Better Than Life

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For the Red Dwarf episode, see Better Than Life (Red Dwarf). For the song by Ultrabeat, see Better Than Life (song).
Better Than Life
Grant Naylor - Better Than Life.jpeg
Author Rob Grant & Doug Naylor
Media type Print (Paperback & Hardback)
Pages 224 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN ISBN 0-67-083547-1 (first edition, hardback)
OCLC 22182967
823.914 20
LC Class PR6064.A935 B47 1990
Preceded by Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers
Followed by Last Human

Better Than Life is a science fiction comedy novel by Grant Naylor, the collective name for Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, co-creators and writers of the Red Dwarf television series, on which the novel is based. The main plotline was developed and expanded from the Red Dwarf episode of the same name, as well as the Series 3 and 4 episodes: White Hole, Marooned, Polymorph, and Backwards.

The book is a sequel to Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, and was the first Red Dwarf novel to receive its first print run in hardback edition. Like the first novel, Better Than Life became a best seller and was reproduced in paperback, omnibus and audiobook versions. Two further novels, Last Human and Backwards, were each created as alternate sequels by the writers, and followed in 1995 and 1996 respectively.

Plot summary[edit]

Following on from Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, Lister, Rimmer and The Cat have discovered a cache of 'Better Than Life' headbands in one of the sleeping quarters. They fantasise that they board the Nova 5 and use its Duality Jump drive to return to Earth.

Lister settles down with a woman who looks exactly like Kristine Kochanski in Bedford Falls, which looks exactly like the Bedford Falls in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, Lister's favourite movie. He has two sons, Jim and Bexley, who are so intelligent they were able to change their own nappies. Lister also opens a successful curry shop and every day is Christmas Eve. Rimmer becomes the head of a multi-national corporation, Rimmer Corp., and has a 50 billion dollarpound fortune. He's married to Juanita Chicata, the most beautiful model and actress in the world, with a massively fiery temper. He's also developed a solidgram to give himself a real body and a time machine, which he uses to beat George Patton, Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte at Risk. The Danish government gives Cat an island, on which is built a giant golden castle, right out of a gothic fairy tale. The castle is surrounded by a moat of milk, and is staffed by 8-foot-tall (2.4 m), scantily clad Valkyrie warriors. He likes to travel on firebreathing yaks and shoot dogs.

Back in reality, Kryten is cajoled by Holly to laser messages into Lister's arms. Lister feels the pain of this in Bedford Falls, and when he applies cold cream to the areas of pain, they spell two messages - 'U=BTL' on his left arm and 'DYING' on his right. Eventually Kryten is forced to enter the game to try to retrieve the crew, and his mechanoid brain allows him to remember entering. While searching for his shipmates, Kryten accidentally wanders into a diner which is advertising for a dishwasher to work through an endless pile of dirty dishes. The next thing he knows, months have passed.

Meanwhile, the messages on his arm cause Lister to realise that he is in the game and confronts Rimmer. They travel to Denmark and meet with the Cat. While discussing how to get out, Kryten arrives and explains how they started playing, and to leave they need only want to leave, but their subsequent attempts to escape fail because the game lures them in.

Their collective fantasies fall apart because of Rimmer's massive self-loathing; even if he wants to stay, he hates himself so much that his mind has only built up his life so that it can bring him down later. He loses his fortune, has his body repossessed, and ends up in the body of a woman while trapped with a couple of violent convicts, forcing him to recognise that his own attitude towards women is disturbing; most of his groupies in the fantasy are women who rejected him in life, his first wife was actually his brother's wife in reality, and his second wife was his mother. Upon attempting to leave, he can't, and realises that all four must leave together. He travels to Bedford Falls in a giant truck, accidentally wiping out the town square in the process, ruining Lister's fantasy. They travel to Denmark, to discover that Cat's Valkyries have gone on strike, the milk moat has curdled, and a volcano has started to erupt. The crew leave the game together.

