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It’s been a little while but we’re back to finish off Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers with Part Three: Earth – a part that is as almost as short as its title. What isn’t short, however, is the discussion as Ian Symes, Danny Stephenson and Jonathan Capps gather to mull over the myriad references to It’s A Wonderful Life, the nature of reality, and the logistical challenges of spit roasting a giraffe.

DwarfCast 117 – Book Club #3: IWCD (Part Three) (135.2MB)

Once we’ve talked over Give & Take next week we’ll be back on the books with Better Than Life, Part One: Game Over so please feel free to start your discussions in the comments and we’ll be picking out some brief thoughts in our discussions when we record the next episode.

Show notes

49 comments on “DwarfCast 117 – Book Club #3: IWCD (Part Three)

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  • Ooh, about time to make my purchase of Better Than Life, then.

    But it’s illegal, highly addictive and terribly bad for your health.

  • This book was my first intro to “It’s a Wonderful Life”, so the film felt quite familiar to me when I first watched it.

    My wife and I watch the film at Xmas every year, it’s one of her favourite films. I appreciate the film is well-written, wonderfully acted and beautifully shot – but when I watch it all I see is a man who’s hopes and dreams get crushed at every turn, so i find it a bit of a bummer, really. *shrug*

  • Yes, I watch It’s A Wonderful Life without fail every Christmas, and all because I read that it’s Lister’s favourite movie and sought it out to watch for myself.

  • I appreciate the film is well-written, wonderfully acted and beautifully shot – but when I watch it all I see is a man who’s hopes and dreams get crushed at every turn, so i find it a bit of a bummer, really. *shrug*

    Yes, but it’s not about fulfilling one’s dreams, it’s about the process of coming to terms with the reality you find yourself in. George considered himself a failure because he hadn’t gone to college, or seen the world, or built skyscrapers and bridges, or shaken off the dust from his crummy little town. The film is about him realising that none of that matters – he was too wrapped up in contemplating what he hadn’t achieved to realise all that he had, until Clarence showed him. He couldn’t see all the good he’d done for other people, the positive impact he had on his community or how many people cared about him. It’s telling us that life is about making the best of the hand you’re dealt. No man is a failure who has friends.

  • The best thing I can say about It’s A Wonderful Life is that I’ve watched it at least a dozen times and I’ve long since stopped consciously thinking about the Red Dwarf connection during watches.

    “You really had a wonderful life, George…”. Lister clearly buys into that, as he chooses Bedford Falls as a virtual prison of sorts, just as it was for George.

    Re: Better Than Life. I might be misremembering, but I don’t think IAWL is even referred to by name. Lister certainly no longer seems to be referred to as Mr Bailey. It’s just one of the ways how I always found it a bit jarring as a sequel (alongside the Nova 5 and the Duality Drive disappearing).

  • This was lovely stuff again anyway. These books throw up so much interesting stuff to talk about. Better get started on BTL!

  • Another very enjoyable DwarfCast. Foul-mouthed George Bailey cracked me up. I like the prologue/cutscene idea that getting back to Earth only exists as a fake memory from before they started to live out their separate fantasies. I definitely think that’s what they were hinting at with the description of it lacking detail and being black and white in Lister’s memory, and accounts for them not having entered the game together quite nicely I think.

    Anyway, *Game over*. I like how the first few chapters spell out that both Rimmer and Lister have really doubled down on their fantasies. It’s as if now they know they’re playing the game and have decided not to leave, pretty much anything goes. The teenage fans throwing their undies at Rimmer’s car is icky. Lots of funny stuff about Rimmer’s stag night and new body, and the ridiculous schmaltzy scene at the toyshop. Couple of small points about chapter 3: Kochanski speaks. And “four-way hug” from Terrorform !

