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In what will surely test the very limits of the phrase “worth the wait” we’re back with our DwarfCast Book Club (patent applied for)! After a short break, Ian, Danny and Cappsy are ready and willing to dive into Better Than Life; starting, uncontroversially, with Part 1: Game Over as our time in the deadly TIV comes to an end.

DwarfCast 119 – Book Club #4: Better Than Life (Part One) (151.2MB)

Our next episode will be a continuation of our Series XI commentaries with Officer Rimmer and then we’ll be recording the episode for Better Than Life Part 2: She Rides on the weekend of the 31st October, so this is the place to get your thoughts on that particular collection of pages logged ready for our discussion.

Show notes

45 comments on “DwarfCast 119 – Book Club #4: Better Than Life (Part One)

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  • Danny’s joke/reference about the fact that IWCD and BTL were released less than a year apart was simply awesome and warmed the cockles of my heart.

    I’ve seen every David Tennant Doctor Who but I don’t remember him saying ‘what’ five times so I’d love someone to point me in the direction of that clip.

    Great Dwarfcast as always – thankyou!

  • I’ve seen every David Tennant Doctor Who but I don’t remember him saying ‘what’ five times so I’d love someone to point me in the direction of that clip.

    It might not have been five times precisely, but he does it at the end of Doomsday when Catherine Tate turns up, then at the end of Last Of The Time Lords when the Titanic turns up, plus in Time Crash when the Fifth Doctor turns up.

  • plus in Time Crash when the Fifth Doctor turns up

    Isn’t that the same set of what’s as the Titanic turning up? Or does he repeat himself within the space of 5mins?

  • On the “patent applied for” thing, it’s not exactly the same wording but I think it’s meant to be similar to the “patent pending” disclaimer that used to often be deployed when someone wanted to effectively say “don’t nick this idea because I’m applying for a patent for it”.

    But it ended up becoming shorthand for slightly crap ideas that maybe weren’t good enough to get a patent (but the inventor was really hopeful that they would). So I think that’s the joke here.

  • I’ve seen every David Tennant Doctor Who but I don’t remember him saying ‘what’ five times so I’d love someone to point me in the direction of that clip.

    It might not have been five times precisely, but he does it at the end of Doomsday when Catherine Tate turns up, then at the end of Last Of The Time Lords when the Titanic turns up, plus in Time Crash when the Fifth Doctor turns up.

    Oh yes, I remember the Titanic one now!

  • Oh yes, I remember the Titanic one now!

    “We’ve never been on the Titanic, go away, Rimmer…”

  • I can forgive inconsistencies in the Lister plot as the game subtly changing to acknowledge his awareness of his situation. Bedford Falls becomes less indebted to the film to allow Lister to ignore that he’s in BTL.

    I like the fact that Ian described the Tony Hawks impression in the audiobook as being by Rimmer.

    If BTL is designed to keep you in it – and the subscription model is a good retcon that does a good job of covering up the ‘but why?’ aspect of the original idea – then the idea of the group having to leave together feeds into it nicely. Even if you want to, you can’t without everyone involved deciding they do too.

    Not sure about Rimmer being asexual. Being afraid of sex, definitely. Holoship undermines any idea of him being asexual though. He has the root of a jointly emotional and sexual relationship with a woman.

    Disappointed at the lack of conversation regarding Trixie la Bouche / Lister slash fic. or indeed anything about the whole aspect of Rimmer being a female prostitute. There’s some deep and some really unnecessary conversation about that to be had.

    Muso / label owner / underground music fan rant alert:
    As someone who’s been into underground/experimental music for a long time, the cassette thing is weird to me because it was the default format for DIY labels that did genres like lo-fi indie, noise, black metal and such and through a few successful artists managed to attract some hipster-ish fans and has thus become a bit of a revival in its own right. It’s still weird to see it as something that’s acknowledged outside of these small scenes and in its own way annoying that some people consider all tapes a hipster trend. But even ten years ago there were at least a thousand tape-only labels around who could sell at least 100 copies of each release and put out maybe 30 releases a year, which makes the tape sales thing a bit weird because there are far more cassette sales that go unrecorded as DIY releases as there are that are noted by the chart system that puts these stats together. I’ll add to that that anyone who says tape sounds like shit has never heard a chrome cassette played on a really good hi-fi with a high quality tape deck. Metal tape has pretty much no hiss, displays a full dynamic range, and is, unless exposed to a magnet, unlikely to degrade. So a high quality metal tape is actually better than vinyl as it gives proper analogue playback without clicks and pops from vinyl, and without the gradual degradation of vinyl.

