I've Never Read... A Book - Part 1
The first of a two-part look at the best-selling Red Dwarf novels.
14 December, 2001
Even during the rehearsals for Red Dwarf's first series, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor had begun discussing the possibility of a Red Dwarf novel. Hardly surprising, when the science fiction show they had written was constrained by a sit-com budget. A novel was a chance to develop concepts into what would otherwise be expensive directions - and then there was the chance to show some things that the series never had the chance to...
By the end of the second series, the possibility was becoming an actuality. BBC Books were originally lined up to publish, but Rob and Doug - publishing under their gestalt name of Grant Naylor - wanted to avoid the impression that the book was just a novelisation of the TV scripts.
Tim Binding at Penguin was approached... and summarily lied to. The show was a smash hit, he was told - massive ratings, huge cult status. Tim, not necessarily believing what he was being told, but nevertheless impressed by the writers, secured a three-novel deal.
The first Red Dwarf novel was subtitled Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers. It was written in the usual Grant Naylor way - with Rob at the keyboard and Doug right behind, not a word going down until both had agreed on it.
Red Dwarf - Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers
Cover Artwork: DeWynters
Part One - Your own death and how to cope with it
Part Two - Alone in a Godless universe and out of Shake 'n' Vac
Part Three - Earth
The first novel shows a great deal that remains unseen in Red Dwarf's TV incarnation - and perhaps the most significant of these is a look at human civilisation in the 'Dwarf universe. Life on Earth (and other colonies in the solar system) remains mostly unseen, but here is a chance to see the very civilisation Rimmer and Lister hail from.
Mankind has colonised moons throughout their galaxy - and Mimas is one of the grottiest areas you could end up in. With 'Bliss' the designer drug of choice - it makes you believe that you actually are God - and Better Than Life, a fatally addictive portable Artificial Reality game, claiming lives, it's hardly surprising that Rimmer and Lister find themselves embroiled in the criminal culture.
In background that either differs from or was never seen on TV, Rimmer and Lister actually meet for the first time on Mimas while neither of them are up to any good. Lister - stranded after a Monopoly-board pub crawl around London ended with him stranded on this moon around Jupiter - is stealing hoppers (taxi cabs with jumping legs) to finance a voyage home. Rimmer, meanwhile, is wearing a false moustache to visit a 'droid brothel.
This first meeting gives Lister the idea of joining the space corps and jumping ship when his assigned vessel docks at Earth. Rimmer, meanwhile, is left with a damaged winkie from a malfunctioning 'droid.
So begins our story - again. Rimmer and Lister are forced to share a room, Rimmer forever trying to exert his authority - over the whole of Z-shift, in fact, as this Rimmer is a first technician, rather than his lowly second tech status in the show - and Lister is dreaming of escape.
We also get to follow the developing Lister-Kochanski love story that, again, the series never fully got time to explore. It is the break up of this relationship, it turns out, that prompts Lister into drastic action. Already bored with deep space, and further alarmed that it's going to be years before the 'Dwarf gets to Earth, Lister smuggles on board a cat.
In the series, the motive for this breech of quarantine regulations is never explored. But Infinity explains how Lister had discovered the stasis booth punishment, and the crimes he could 'safely' commit to get his lengthy trip home to seem like moments. Frankenstein the cat was fully inoculated and safe - despite Lister telling the captain that when he discovered it, the beast was sickly, dying, and its fur was hanging off.
Oh yes, the captain. In the book universe, a powerful woman with the unfortunate name of 'Kirk'.
This, then, is the untold history of Red Dwarf. One that - according to a recent interview with Doug Naylor - will be told it yet another new and interesting way in Red Dwarf - The Movie. The first time any version of these events will have been filmed.
Of course, Infinity has a great deal more to it than back-story - though it does contain details of Cat history, and the full story behind the Nova V's mission (to create a constellation of supernovas designed to advertise Coke) and subsequent crash (at the soapy hands of a certain mechanoid).
Sections of the series I and II episodes The End, Future Echoes, Me2, Waiting for God, Kryten and Better Than Life are instantly recognisable in the book, but in many cases these are once more handled more in-depth. Especially hilarious is the chance to get inside Rimmer's head throughout his time with his hologramatic duplicate.
Also present is the Yvonne McGruder story from Thanks for the Memory. The rest of this story was actually in the proofs for the book until a week before they were handed to Penguin. A fuller look at the cat saga was also excised before publication.
The TV series also appears to have influenced other, more character-based, parts of the first novel. Rather than cast Lister as a man of 40-plus, as per the pilot screenplay, this version is in his mid-twenties and is noticeably Craig Charles-esque, right down to the dreadlocks Craig suggested at the start of production. Descriptions of Rimmer are very similar to Chris Barrie, and Kryten's character seems initially anchored in David Ross's performance - he wouldn't be played by Robert Llewellyn until series III, after the book went into production.