    Chapter 2. The guys already touched on this in the latest DwarfCast but I was gonna say, is this a bit of a retcon?The way the four of them are described just sitting in a horseshoe I mean. I wonder whether Rob and Doug thought they’d better change that once they’d decided to keep them in the game for longer, and now without Kryten to look after them when they injure themselves. Also I thought Rimmer’s hologram had vanished and he only existed within BTL (Kryten says Holly “spliced [him] into the game” in Infinity) It’ll be interesting to see what happens when they leave the game as I can’t remember.

    Chapter 4. Rob Grant has said a couple of times on the quarantine commentaries he thinks of Rimmer as basically asexual. A few things in the novels up to this point bear that out I think, but I was struck by how baldly it’s stated here when we’re told that Rimmer’s new cock is “sizeable enough to put the fear of God into anyone who stood next to him at a urinal, *which was all he was interested in*.”

    Chapter 5. Even the Cat’s fantasy has gotten more outrageous. Actual dinosaurs instead of fire-breathing yaks, and the “limitless supply of cute, furry animals to be cruel to”. They put me in mind of the Dish of the Day in Hitchhiker’s – it’s like they’re bred specially to be polo balls.

  • No man is a failure who has friends.

    Yeah, but all Kris’ mates are Welsh.

    My best man is Welsh/Italian, so you can only imagine my torment.

    Dammit Ian… while I know you’re right in the theme of the film, I just… really wanted George to get to do something he wanted before the end of the film.

  • I remember when Trixie Labouche turned up in a Smegazine strip, and feeling really smart that I knew who she was and where she’d originated.
    Although I had no friends who were invested enough to be impressed.

  • So, to BETTER THAN LIFE: GAME OVER

    ONE

    It’s funny how this chapter now reads like a “best of Red Dwarf historical figures”. JFK, Einstein, Elvis, Jesus, travels back to historical India and a 1920s speakeasy… if Hitler and Napoleon had showed up it’d have the full set.

    Also, it’s funny to see the traffic cone line come from Caesar instead of Cat. This was published after The Last Day aired, right?

    TWO

    Immediately the game feels less freaky and disturbing than how it’s described in IWCD. It’s… peaceful, almost.

    THREE

    I like how absurd and overplayed this all is, but it feels in contrast to the way Bedford Falls is played in IWCD. It’s the sitcom version. It’s silly rather than slightly sinister.

    FOUR

    This chapter has an interesting relationship with the TV series.

    There’s the bit where it says how the game wouldn’t work if you could just “wish for a turbo-charged Harley Davidson and BLIP! it appeared” which is obviously describing a scene from the TV show without it actually happening in the story.

    There’s also the scene with Rimmer saying “what?” five different ways – and I guarantee everyone reading this generated their own mental Chris Barrie performance that felt perfectly like something from the show, despite it never appearing in an episode. It’s just so intrinsically linked with the actor that I can’t imagine this scene working if you’ve never seen the show.

    Also, his wife Helen is automatically played by Pippa Haywood in my imagination due to the Brittas connection.

    FIVE

    Not much to add here, other than that seeing Silicon Heaven laid out so bluntly as a contrived motivational/behaviour-limiting concept both makes it more sinister and more effective satire than in The Last Day.

    (The way it’s suddenly dropped in here as a concept, despite not featuring in IWCD, does make me think it must be something they were happy with developing for Series III and then wanted to get into the novels as part of Kryten’s character as soon as possible.)

  • SIX

    The juggernaut ploughing through Bedford Falls is such a great, visceral metaphor for Rimmer’s afflicted mind and neuroses ruining the game for everyone.

    SEVEN

    There are times when Red Dwarf is so cruel to Rimmer that I do actually feel sorry for him, and this is one of those times.

    EIGHT

    I love the TV version of White Hole, but there’s something so great about Holly resurrecting Talkie and them both cobbling this plan together that makes me like the book version even more. Plus with it being Norm-Holly instead of Hattie, it makes one of the only big Holly-centric stories feel like a genuinely different experience in the book.

  • I listened to the podcast the other day, but I hadn’t finished IWCD. It was still at the end of part 2 waiting for these to start up again.