  • > Not sure about Rimmer being asexual. Being afraid of sex, definitely.

    Yes, that’s exactly what it is I think, and what I was trying to get at with my comment about his big penis – he wants it as a status symbol but he’s too scared to actually use it for sex.

  • Davies also wanted to use the “what? what? what?” gag at the end of Journey’s End as a lead-in to the Next Doctor, but Ben Cook talked him out of it.

    The sex stuff is /weird/ when I look at it in retrospect. I read this book when I was 13, and I think it was my first exposure to that kind of writing. My parents would have been completely shocked by the tone of the Trixie stuff (not to mention the Denis and Josie stuff from Infinity – I’ve got somewhere a cyberpunk drugs story I wrote in Year 8 that’s clearly influenced by this stuff and for some reason I decided was a great idea to hand in as an English assignment). Ho-hum.

  • The sex stuff is /weird/ when I look at it in retrospect. I read this book when I was 13, and I think it was my first exposure to that kind of writing.

    There’s a line in, I think – nay, presume – Last Human. The adaptation of a particular scene from Emohawk…
    Crikey.

  • Ok, a few thoughts on She Rides…

    ONE

    This is an effectively creepy reintroduction into the real world, and the description of Cat and Lister is genuinely disturbing. Also it’s interesting that Rimmer’s observation about the engine noise was reworked for White Hole into the Kryten bit about there being “no sounds to hear”, which I find a lot funnier, but probably due to Robert’s delivery.

    TWO

    Basically White Hole, and even though it’s Norm-Holly in the book, it’s impossible not to hear Hattie saying lines like “you’re a total smeghead, aren’t you Rimmer?” due to familiarity with the TV version.

    THREE

    Chapters like this – that offer a more internalised view of the characters – are my absolute favourite parts of these novels, with this one getting into Rimmer’s head brilliantly. The stuff about loving to have bad news for the fun of sharing it with others is wonderful, the whole Start Button bit about complaining about there not being a simple solution to something (despite Kryten’s explanations) feels more relevant than ever in an age of online instant-experts about everything, and the bit with the Skutters and the engines is so perfectly Rimmer (and so perfectly described – everyone can empathise with that sudden panicky “oh shit” feeling) that you can easily forgive it being a bit of a reprise of the Nova 5 stuff from Infinity.

    FOUR

    The whole Flintstones bit from Backwards feels a bit forced here, but fuck it, it’s still funny. I also like that this chapter expands on White Hole nicely with Rimmer’s long speech shifting the blame for the situation onto someone else, having to be edited down to what we get in the TV version. In fact, it’s an improvement on the TV show that their whole predicament is to some extent Rimmer’s fault here.

    FIVE

    It’s White Hole: the book version! Two nice additions though – all the take-off trouble with Starbug due to the extra weight of the missile gives it all an extra sense of danger and jeopardy; and the hyphen in Planet-potters makes it extra clear that Craig is mispronouncing it in the TV version and making it sound like Potters is the name of the planet. Which has always bothered me.

    SIX & SEVEN

    It’s Marooned, but in about eight pages! If there’s one episode of the TV show that you’d think could be mined for all it’s worth in a novel, it’s this one, so it’s weird that it’s all over so quickly. Although (as with Me2 and Kryten in the first novel) I do like the way that its plot is so neatly tied in with the events from White Hole here. All the stuff with Rimmer slowing down and getting the weird slowed-down video transmissions from Kryten works really well though (and feels *very* similar to some of the devices that Moffat used in Doctor Who in the ‘World Enough And Time’ episode, even moreso than White Hole on TV does).

    EIGHT

    A bit like the weird trippy stuff from the lightspeed moment in Future Echoes that we see in Infinity, all the stuff with Rimmer’s body telescoping down corridors and distorting and time running at different speeds feels like it’s really enhanced by the infinite-budget possibilities offered by a novel. It’s also a little weird when you know White Hole so well to see all the time phenomena so separate from all the pool-with-planets stuff, and makes you realise how successfully the TV show conceals the fact that the ideas are all quite separate by linking them all together so nicely.