With fresh new concepts in amongst the familiar characters - and occasionally dialogue - of Red Dwarf, Infinity created a second 'Dwarf dimension. (A third could be the USA pilot, making the movie the fourth.) Fresh ideas such as the lengthy ode to the writer's favourite film, It's a Wonderful Life, the Nova V's duality jump - which could enable the crew to get back to Earth in a matter of months - and the shock-horror notion of the boyz actually doing some mining from their mining ship, established what was to follow in all four best-selling novels.
Better Than Life
Cover Art: Paul Grant
Part One - Game over
Part Two - She rides
Part Three - Garbage world
Part Four - The end, and after
The second novel followed hot on the heels of the third series, and fans might well have recognised parts of Marooned, Polymorph and Backwards (the Wilma Flintstone conversation appears independently of Lister's later appearance on the backwards Earth).
Interestingly there was also a lengthy section that resembled the series IV episode, White Hole. This section was in fact adapted for television from the novel - changing a black hole for a white one - rather than the other way around. A few details from Up, Up and Away magazine from Infinity also arrived in season IV's Dimension Jump. There were discussions at one point that Garbage World would also appear on screen, but it was deemed unfilmable.
Garbage World turns out to be one of many links to the society the Dwarfers left behind - illustrating, much as Infinity did, what kind of future Grant Naylor have created for mankind. The creation of Genetically Engineered Life Forms for sport and combat is dealt with in hilarious detail, as is the Eurovision-style Garbage World vote for the most expendable planet. And don't even think about John Ewe - professional effluence dumper, amateur graffiti artist, and the reason an entire planet is current wooshing around without an orbit.
Without the constraints of television, Better Than Life is also able to do things that would otherwise be impossible. While this includes massive 'effects' such as Starbug's destruction by acid rain or the 'spaghettification' effects of a black hole, it also runs to smaller, more personal details - everything from the rage and turmoil that make Rimmer such a delicacy for the Polymorph, to massive shifts in the age of the characters. Lister and the Cat are trapped for two years in the Better Than Life game, and Lister is eventually left stranded to grow old alone for 34 years!
Among the additions to the book universe are Starbug - the first time the shuttle craft is introduced to the books - and White Giant is included as part of the ship's compliment. (It had actually appeared in Infinity as a transport vessel for miners heading for Red Dwarf.) Kryten's belief in silicon heaven arrives from series III's The Last Day, and Talkie Toaster appears for the first time - and instantly irritates the hell out of everybody.
Holly, meanwhile, is the source of a shock revelation in Better Than Life. With his IQ restored and exponentially multiplied, the Toaster asks him who created the universe. "Lister," Holly answers. "Now ask me a hard one." To date, Lister's destiny as creator of the universe has yet to be explored - but it gave the writers something to grow on! Interestingly, this theme ties in with the gag in series V's Back to Reality where Lister is supposed to jump start the second big bang with jump leads from Starbug.
The ending to Better Than Life was a cliffhanger to rival Infinity's own (where the crew were left stranded in an AR simulation with little desire to leave). Lister was once again left stranded after a fatal encounter with the Polymorph - but it was the canisters that really held the key.
In the final scenes, Rimmer commands the crew aboard White Giant in pursuance of hundreds of canisters floating in space. Their content, and just what they were used for, confused a few fans - but the answer would soon become obvious. Not just by the sequel novel(s), but also in a hint provided by the omnibus edition of the first two books.
Red Dwarf Omnibus
Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers
Better Than Life
Backword by Grant Naylor
The beer mat
Dave Hollins - Space Cadet
Red Dwarf pilot script
The first case of Red Dwarf remastering was actually not on video, but in print. References to Kevin Keegan's book 'Football - It's a Funny Old Game' were replaced with a more sci-fi-esque version in order to prevent the novel becoming dated before its time. Joe Klumpp's 'Zero-Gee Football - It's a Funny Old Game' was the replacement of choice.
Also included in the omnibus was the 'original' beer mat upon which the first idea of Red Dwarf was scribbled, (and if you believed that, reddwarf.co.uk's got a second hand spacecraft the size of a city that you can have for two-hundred buck-quid) as well as one of the Dave Hollins - Space Cadet scripts for Grant Naylor's Son of Cliché radio sketch show.
Also included was a first draft of the pilot episode of Red Dwarf dated August 1984. Differences between this draft and the eventual episode are discussed in the 'Series I', 'Genesis' and 'Writing' sections of the Time Hole. But one excised scene held the key to unlocking Better Than Life's cliffhanger.
Recorded for television but never broadcast was the 'funeral' scene where Lister and Rimmer bid farewell to the crew of Red Dwarf. Each crew member's ashes are placed in a silver canister and shot into space. It was these canisters - and one in particular belonging to a certain female Navigation Officer - that had so baffled readers.
Never was a section of a Red Dwarf novel more aptly named than Last Human's 'Time Fork'. In the second part of this Down Time feature, we take a look at the two parallel-universe sequels to Better Than Life - Last Human and Backwards.