    Then I realised I was t waiting for the podcasts. Its because I find all the BTL stuff boring.

    It’s a really interesting idea that I don’t think is explored as much as it could be here despite how much of 2 books it takes up.

    And to me, Red Dwarf is best when it’s in space with some crazy space shit going on. Not in a computer game. It’s also beat when it’s doing character exploration and I think, whilst you can extrapolate character stuff from the BTL chapters in both books, the TV show does a much better job of showing us a bit about the characters, and Rimmer especially.

    The fact it’s the final act of book 1, you’d be forgiven for thinking that BTL is what Red Dwarf is about if you hadn’t seen the show. And the first 2 parts were all set up to getting in the game.

    So yeah, whilst I do enjoy these books a lot, this section of these 2 books I’m happy to leave. Might jump back on reading when they get out the game.

    And I haven’t read Last Human in a decade or more as I hate it so that’ll be interesting when we get to it.

    As for Its A Wonderful Life, I’ve been meaning to watch that for a couple of years now. I own it just haven’t ever put it on. So maybe I’ll do that soon.

  • Reading Dave’s BTL comments, reminds me of a description in the book of Rimmer’s Solidgram getting ‘gouda cheesed’ out of existence. That always stuck with me!

  • NINE-TO-SEVENTEEN

    I’m going to be honest… I don’t really like this whole chunk of the book that much. Once the stuff in the game gets incredibly broad and cartoonish I kind of lose interest, and although the construction of the Trixie plot and the reveal is nicely done, I just don’t feel invested in it.

    It goes on too long and most of the time I’m just waiting for them to all get back together, get out of the game and for everything to feel like Red Dwarf again.

    I get that the novels allow Rob and Doug to do stuff they couldn’t do in the show, but I think this shows that sometimes those restrictions can be a good thing overall and force a focus that’s lost when anything goes.

    All the stuff with the characters becoming disembodied voices, sound waves, then radio waves (?) feels a bit like ideas that were kicked around for something else entirely and then found their way here. It all feels a bit first-draft and not quite right.

    ELEVEN

    This, however, is great. It’s White Hole but it’s not White Hole, and although the changes are swings and roundabouts I think I like this version better overall. “You bastard” is a great cap to the whole scene, and better than the TV version, although probably only works with the Norman version of Holly.

  • EIGHTEEN

    This final chapter of this section is really nice, though. Yes, it gets a bit second-rate observational comedy in places and yes it’s obvious what’s happening, but it’s done really well (and I think takes the concept of the end of the Better Than Life TV episode but does it much better).

    Plus, I like that the spare pair of trainers in the icebox is significant enough as a character trait to return in Legion.

  • Omnibus p335: Talkie Toaster cost £19.99 plus tax. What happened to dollarpounds??

    Yeah, I noticed that. Presume it’s a typo as a few pages later it’s back to $£.

  • The tone of the BTL sections in the two books always felt very different to me, I can’t imagine it ever being one single book. Reminds me of a lot of syndication TV shows which have season-long arcs and then end on a cliffhanger that sets up the following season in some way, and when the next season starts you can really tell it was written six months later as it never resolves with quite the same tone, often with a long narrative gap that feels at odds with the previous 20 weeks of continuous plot (see also: Tikka to Ride).

  • I listened to the abridged audio book and was amused at the sheer cruelty of the editing to the end of Better Than Life. Lister gets back on board Red Dwarf from Garbage World, sits down to his first shami kebab in three and a half decades, chokes on it and dies. The entire Polymorph bit is ditched, it feels so cruel to Lister!

  • Not read other posts yet so apologies for any repetition.

    Chapter 1: Early seeding of omelette with the big chips.

    Chapter 4: Rimmer reaches new levels of self-delusion, not wanting to swap faces so it felt like it was his success on the same page as him admitting to himself that he knows it’s all imaginary anyway. Skin diving suit and soapy frogs, the first of many bits later reused in III. Interesting that here it’s portrayed as a kink, whereas in Meltdown it’s a form of torture.
    He’s also unable to imagine an alternative to Juanita without going the whole hog and making her completely unsexy. In his mind, a confident, sexually attractive woman and a stable, supportive partner are totally incompatible ideas.
    I enjoyed the ludicrous pettiness of him always letting the phone ring 20 times.