    And that’s all for She Rides. It’s short, this part of the book, innit?

  • I know the last Dwarfcast asked for comments to be kept brief, so if you want the edited-down Rimmer-speech version:

    BodyhorrorWhiteHoleRimmerFailsFlintstonesPlanet-PottersMaroonedTimeDilationLongPostSorryBye

  • and the hyphen in Planet-potters makes it extra clear that Craig is mispronouncing it in the TV version and making it sound like Potters is the name of the planet. Which has always bothered me.

    I have never thought this. But now you’ve said it I completely see where you’re coming from.

  • ONE. “Gingerly eased the slurping electrodes out of his skull” is a pretty visceral sentence. The whole chapter is pretty grim really. So far beyond anything we see on TV. The dead engines exchange is far weaker without “there are no sounds to hear”

    TWO. Kryten being impressed by Rimmer pretending to know machine-write feels very David Ross. And now we enter White Hole before it was even written. Must have been weird for people who bought the book when it came out to see the episode the following year.

    THREE. Rimmer’s attitude towards the lack of a start button is like debating politics with idiots on social media.

    SIX. Much like Kryten and Me2 in Infinity, the blending of White Hole and Marooned here is superb. Two stories written at quite different times melded to make one interlocking narrative. It’s just a shame there is, once again, relatively little new material.
    The first time I read this I remember thinking that “being doored to death was a stupid way to die” was the funniest thing I’d ever read, and although I’m not sure that’s true now, it’s still fantastic.
    A blizzard stumbled in, followed by Lister. There’s some classic Grant Naylor prose here.

    Something that’s become obvious about this book is that, unlike Infinity, the four Parts aren’t entirely necessary. In Infinity, the three sections are almost like individual novellas or short stories, with comparatively little overlap. In this one, the whole Holly’s dead plot was dealt with in the first part, while the last few chapters are directly connected to the Garbage World section. It flows much better as a single book, but makes the choice of parts feel a touch more arbitrary.

    Not much else to say. Lots of familiar TV stuff for the most part.

  • Not at all, it’s nice to see when we’re on the same page about this stuff. That “slurping” line struck me too.

    The key question though – what are your thoughts on planet-potters?

  • Kryten being impressed by Rimmer pretending to know machine-write feels very David Ross.

    I’ve been surprised to find I’m still reading Kryten as David Ross Kryten throughout. It hasn’t really got into much memorable Series III Kryten stuff yet I guess. Maybe that will change in the next section.

  • I have always wondered whether Rob and Doug had written the better than life section back with IWCD and that they just removed it to give that book a cliffhanger. As the tone of the BTL section is alot like IWCD up until they leave BTL, then the tone and humour become its own thing. Rimmer becomes kinda soft after they leave BTL.

  • TWO. Kryten being impressed by Rimmer pretending to know machine-write feels very David Ross.

    I guess that’s because it’s the same as his reaction to Rimmer trying to speak Esperanto. Also his scolding of the skutters is reminiscent of telling off the skeletons. Having said that, Kryten’s character seems muddled to me in these first couple of chapters. He’s pretty much been the David Ross version for me too until now and I thought he stayed that way at least until Last Human, but the way he takes charge here and knows what he’s doing in the medical unit and then the drive room, he doesn’t seem like the same character who cleaned the Nova 5 computer and spent ages polishing one piece of ore. He’s suddenly very useful, almost science-officer-ish, except weirdly he then regresses again and is reluctant to tell Rimmer about the planet on the scanner, insisting it’s not his place and he ought to be cleaning! That’s consistent with begrudgingly telling Lister about the duality drive in Infinity, but seems at odds with re-booting and overriding Holly two pages earlier.

    I definitely prefer the novel version of the realisation that the engines are dead. Kryten thinking Rimmer’s gone insane is funnier that way around. “Rimmer’s head jabbed forward. ‘Neither can I,’ he said, and smiled engimatically.” I can imagine Chris doing that perfectly.

    Interesting use of Australian slang for vomit in Chapter TWO: “the machine on emergency power finally chundered a print-out.”

  • Omnibus p433: Rimmer has never consumed a magic mushroom. So the past events we see in Stasis Leak didn’t happen in the book universe.

