Better Than Life

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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 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.


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.

The messages on his arm cause Lister to realise that he is in the game, and he 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. 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 four years have passed on the planet. The crew battle a Polymorph which leads to Lister dying of a heart attack. Rather than burying Lister, they take him to Universe 3, where time runs backwards.

Lister returns to life on a version of Earth 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 six 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.

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 them 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.
    • The abridged version of the book – along with Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers – was broadcast as the Red Dwarf Radio Show, a 24-part series on the BBC World Service in 1995,[1] with repeats on what is now BBC Radio 4 Extra.[2]


Rob Grant and Doug Naylor began collaborating on a sequel under the title The Last Human. During the writing of the novel, the two decided to split their partnership. Still contracted to write two more Red Dwarf novels, they decided to each write one. 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).


See also[edit]