    Chapter 8: I don’t know whether they’ve got used to writing for Hattie, or just because I’m used to hearing this stuff from her, but Holly’s dialogue with Talkie doesn’t feel remotely like Norman.

    Chapter 11: Was White Hole written in a rush? It’s amazing how much of it came from this book. Last time I read this I’d assumed it came after the episode.
    I enjoy how little time is given over to Lister being creator of the universe.

    Chapter 12: unlikely as forming an enduring and wholesome relationship with someone you met in a nightclub. Well, my partner and I are a few weeks away from hitting the 11 year mark, so yah-boo sucks to you, Rob & Doug.
    They’re really pushing the nastiness toward Rimmer here, aren’t they? This treatment is enough to lead to permanent psychosis. Locked out of your own body, the woman you love having sex with it while you’re not in it. Christ.

    Chapter 14: Is there Trixie LaBouche slashfic out there? (Why am I asking? There must be).
    If this were a Rob solo novel, I get the feeling Rimmer would only manage to escape after he’d had a few clients, rather than before.

    Chapter 16: Interesting how the game breaks it’s own rules and just builds things up willy-nilly from Rimmer’s psyche, rather than finding in-universe explanations for the appearance of the otherwise unheard of prison, nuclear waste dump, etc.

    Chapter 17: I can’t work out which Kryten this is. It mostly feels like Robert, but maybe it’s the continuity that makes me still think a bit of David Ross’s version.

    Chapter 18: There’s obviously some silly stuff in here (meal tasting worse than its container), but the second cup tasting better than the first is such a good way of telling they’re still in the game because a) it never happens and b) it’s really funny.

  • Skin diving suit and soapy frogs, the first of many bits later reused in III.

    Even before that there’s the traffic cone bit in the very first chapter.

  • I can’t work out which Kryten this is. It mostly feels like Robert, but maybe it’s the continuity that makes me still think a bit of David Ross’s version.

    All through the Better Than Life game segment I think of it as David Ross. From memory it changes in my mind once they get back to reality, but I haven’t read ahead to that part yet.

  • Once the book starts doing bits from IV I start to imagine the shows sets, Roberts Kryten etc. Last time I read these (haven’t started on BTL yet) I actively tried to force myself to picture Norman’s Holly, series 1-2 sets, David’s Kryten. But it’s nearly impossible with the images from the show in those sections so firmly imprinted on my mind.

    Worse still when you get to Backwards, Rob is most definitely writing series 6 characters, settings etc so there is no other way to picture is because that’s basically how it is described

  • Chapter 16: Interesting how the game breaks it’s own rules and just builds things up willy-nilly from Rimmer’s psyche, rather than finding in-universe explanations for the appearance of the otherwise unheard of prison, nuclear waste dump, etc

    I guess the game can work differently once the player knows they’re in it, indulge their fantasies more easily without having to conceal itself, and even have stuff pop into existence like in the episode. (“A cafeteria materialized to his right” in Chapter 5 is a favourite bit of mine.) I did wonder how Frank was alive in Chapter 7 but I suppose Rimmer got him from the past, same as his dad in Infinity. By the time he gets to Bedford Falls Rimmer’s psyche is obviously completely out of control though, and all that stuff and the volcano in Chapter 17 is really the novel equivalent to being buried in the sand etc. I like all of that but agree the soundwave/Trixie stuff leading up to it isn’t great.

  • It’s the game getting desperate, isn’t it? Once it knows that there’s a risk of them leaving, it allows itself to operate more in overt mode and do whatever it can to retain them. The game is almost a character itself by this point.