    And to add to the “asexual Rimmer” discussion: on p423 his internal monologue admits to a low sex drive which I always took as him being in denial about his being on the asexual spectrum, or perhaps not having the words to describe it. This is reinforced by him being much more interested in talking about the car than his sexual experience there.

  • I definitely prefer the novel version of the realisation that the engines are dead. Kryten thinking Rimmer’s gone insane is funnier that way around. “Rimmer’s head jabbed forward. ‘Neither can I,’ he said, and smiled engimatically.” I can imagine Chris doing that perfectly.

    I think the reason the end of the chapter falls a bit flat in the book is that the rhythm of the sentence is wrong. “The engines are dead. The ship is not moving” is a nice little couplet but it ends on an unstressed syllable, whereas a lot of the most memorable dramatic sentences of the book end with a stressed syllable.

    “…..every one of them would be dead.”

    “…it was always Christmas Eve.”

    Etc.

    This sentence reads well and ends strong.

    This sentence does not and ends weakly.

    Even just switching it around and having it be “The ship is not moving. The engines are dead.” reads in a bit more of a pleasing way.

  • I’m not a huge fan of White Hole, but I find it to be a much tidier way of telling this part of the story than She Rides.

    The imminent “threat” is colliding with a planet (rather than the time dilation from a White Hole). I’m willing to just about accept that Holly hadn’t plotted a course in advance to avoid such obvious obstacles as a planet’s orbit, but playing pool with planets is just conceptually less interesting here.

    The aim is to change the orbit of the planets (rather than to sink one into a legion of space) so the pool stuff just becomes a little more strained. Despite Lister claiming that a sun is a pocket, it doesn’t quite work.

    We then return to Red Dwarf and there’s ANOTHER threat in the local region of space; the black hole. It’s not surprising that the guys decided to combine the two elements into one when this was transferred to screen, and removed the collision with the planet as the threat itself (and just imply it would be a side-effect if the plan didn’t work).

  • And to add to the “asexual Rimmer” discussion: on p423 his internal monologue admits to a low sex drive which I always took as him being in denial about his being on the asexual spectrum, or perhaps not having the words to describe it. This is reinforced by him being much more interested in talking about the car than his sexual experience there.

    Alternative reading is that he is finding an excuse for his lack of success with women. He defaults to talking about his brothers car in Marooned as he is actually making up the story of losing his virginity, because we all know Yvonne McGruder is the one and only time he has had sex.

    Rimmer is definitely interested in sex, at least he isn’t asexual as there’s too much evidence to the contrary throughout the show. Maybe he takes his career a bit more seriously so he is a bit of a bore and doesn’t meet women to potentially sleep with, so he ambition might trump his sex drive, but it’s definitely there.

  • I’m not a huge fan of White Hole, but I find it to be a much tidier way of telling this part of the story than She Rides.

    The imminent “threat” is colliding with a planet (rather than the time dilation from a White Hole). I’m willing to just about accept that Holly hadn’t plotted a course in advance to avoid such obvious obstacles as a planet’s orbit, but playing pool with planets is just conceptually less interesting here.
    The aim is to change the orbit of the planets (rather than to sink one into a legion of space) so the pool stuff just becomes a little more strained. Despite Lister claiming that a sun is a pocket, it doesn’t quite work.
    We then return to Red Dwarf and there’s ANOTHER threat in the local region of space; the black hole. It’s not surprising that the guys decided to combine the two elements into one when this was transferred to screen, and removed the collision with the planet as the threat itself (and just imply it would be a side-effect if the plan didn’t work).

    I agree, and it’s what I was getting at earlier with my comments on chapter eight.

    This feels like a first-draft telling of the same story (which I suppose it is, really) – it doesn’t follow the sitcom rule that the various subplots of an episode tie together nicely at the end for a satisfying outcome. White Hole brings it all together far better.

  • I’m willing to just about accept that Holly hadn’t plotted a course in advance to avoid such obvious obstacles as a planet’s orbit

    Kryten says: ‘Something must have ripped it out of its orbit.’ And later we find out how that happened when it turns out to be “Garbage World”.

  • Given that we know Garbage World was in a script at one stage, complete with giant cockroaches (the only thing Ed Bye ever outright said no to), I wonder whether what became White Hole was originally more like this bit of the book, and would have set up Garbage World for the next episode.

