwarf book make. It’s on this list because that’s what it is pretending to be – it’s placed last because it fails.
And that about does it for this edition of High & Low. It’s just left to me to reveal that the answers for the two hastily chosen questions from the Red Dwarf Quiz Book are Smeg and Your fucking mother respectively. Join us next time, when John Hoare will be sifting through the cutting room floor like some sort of deranged Denis Norden, all in the name of bringing you the best and the worst of Red Dwarf‘s deleted scenes. You can make your suggestions known in the comments below, but I wouldn’t bother because he told me the other day he hates the lot of you, and your opinions mean less than shit.