I've Never Read... A Book - Part 2

Concluding our two-part look at the best-selling Red Dwarf novels.

(Click here to read Part 1.)

I've Never Read A Book

Never was a section of a Red Dwarf novel more aptly named than Last Human's 'Time Fork'. As the previously gestalt entity of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor separated, two new novels emerged - both of them sequels to Better Than Life.

Doug Naylor's Last Human was the first of the two sequels. In 1993 Rob and Doug had begun nibbling around the edges of a novel that went under the title of The Last Human. At that time, they gave an interview to the Red Dwarf Smegazine giving away no details, but explaining that the new book would pick up from Better Than Life literally 'the next day'. A cover design - featuring a distant Starbug beetling across a starscape with the book's title written in bones - was developed, and even previewed. But the book itself was never written.

I've Never Read A Book

When the writers parted - with Rob expressing a desire to produce his own solo novel - the Last Human title (losing the 'The') went to Doug. However it was Backwards that actually picked up the Dwarfers on backwards world...

Last Human

Cover Artwork: Bill Gregory
Illustrations: Mark Wilkinson

Prologue
Part One - Cyberia
Part Two - Time Fork
Part Three - The Rage

I've Never Read A Book

With Backwards's storyline planned to expand on the concept explored in the series III episode of the same name, Doug came up with a plan for Last Human that would bypass the reverse universe and pick up at Lister's point of departure. This avoided the problem of having two 'Dwarf novels based on the same concept, and pulled the Dwarfers into some brand new action.

Last Human opens with a section devoted to the birth of the first human, then cuts to what had become the last example of its species. Of course, the human population of this novel soon increased, not least with the addition of Kochanski. In line with coming developments in the TV series, the navigation officer became one of the main crew aboard Starbug.

Rescued from the backwards reality, this Kochanski was very much in love with Dave Lister (including the happy tendency to have enthusiastic sex with him while he remained semi-conscious and suffering from amnesia!). The underlying theme of their relationship becomes their significance to the human race - they are its last chance to create a new population.

In a further change from the series, Kochanski's character elicits no jealousy from Kryten - but manages to antagonise Rimmer instead. The now-hardlight hologram (also a link with developments in series VI) finds that her officer status rankles - she doesn't give out orders! How can he respect her when she's willing to do a job herself, instead of ordering him to do it? It's a fascinating glimpse into Rimmer's skewed view of the new addition.

As with the other 'Dwarf novels, the structure of Last Human bounced in time between chapters. A section detailing Lister's committal to the Cyberia prison facility - including reports of the most inappropriate tie ever to be worn in a courtroom - was actually a possible flash-forward. Or was it a flashback? When a second Lister entered the mix, everything changed.

Like Demons and Angels in series V, Last Human elected to examine the concept of 'Lister gone bad' - but this time in much more depth. This Lister was adopted by different parents to our own loveable rogue - leaving him anything but loveable. Armed with a rad pistol and a seriously deranged psyche, Lister II becomes the most terrifying threat the crew have ever faced.

The name of the adoptive parents, Wilmot, also seems to be a dig at Lister actor Craig Charles, who, to his eternal chagrin, is occasionally mistaken for popular entertainer Gary Wilmot! Nor is this the only in-joke. A medical report for Lister shows two appendix scars following his unfortunate birth with two of the useless organs - a gag at the expense of the show's most celebrated continuity error.

With readers everywhere already aware of links between the series and the novels, it came as little surprise that Last Human was set entirely on Starbug, as series VI and VII were. The seventh series had not been completed when Last Human was released, but sections from series VI episodes Psirens, Legion and Emohawk - Polymorph II made their way into the new story. (The latter including the terrifying prospect of Lister's... penetrative encounter with his GELF bride.) Previous episodes DNA and Quarantine also made their way into the mix... but with no sign of Mr Flibble or the curry monster!

But Last Human was far from a simple recycling job. Having slipped into the wrong dimension of reality - thanks to some black hole troubles, the seeds for which were sown in Better Than Life - the crew encountered brand new life-forms, unseen in the 'Dwarf universe.

First up were some new, and disgusting, GELFs. These Genetically Engineered Life Forms were comprised of three distinct animals. Alberogs (albatross, bear and frog), dolochimps (dolphin, locust and chimpanzee) and snugiraffes (slug, cobra and giraffe) populated this particular part of this particular dimension, and named it with some of the most incomprehensible words ever to issue forth in fiction. On Arranguu 12, Lister faces the Jhjghijiuyhu justice system, and, on making the legal choice of the seventh branch of O'pphjytere, he finds himself imprisoned on Lotomi 5. Maybe the GELFs had an allergy to vowels.

The other significant new breed was the symbi-morph, a shape-shifting creature which bonds with its host to become the thing they desire for a short period. In their neutral form, the symbi-morphs are humanoid shape, but comprised of a black and white matrix. Spaying them causes them to lose their shape-shifting abilities. Lister's symbi-morph - the consonant-heavy Reketrebn - is in love with a dingotang, but assists Lister's escape and joins the Dwarfers for the climax of the book.