    Chapter FOUR: Cat being a Flintstones fan is a nice little callback to Infinity where they discover the Cat city and find the video in the machine.

  • Kryten says: ‘Something must have ripped it out of its orbit.’ And later we find out how that happened when it turns out to be “Garbage World”.

    With the same trepdation around spoilers; it’s said in “She Rides” that the Ice Age on that planet has been in place for ‘countless millennia’ (the vagueness is somewhat contradicted in “Garbage World” when we get a definitive history).

    The status of the ice age being otherwise unchanged opens up two possibilities:

    1) The planet hasn’t had a recent “orbit” at all. It recently arrived in that region of space, and Kryten’s judgement that it was “ripped out of its orbit” is correct – but only in so much as it was ripped out of orbit about three million years ago, and it doesn’t find a new one until Lister plays pool.

    2) The planet has been in that same orbit for “countless millennia”, and Holly doesn’t plot that far ahead even with an IQ of 12,000.

  • With the same trepdation around spoilers; it’s said in “She Rides” that the Ice Age on that planet has been in place for ‘countless millennia’ (the vagueness is somewhat contradicted in “Garbage World” when we get a definitive history).

    That’s just poetic licence though, surely. It’s ‘countless millennia’ to anyone other than an omniscient narrator, including Lister at that moment as he watches the Ice Age ending through a window.

    Which orbit do you mean in scenario 2? I mean, number 1 is what’s actually happened isn’t it. It might be that Kryten wrongly assumes that the planet was originally in orbit around one of the two nearby suns, but that makes no difference.
    As for Holly plotting ahead, he only has an IQ of 12,000 for a few minutes before he switches himself off. Also we don’t really know how long he’s been switched off when the crew leave the game.

  • the novels keep having long spans of time occur in pages, and the crew teeter between crude and don’t appear to have gaps of status quo. does this actually work, from a story and character perspective?

    I’m thinking here particularly of the incident where Cat and Lister literally rip themselves from their IVs, and then Lister takes six cans and no food on Starbug. was he even on solids at this point?

  • the novels keep having long spans of time occur in pages, and the crew teeter between crude and don’t appear to have gaps of status quo. does this actually work, from a story and character perspective?

    I’m thinking here particularly of the incident where Cat and Lister literally rip themselves from their IVs, and then Lister takes six cans and no food on Starbug. was he even on solids at this point?

    Don’t worry, he’s not pished.

  • Mrs Ides and I have both been a tad busy recently, but hopefully I am posting these thoughts just in time… ;)

    I think in this section you can perhaps tell why Rob and Doug are more known for their TV work than their novel writing.

    For many writers the idea of a planet being on collision course with the ship could be the main story within a novel, and here it feels a little rushed. The three weeks in which Rimmer attempts to start the engines are described in a fairly perfunctory fashion, and you don’t get a huge sense of drama.

    This part of the book is otherwise chiefly of interest when viewed as a prototype for White Hole (though obviously they didn’t view it that way at the time). A surprise to me now is just how few changes they made to certain sections, and entire scenes of dialogue were left intact. It’s not my favourite episode of the show.

    Especially as pages are taken up with the Marooned stuff. At the time, I’m sure that I would have enjoyed reading it again, but it now all seems old hat and overly familiar.

    The final line of the section about being sucked into a black hole is a nice tease, and heightens anticipation for what comes next.

  • Talkie Toaster, Holly’s high IQ scene, ‘no sounds to hear’, ‘I’m fine thank you Susan’, frying an egg with a bicycle powered hairdryer, ‘So what is it?’, Lister not losing any balls down those little holes, the whole pool with planets concept, Kryten calling Rimmer a ‘farty little smeghead’. It’s gold start-to-finish.

  • Also, just checked, the ending of Doomsday:

    (The Doctor slowly walks around the console, setting controls, then looks up and sees a figure in white, complete with veil.)
    DOCTOR: What?
    (She turns around.)
    DONNA: Oh!
    DOCTOR: What?
    DONNA: Who are you?
    DOCTOR: But
    DONNA: Where am I, eh?
    DOCTOR: What?
    DONNA: What the hell is this place?
    DOCTOR: What?

    It was a running gag, it seems. He also says “sorry, so sorry” a lot.

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