The next morning, Lister wakes up and starts making breakfast, only to realize something is amiss. He didn't have to wait for the lifts on his way back, his alarm clock doesn't violently blare, his towel extends all the way around his waist. Eventually Lister drops his toast and it lands butter-side up, confirming his fears that he's still in the game. The rest of the crew enter and announce they've found statis units containing Rimmer, Kochanski and Petersen, only for Lister to tell them the bad news. At this point, the creator of the game appears and offers them a replay. They decline, and finally return to reality. Due to their having not moved for such a long time, Lister and Cat's muscles have atrophied considerably, and they have to be placed in special suits for some time to re-hydrate and restore their muscles.

While Lister and the Cat recover, Kryten and Rimmer realise Holly has shut himself off and the ship's engines are dead. His companion, a novelty appliance named Talkie Toaster, convinced the computer to perform a dangerous repair operation which lead to Holly having a five digit IQ, but has less than two minutes of run time left, forcing him to shut himself down. To make things worse, a rogue planet is on a crash course with the disabled Dwarf.

In order to restart the engine, hundreds of mile-high pistons must be test fired. Things are going well, until Rimmer accidentally crushes most of the skutters when he test fires the wrong pistons. Rimmer turns Holly on to warn him that Red Dwarf is doomed. Holly prints out a solution and shuts himself down again. Starbug is to fire a nuclear missile into a nearby sun, causing a solar flare that will knock its planet out of orbit and in turn, knock the rogue planet away from the Dwarf. Rimmer and Lister carry out the plan and although successful, Starbug crashes into the icy rogue planet.

Rimmer and Lister are marooned on the planet, Lister begins to starve and Rimmer begins to slow down. He shuts down and is brought online back on Red Dwarf, where he intends to launch a rescue operation. However, the Dwarf is being sucked into a black hole. Holly, via the toaster (having shared the information with the toaster earlier) informs them that if they accelerate into the hole, they can zip through safely.

Lister, meanwhile, is having problems of his own. The ice on the planet has melted, revealing a landscape of green glass bottles. Acid rain begins destroying Starbug. When he sees the remains of Mount Rushmore, he finds that he is on Earth, converted into a garbage dump for the solar system and accidentally blasted from orbit. Lister discovers a tiny olive tree and befriends some cow-sized cockroaches and vows to begin life again.

After the black hole experience, the Dwarfers finally go to rescue Lister; Rimmer and the Cat in one ship, Kryten and the Toaster in the other. Rimmer and the Cat are shocked to find a beautiful farm amidst the garbage, tended by an old Lister. Because of the time dilation of the black hole, thirty years have passed on the planet.

Kryten contacts the rest of the crew having found a polymorph disguised as Lister, which the Toaster disables. Lister insists the polymorph's remains be shot out into space, but its offspring manages to return to Red Dwarf. It steals emotions from the crew until they are saved by a freak accident which slays the beast, causing them to regain their emotions. The stress of the battle is too much for the elderly Lister, and he dies from a heart attack.

After Lister's funeral, Rimmer informs Holly of the loss. Holly prints out some instructions to rescue a canister from certain coordinates in space. They are then to fly back into the black hole and enter a parallel dimension, where they are to bury Lister and the canister (which contains Kochanski's ashes).

Lister wakes up in a strange hospital in a weird world where time runs backwards. He recovers from his heart attack, regurgitates lunch, and is forced to take a wallet and watch from a mugger. A message from the Dwarf crew instructs Lister to meet them in thirty years (they can't stay with him or they would have gotten younger). Lister takes a taxi to his new home, and finds an elderly Kochanski waiting for him. Lister is happy, knowing that he and Kochanski have many years behind them to look forward to.

