Better Than Life (ISBN 9780140124385) is a 1990 British science fiction comedy novel based on the television show Red Dwarf and written by Grant Naylor, the collective name for Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. It serves as a direct sequel to its 1989 predecessor, Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers.
Continuing from the plot of the first novel, Dave Lister, Arnold Rimmer, and the Cat find themselves stuck in the ultra-addictive virtual reality video game, Better Than Life, tantalising their wildest desires while proving to be much more harmful than they anticipate.
Better Than Life adapts plotlines and dialogue from individual episodes of the television show, while also including exclusive content that would see itself adapted into the televised program in later series. Adapted episodes include Better Than Life, Marooned, Polymorph, and Backwards while having a section of original plot be developed into the episode White Hole.
The first Red Dwarf novel to be printed in hardback, it was later distributed in paperback and, like the first novel, became a bestseller. It saw reproduction as part of the Red Dwarf Omnibus in 1992, being coupled alongside Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers in one volume in company with the original script for the first episode of the television show, The End, and other extra additions. Like the first novel, an audiobook was commissioned with Chris Barrie returning to provide the narration.
Part One: Game Over
Content with their individual fantasies, Dave Lister, Arnold Rimmer, and the Cat have continued to indulge themselves in Better Than Life for almost two years, all the while Red Dwarf drifts directionless through deep space and, unbeknownst to them, Lister and Cat's health slowly deteriorate from their immobile state as they play the game.
Lister and Cat are only sustained by Kryten, but he grows anxious of their continued play and decides to attempt a rescue himself by entering the game so he may convince them to leave. However, he too is quickly seduced by Better Than Life and becomes preoccupied with his own tailor-made fantasy.
Better Than Life is able to draw the player in by accessing their subconscious and creating its environment from what the subconscious most desires. While Lister, Cat, and Kryten find themselves surrounded by what makes them happy (Kochanski and settling down, scantily-clad women and 24/7 pampering, and filth in need of a clean respectively), Rimmer finds himself surrounded by the complete opposite.
Though at the beginning it all looks good, an abundance in wealth, a gorgeous wife, a physical presence thanks to a process of inhabiting other bodies, and adoration from crowds of screaming girls; they all reveal themselves to be tools used to make Rimmer miserable. Spawned from Rimmer's own neurotic mind and deep self-loathing, his fantasies go from bad to worse to nightmarish until he finally desires to leave the game. However, to leave the game all players in the same session must simultaneously want to leave as well.
Meanwhile, back on Red Dwarf, Holly becomes lonesome and depressed with only the inaudible skutters for company. As such, Holly tasks the skutters in repairing one of Lister's old novelty junk items, a talking breakfast appliance named Talkie Toaster, for company. They don't hit it off, however, as even the cheaply-made toast-obsessed Talkie Toaster realises Holly has gone computer senile from continued isolation for 3 million years. Yet, after examining Holly's manual, Talkie Toaster believes it may have a solution in reverting Holly's IQ back to 6,000. Despite the risks involved, Holly agrees.
Back in Better Than Life, Rimmer makes his way over to Bedford Falls so he may convince Lister in leaving the game. Initially, Lister is not interested in abandoning his fantasy, but its revealed Rimmer's deeply damaged psyche is effecting their fantasies as well, turning Bedford Falls into a hellhole and having Kochanski leave him. A dejected Lister and Rimmer make their way to Cat's mansion where Cat and Kryten are experiencing similar misfortunes regarding their paradises. They all decide to leave the game and end up back on Red Dwarf not long afterwards, only things seem way better than they usually are as they quickly realise they're still in Better Than Life.
Dennis McBean, Better Than Life's game designer, materialises in the room and congratulates them in successfully defeating the game and offers them a replay. They decline.
Part Two: She Rides
Finally back on the real Red Dwarf, things are in a hectic state of affairs following their return from absence.
Lister and the Cat are both extremely malnourished and unwell from their time playing Better Than Life and Rimmer and Kryten discover Red Dwarf's engines are dead and they aren't moving.
