Better Than Life
|Author||Rob Grant & Doug Naylor|
|Media type||Print (Paperback & Hardback)|
|Pages||224 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|ISBN||0-67-083547-1 (first edition, hardback)|
|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, first published April 4 1991, 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 fantasize that they board the Nova 5 and use its Duality Jump drive to return to Earth.
The messages on his arm cause Lister to realize 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. As a result, his company crashes, his new physical body is repossessed, and his attempt to escape leaves him trapped with a pair of violent criminals and transferred into the body of a female prostitute. Rimmer's escape damages the fantasies of the other three, forcing them all to depart.
Once back in the real world, Rimmer and Kryten leave Lister and Cat in the infirmary to recuperate- the two near-starved and physically weak after almost two years of near-inactivity while in the Game- but learn that ship's computer Holly has shut himself down, as an experiment to cure his computer senility suggested by Talkie Toaster- a sentient Toaster with a fixation with doing its job- and restore his original IQ of 6 000 has given him an IQ of 12 000 at the cost of reducing his lifespan to a few minutes. With the ship now virtually powerless without Holly's control, it is discovered to be locked on course for a planet, but after attempts to manually restart the engines fail, Holly is able to use his remaining minutes of life to come up with a plan to knock the planet out of its orbit with an explosive.
Holly's plan succeeds, but damage sustained to the Starbug shuttle causes Rimmer and Lister to crash-land on a drifting ice planet. Rimmer is returned to Red Dwarf when his remote projection unit runs out of power, but cannot send help for Lister as the ship has become trapped in the event horizon of a black hole. Back on the planet, Lister realises that he has arrived on Earth, which was sent drifting out of orbit after it became the solar system's garbage dump, Lister becoming the 'king' of the mutated giant cockroaches that are the planet's only remaining life.
Back on the Dwarf, the crew are able to escape as Holly told the Toaster how to get out of a black hole before he shut himself down. Unfortunately, when the Dwarfers finally go to rescue Lister- with Rimmer and the Cat in one ship and 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. A shape-shifting, emotion-stealing mutant known as a polymorph is able to sneak on board the ship, draining Lister of his fear, Cat of his confidence, Kryten of his guilt and Rimmer of his rage. Eventually the emotionally handicapped crew are able to defeat the Polymorph, but the abrupt restoration of his fear causes Lister to die 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
The TV episode
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. Another game in Series 7 allowed the crew to have tea with the characters of Pride And Prejudice, showing that not all of the Immersion games are dangerous: many of which are often played by Lister just to fulfill his sexual fantasies.
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 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.
The game fulfils fantasies you don't even know you have. A person like the Cat, who has such a huge ego that he truly believes he deserves everything, will get everything he desires, regardless of how outlandish - he built himself a huge castle with a moat filled with milk, and surrounded himself with adoring Amazonian women who catered to his every desire. However a person like Rimmer, arrogant and filled with self-loathing, will build themselves up just to destroy themselves utterly, over and over again. Rimmer gave himself money, fame, and a stunningly beautiful wife - who was abusive and humiliatingly unfaithful. He then placed himself in a scenario where all his stocks abruptly crashed, he lost all of his money, his body was repossessed, and he was forced to occupy a female prostitute's body, then dragged into hiding from the law, experiencing verbal, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of violent criminals, and finally pimped out by them, as well as coming to realise that his idea of the perfect woman - the woman he was in fact engaged to - was the spitting image of his own 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. Unfortunately Rimmer's presence in the game even resulted in his and the Cat's fantasies being crushed, giving them no reason to stay.
The game can even trap mechanoids by playing on their desire for devoted servitude. While Kryten didn't forget that he was playing the game, he kept finding himself distracted when the game continually offered him the exact chores that he had been created to carry out.
In a shared game, a player cannot leave unless all the players agree to leave. 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 - followed by the final level, which involves the player believing that they have woken up, and requires them to realise that this is also artificial because, again, it is Better Than Life.
- 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. 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.
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, Grant Naylor Productions. Still contracted to write two more Red Dwarf novels, they decided to each write one. For his novel, Doug Naylor renamed it Last Human and set it onboard Starbug featuring Kristine Kochanski as a new cremember. Grant's Red Dwarf novel, Backwards, released in 1996, would be a direct sequel to the ending of Better Than Life with the beginning consisting of the crew waiting for Lister at Niagara Falls.