Alternative version[edit]

When the two Red Dwarf novels were printed together as an omnibus, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor took the opportunity to alter the ending of Better than Life in order to clear up confusion about the book's ending.[citation needed]

Differences between the novel and TV episode[edit]

The TV episode[edit]

We are first introduced to the game in a series two episode titled Better Than Life. The game arrives among other fantastic packages in a post pod, which is encountered after Red Dwarf turns around to head for home. It is part of a series of 'VR Total Immersion Video Games', which work by inserting electrodes into the user's frontal lobes and hypothalamus. The user becomes completely immersed within the reality of the game.

Better Than Life is a game which allows the user to live out all their fantasies and desires. When in the game, one has the ability to mentally command into existence any object, person or environment.

The problem with the game in the TV Series, however, is that it also detects subconscious desires: if the user subconsciously hates himself then the game will eventually detect this and subject him to specifically tailored masochistic tortures.

Total Immersion Video Games - though not specifically Better Than Life - are later encountered in the Series 5 episode, 'Back to Reality' in which a group hallucination makes the Dwarf crew believe that the previous four years had been a video game fantasy.

The novel[edit]

Better Than Life plays an important role in the two novels Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers and Red Dwarf: Better Than Life. The novel version of the game has far greater abilities and far greater bugs. Unlike the TV series, which is based on the original, nonaddictive version, and which is only briefly mentioned in the novel, the novel version causes the user's imagination to develop semi-plausible explanations for certain events. For instance, in early versions of Better Than Life, the user could make a large, expensive car appear out of thin air. In the books, the user's imagination would create a scenario where they won the lottery, or created a successful business, so they could buy the car.

The danger of the game is that once the user starts to play, the game forces them to forget they actually started to play, so they believe that they are still in reality. Their conscious mind only perceives the reality of the game, and all signals from their real body, except for those of extreme pain, are completely ignored.

A person like the Cat, who has such a huge ego that he truly believes he could get anything, can get anything, while a person like Rimmer, filled with self-loathing, will eventually create a fantasy in which their entire life is destroyed- Rimmer at one point placed himself in a scenario where he was pimped out by violent escaped criminals while trapped in a female body, becoming even more disturbed when he realises that a woman he was about to marry was actually a version of his mother. Lister on the other hand had a fantasy far more mature and healthy than those of the others, just needing somebody he loved who would love him in return and the ability to live quietly but comfortably.

Unless cared for in the real world, a user (or "Game Head") dies very quickly. While it is certainly possible for friends to forcibly remove the headset that contains the game, this results in instant death from shock. The only way to exit the game is to figure out that you're playing the game, develop the desire to leave it and then command an exit.

Other versions[edit]

  • New edition
The new paperback edition was released in April 1991 by Penguin Books Ltd.
  • Red Dwarf Omnibus
Released in November 1992 by Penguin Books, the Omnibus contains the novels Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers and its sequel Better than Life together in one volume, both of which are slightly corrected and/or expanded.[citation needed] In addition, the omnibus also includes a jokey reproduction of the text that appeared on the infamous beer mat that the premise for the series was originally written on, a script for an episode of Dave Hollins: Space Cadet, and the original script of the pilot episode "The End".
  • Better Than Life (Audiobook)
Unabridged and abridged audiobooks, read by regular cast member Chris Barrie (who plays Arnold Rimmer in the series) were released by Laughing Stock Production in December 1996. Originally released on cassette, digital filesets of the audiobook now circulate.
    • Chris Barrie's audiobook was serialised in six 30 minute parts on BBC Radio 4 Extra in December 2012.[1]


Rob Grant and Doug Naylor began collaborating on a sequel under the title The Last Human. During the making of the novel, the two decided to split their partnership. The two were contracted to write two more Red Dwarf novels, so they took a novel each. For his novel, Doug Naylor took much of what they had been working on, combined it with dialogue and plots from the TV show and renamed it, Last Human. Grant's Red Dwarf novel, Backwards, released in 1996, would stay more faithful to the ending of Better Than Life and feature less from the TV show (although it lifted almost the entire plot of the episode Gunmen of the Apocalypse).


  1. ^ BBC Radio 4 Extra - Red Dwarf

See also[edit]