After feeding Lister and Cat vitamin boosters and fitting them into medi-suits connected to a biofeedback computer, they are left to rest as Kryten joins Rimmer in Red Dwarf's drive room. There, they learn after Holly and Talkie Toaster's experiment Holly has had his IQ doubled to 12,000 but his lifespan dwindled significantly to only just under a minute following a quick explanation to Rimmer and Kryten and as a result is switched off to preserve what remains for the time being. Not long after this, Kryten and Rimmer discover Red Dwarf is on a collision course with an ice planet.
Making sure to not alarm Lister and Cat while they were recovering, Rimmer, Kryten, and an army of skutters are tasked in speeding-up the time needed to power up Red Dwarf's dead engines before they were due for hitting the planet. However, these plans are thoroughly dashed after Rimmer accidentally crushes half of Red Dwarf's skutters while testing the ship's piston towers, leading to the unavoidable necessity of abandoning Red Dwarf.
Finally forced to alert Lister and Cat of the current situation, they make a dash for it while Rimmer decides to inform Holly of their abandoning ship and let him enjoy his last few moments. However, Holly switches himself off saving twenty-five seconds after Rimmer tells him the situation and delivers coordinates to the drive room. There, the whole crew rendezvous and discover Holly's plan to launch a thermo-nuclear device from Starbug and hit the incoming ice planet into a nearby sun using another planet, or as the crew put it, play pool with planets.
Lister, however, disagrees with Holly's trajectory and suggests he take the helm in launching the device from Starbug. While Rimmer is for using Holly's plans, Kryten and Cat, though both in agreement with Rimmer, vote for Lister as Kryten is forced to side with the human due to his programming and Cat detests Rimmer's fashion sense.
Lister and Rimmer take-off in Starbug to prepare for the shot while Kryten and Cat stay behind back on Red Dwarf. Lister takes the shot and, after several hours, it succeeds in knocking the ice planet out of Red Dwarf's range but causes another planet's slipstream to send Starbug crashing into the ice planet.
Lister and Rimmer are subsequently marooned on the ice planet in the crashed Starbug for the following five days, there Rimmer constantly attempts to reach Red Dwarf through SOS calls while Lister futilely attempts to dig Starbug out of the snow heap.
After a while, Rimmer's hologrammatic image and voice begins to fade in-and-out until Rimmer realises he's beginning to materialise back on board Red Dwarf as, due to being remotely-powered by Red Dwarf, after a long period of time away he would automatically be switched from remote to local and be sent back to the ship. Though it takes awhile to properly communicate this, Rimmer promises to deliver Kryten and Cat their location when he is sent back, and after some time he finally is.
Sixteen hours pass for Lister and, to his discovery, the ice planet is finally adjusting to its new sun and is undergoing an ice age. Starbug begins to helplessly speed off downhill as Lister prepares himself by sleeping through it.
Rimmer is teleported back on Red Dwarf, only to discover time is different in each room and what is Tuesday for him is Friday next week for Kryten and Cat in the drive room. After hurriedly making his way to them, Rimmer reunites with Kryten and Cat and, while the engines have been repaired, Rimmer also discovers Red Dwarf is being sucked into a black hole.
Part Three: Garbage World
Millions of years prior, John Ewe, a colonial employed in delivering waste and dumping it on the solar system's designated garbage world, is finishing his personal pet project twenty years in the making. Ewe is finishing creating his own signature, "Ewe woz 'ere", made completely out of collected garbage on the former continent of Europe.
Earth, the originator of the human species, was on hard times and, following a solar system-wide vote by all nine planets, was made to be the human race's dumping ground for all its collected filth. Alongside that, GELFs, genetically-engineered life forms, were also left to die on the planet by the human race.
As Ewe completed his finished product, methane turbulence from the Earth's polluted atmosphere rocked Ewe's spacecraft and sent him flying out to the ground below. Finally, Ewe's craft crashed and caused a enormous methane explosion triggering Earth's countless discarded atomic-power stations and sent the Earth flying out of the solar system and undergoing a total ice age into the ice planet the Red Dwarf crew encountered previously.
Lister is re-awoken to discover Starbug is being hit by literal acid rain and ducks for cover, just barely surviving as Starbug is utterly destroyed.