  • Does the book do the fake exit like it does for them in then show? I can’t remember. Because that would be the most obvious way of protecting itself, let them out and rest thing to their life on Red Dwarf, and then much more slowly provide the BTL experience. Maybe even separate the characters out into their own game rooms so they can’t interact etc.

  • Yeah, they exit to an ideal version of Red Dwarf where the fridge is full of tasty fresh food, the second coffee tastes better than the first, etc. Then they leave, and meet the creator who congratulates them and offers them a free replay. Eventually they get out.

  • Hope I can still sneak something in.

    Does Rimmer saying “I need to take a leak” strike anyone as sounding a bit wrong coming out of him? For someone so neurotic and uncomfortable in his own body as Rimmer, I’d expect him to use some kind of polite euphemism (like he does in “Kryten” theorizing about the aliens who have to use “the little boys’ room”) instead of the more vulgar “take a leak.”

    It is clever narratively, though, because Rimmer says it both as Trixie and as himself, which hints at Trixie’s true identity before the reveal.

  • Bollocks. I’ve fallen behind and only just started reading it.

    I like how the dedication includes thanks for the actors, who are represented by their characters in this novel, but Norman is noticeable by his absence. (Hattie gets thanked instead).

  • 1. Talk of Alka Seltzer. What kind of sick mind does Rimmer possess that hangovers are still a thing in his fantasy?

    2. Old Ma Bailey is mentioned, which is odd. In IAWL, this is George’s mom, but Lister’s pseudonym seems to be dropped for Better Than Life (later confirmed in Chapters Six and Nine when the entire town looks at “Lister”, at the mention of his name, and Bert refers to him as “David”).

    “Potter’s Pond” is also mentioned. I feel Potter having a pond named after him would make more sense in Pottersville, rather than Bedford Falls. The IAWL stuff seems less well-observed (and only gets namechecked once), and more just a bunch of references this time round.

    7. I love the stuff about Rimmer’s brain going wandering while he gets married. The prose is lovely, but so is the idea of his subsconcious crafting a wedding for him to attend, but also to not be mentally “present” for it.

    10. Likewise, fond of the stuff of Rimmer second-guessing where the game is going. It’s tearing him down so he can build a new life with Juanita. Obviously, that’s nonsense, but the fact that the characters now know they’re in a fantasy does afford them the opportunity to guess where the fantasy is going. Shades of Total Recall and The Game.

    12. A brilliant meta-meta examination of the logic of Rimmer’s financial difficulties. Rimmer’s pysche has conjured up a reality where Rimmer enters into lease agreement for his body…so that (much) later his body will be repossessed because he doesn’t own it outright. How far ahead is his sub concious seeding these plotlines to later screw him over?

    Of course, all of this leads to Rimmer finally rejecting the game…so maybe his subconscious is looking out for him after all.

    13. I echo Dave’s comment above about how this part of the novel is a bit lack-lustre.I’ve always loved the reveal of how Rimmer and Lister’s stories intersect, but I think I’d have preferred it if the Rimmer stuff was cut-down a bit, especially the unpleasantness in a later chapter with Rimmer hooking, which is hammering home a point that doesn’t need to be made. That said, I’m very fond of how we start getting explanations of where characters came from in Rimmer’s mind. Bull Heinman and Tonto Jitterman, being nicely detailed in just a few paragraphs. No prices for guessing who came up with the stuff about “Gonad Electrocution kits”.

    14. The reveal about Juanita being really Janine Rimmer is obviously quite late in the fantasy. Unlikely that this was the intention during Infinity (it’s so good, that I’m sure they’d have used it earlier), but I strongly approve. Helen, meanwhile, doesn’t seem like the Rimmer’s mum we know from the show.

    15. Not sure I quite buy the logic that they now need to leave the game together.

    18. The last hurrah of BTL is great, but I’ve always been perplexed that there’s a note about how Rimmer had to change back from Trixie (why is that necessary?) and how they emerge in the Cargo Hold. Surely Kryten would have been suspicious?

  • Our schedule’s changed a little so we’re now recording BTL Part 1 this weekend in case anyone wants to get any more thoughts in before then.