Once again, the Red Dwarf novels allow fans a glimpse of goings-on in the world our crew came from - and left behind. This time it's the turn of one 'President Nixon' - distant relative of his disgraced namesake. Earth is dying. Attempts to control the weather have gone disastrously wrong, and soon the planet will have to be evacuated. Included on the mission to create a new, habitable world is Space Corps Marine Michael McGruder.

The name McGruder struck a chord with fans immediately. Yvonne McGruder had been Rimmer's only sexual conquest, and it seems that when she left Red Dwarf, she took more than just her baggage home. The young McGruder was brought up on tales of his dynamic father - Arnold J. Rimmer, warrior, fighter, hero. But hey, what were the chances of him ever bumping into the officious smeghead...?

It's interesting to note that the Yvonne McGruder story (Twelve minutes. Including the time it took to eat the pizza) was the only part of the Thanks for the Memory story that wasn't removed from the first novel, Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers.

The end of Last Human - featuring Rimmer's last act of heroism and Lister and Kochanski's one chance to start a family - seemed to be the start of a new human race on a peaceful new world. But the following year saw the crew heading back to Backworld.

Backwards

Cover Artwork: Bill Gregory

Prologue - Every Good Boy...
Part One - Reverse Universe
Part Two - Smoke Me a Kipper, I'll Be Back For Breakfast
Part Three - Back to Backworld
Midlogue - The Difference - 1
Part Four - Nipple-sized Pastry Cutters, Gonad Electrocution Kits and Easy-listenin' Music
Part Five - High Midnight
Epilogue - The Difference - 2

I've Never Read A Book

With the publication of this new book, suggested the cover biography to Rob Grant's own version of 'what happened next' in 1996, [Rob] has achieved the first of his two life-long ambitions: to write the world's first reverse whodunit space opera western dealing definitively with the concept of post-destination. This is about as concise a summary as Backwards could have. (The second ambition, according to an SFX interview at the time, was to pass himself off as one of Jodie Foster's pantyliners.)

Coincidence abounded, and for all the distance between the former writing team, it was clear that some gestalt thoughts were still occurring. Both are Starbug-based novels dealing with Lister's wrongful imprisonment and a more cunning and devious Kryten. Both contain use of the immortal 'Smoke me a kipper' legend and feature a comedy sex scene designed to make you go 'ugh!' But for all that, these were two very distinct tales.

Picking up at the Niagara Falls rendezvous mentioned in Better Than Life, Rob's novel removes Kochanski from the equation. (And with the exception of a brief - and tragic - scene, Holly is also taken out of the story.) Lister may or may not be guilty of a murder - only reverse time will tell. The story cuts between the crew stranded on Backworld and the trials of one Ace Rimmer in an alternate dimension.

Needless to say, Ace eventually encounters our beloved Dwarfers (although Lister and the Cat have been reduced to giggly teenagers thanks to the reverse ageing process), and the final climax of the story is played out in a Wild West virtual reality game hooked up to Kryten's subconscious.

With these story details, it is unsurprising to note that the key episodes of influence are Backwards, Dimension Jump and Gunmen of the Apocalypse. But one moment of sheer joy came from the return of another fan-favourite - not Ace Rimmer, but Olaf Petersen, Lister's former drinking buddy.

In Ace's dimension, Petersen is still a drunk and still aboard Red Dwarf - when he's not being held prisoner for putting staples through a police officer's... anatomy. This causes the alternate Lister to recall Lewis Pemberton, his former bunkmate aboard the 'Dwarf and the man who, in this dimension, made him a successful Space Corps engineer.

The ways a small influence can have a massive impact on a person's life was first explored in the Ace Rimmer TV story, but the expansion into the novel universe made for emotional reading. As before, one Rimmer is kept in his current school year, while the other is made to repeat. The difference, even a year later, is remarkable. The 'demoted' Rimmer has learned the value of sacrifice, has become noble... and, in time, he will become Ace Rimmer.

In Backwards the new addition to the universe of Red Dwarf came in the form of the deadly agonoids, metal warriors with no mercy, no morality... and no humans left to kill. Imagine their unbridled, psychotic joy when they discover Dave Lister is on his way! Bringing yet more details on the Earth left behind, it seems agonoids were created to obey, but also to survive. When decommissioning began, the droids fought back. Which you can understand, seeing as their human owners gave them joke names like M'Aiden Ty-One, Chi'Panastee and Djuhn'Keep!

When they ran out of people to fight, the agonoids turned on one another. Their parts were wearing down, and what better way to find replacements than to steal them from a dying opponent. On the upside, this whittled down the number of crazy killer robots in the universe; on the downside, it meant all the remaining killers represented the strongest, most ruthless and most cunning of their species.

The climax of the story - which follows the destruction of Red Dwarf's interior to create a torture-chamber-cum-obstacle-course - is a hilariously violent version of the Gunmen TV show. But the finale has led to almost as much debate as the last moments of Better Than Life.

The teenage Cat and Lister arrive in a dimension where they both died playing Better Than Life. Rimmer welcomes them with You picked a rare old time to show up. We're about to be... Could this be the approach, once again, of an out-of-control and frozen home planet?

Both Rob Grant and Doug Naylor have expressed interest in writing further Red Dwarf novels. So it seems that this universe's story might not be over yet...

Click here to read the first part of this article on the best-selling Red Dwarf novels.

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