  • Chapter 8. Interesting that Holly has to mend Talkie to get a companion when we’re used to seeing all the AI on the ship in the TV show, from the toilet in the sleeping quarters to dispensing machines to Medi-Bot. Lister does have an argument with a dispensing machine in the first novel, however (Part 2, Chapter 10), so this feels like another little retcon maybe. Also, while the David Ross incarnation of Talkie is clearly this novel version, “made of deep red plastic” and a crappy novelty item Lister bought himself, the Series 1 version is meant to be a standard ship-issue appliance isn’t it, what with the big light same as the ones on the vending machines. There’s a bit of the toast obsession stuff in that version of course, but the backstory, being advertised as being able to tell what sort of mood the owner’s in and react appropriately, really enhances it.

  • Just thinking about Better Than Life and fake videogames and so on, and although it hasn’t really come up in these discussions it feels like the concept of the game in Back To Reality is basically the book version of Better Than Life making its way back into the TV series, isn’t it?

    It’s obviously flipped so that the real world is the ‘game’, but the concept of a game you don’t even know you’re playing being an escape for people from their wretched lives and offering a more realistic and less obviously unreal wish-fulfilment experience is basically the same concept as the novel version of Better Than Life. Arguably it’s even closer to book-BTL than the TV series version of BTL is.

  • I have been remiss in not commenting on the recent sections of the book, but I just wanted to thank you for continuing with these Dwarfcasts.

    I have been battling stress recently (as I’m sure many other people have as well), and listening to these helps me to relax.

    I will have to catch up on Better Than Life, and am particularly looking forward to the two solo books as I haven’t read them for a decade or more.

  • That’s excellent – doing these on a regular basis is really helping the three of us to stay sane through the worst year in human history, so if we’re helping anyone else in even the smallest way that’s hugely gratifying.

    Unfortunately we’ve not been able to record for the last couple of weeks due to annoying but non-serious reasons, so apologies for the interruption to the regularity, but we’ll be back on it this weekend coming.

  • Yep, the book club and all the G&T content has been a very welcome diversion this year especially. Much appreciated. No TPL DVD review yet though? I’m not complaining, just genuinely wondering if it’s been forgotten about what with bloody everything.

  • I’ve written bits of it and made notes on most of the rest of it, but I genuinely haven’t had enough time when I’ve been awake and in the right frame of mind to watch it all yet! Part of the reason we’ve increased DwarfCasting is due to the limited time I’ve had for G&T stuff now that I have a miniature version of myself in the house – much easier to nip off for a couple of hours for some semi-prepared waffles than it is to find the headspace to think about a nice beefy written piece. There’s lots of ideas on the list for when things ease up though.

  • I remember when I first had kids and keeping up with my internet writings was one of the first things to go, as even if you’re able to find the time to do it you’re just too exhausted.

    So it’s commendable that you’re keeping the Dwarfcasts going given all the screaming, crying, sleepless nights and cleaning up of shit and vomit you must have to cope with.

    (“And *then* I had a baby” etc.)

  • A few quick thoughts about the first part of Better Than Life.

    It again struck me as a very smart move that they never really focused on the Cat’s cruelty to animals in the TV show. I think the closest they came was in the deleted scenes from Epideme when he was asked whether he was wearing real fur and replied, “I don’t know. You’ll have to ask the little squealy things I cut it off.” The Cat works much better when he is being simply thoughtless and oblivious, rather than outright mean.

    It’s interesting to see the jokes that were later incorporated into the TV series such as, “A simple yes would have sufficed” and the line about skin-diving with soapy frogs. The latter line always seemed a slightly odd (but funny) moment in Meltdown, and it makes sense to me now that it was crowbarred in from here because they clearly felt that it was too funny to waste.

    I like this section, but don’t love it as much as the classic episodes of the show. I think one reason is that in the early section the crew spend so much time apart, when one of the show’s strengths is when they are all interacting together.

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