Back on Red Dwarf, the crew are helpless as Red Dwarf is due to hit the black hole momentarily, only for Talkie Toaster to reveal the high-IQ Holly originally revealed to him the secret of how to survive a black hole. After forcing Kryten and Cat to eat pounds of toast, Talkie reveals that they must engage faster-than-light speed while passing the event horizon. During which they undergo spaghettification and exit to discover the Omni-zone, where six universes converge at a centre of a singularity.
Meanwhile, Lister leaves the wreckage of Starbug to discover he is on Earth after coming across Mount Rushmore and taking refuge under George Washington's nose. After the storm passes, Lister transcends the mountain and encounters gigantic cockroaches, who appear more friendly than Lister first believes.
In search of Lister, Cat and Rimmer pilot White Giant and Kryten and Talkie take Blue Midget and comb the northern and southern hemispheres of Garbage World respectively. Cat and Rimmer come across Lister, now aged into his 60s due to the time dilation from Red Dwarf traveling the black hole. Over the past thirty-four years, Lister had bonded with the giant cockroaches, who give all three a fly-through of the small plot of land Lister has been tending to complete with two enormous K's made up of white and yellow flowers standing for Kochanski.
After a meeting with Lister at his home made completely of garbage and Lister detailing his ludicrous plan to tow Earth using Red Dwarf; Cat, Rimmer, and Lister communicate with Kryten and Talkie via White Giant where Kryten reveals they've found another Lister, who's still 27 years of age, and they're heading back to Red Dwarf. Lister reveals to Cat and Rimmer that Kryten has encountered a Polymorph, the end product of millions of years of GELF evolution on Garbage World, the dominant species that feasts on the negative emotions of its prey to grow stronger and can change its physical form to best suit its environment, strike fear into its enemies, or pretend to be someone else.
Kryten to informed of this by the crew, however he is already in space and is nearly murdered by the Polymorph but saved by Talkie, who uses an ashtray Kryten previously jammed into him to sever the Polymorph's tentacles, releasing Kryten and temporarily eliminating the Polymorph as a threat.
All four of them return to Red Dwarf, but not before Kryten and Talkie abandon Blue Midget and blast it off into deep space with the Polymorph inside. However, the Polymorph, although young and inexperienced, transforms into a gas and slips out of Blue Midget and takes refuge within Red Dwarf.
Meanwhile, the elderly Lister settles down for a meal prepared by Kryten, however before he can enjoy himself the Polymorph sneaks in, disguised on his plate as a sausage, and attempts to strangle Lister who flings him off. After a struggle, the Polymorph turns into its natural form striking fear into Lister, which the Polymorph sucks out of him leaving Lister bull-headed. Cat, Kryten, and Rimmer attempt to gather supplies in preparation for the Polymorph, however accidentally send two heat-seeking bazookoid shots flying when they believe they spotted it, chasing Cat who manages to lock them in an elevator. One-by-one, the Polymorph takes down Cat, Kryten, and Rimmer sucking them of their vanity, guilt, and anger respectively and leading Kryten, now a complete sociopath, to crush Talkie to death after he gets of his nerves for the final time.
The emotionally-drained crew rendezvous and decide to attack the Polymorph head-on, however the Polymorph is tougher than they anticipate as it transforms into an iron lamp post indestructible to their weapons. Deterred, they decide to seek shelter as the Polymorph prepares to finally feast on them whole, only for them to open the elevator, duck, and have the two heat-seeking bazookoid shots obliterate the Polymorph.
However, as Rimmer, Cat, and Kryten discover, the elderly Lister had a heart attack following the explosion and subsequently, died.
Part Four: The End, And After
Following a funeral for their fallen friend, Rimmer, Cat, and Kryten pilot White Midget using coordinates provided by Holly to deliver the canister coffins of Lister and another marked "1121" and, after traveling through the black hole, the Omni-zone, and planet in Universe 3, plant him there.
Lister awakes, alive once more, to discover himself on Earth where everything moves backwards. After entering a cab, Lister comes across a newspaper jammed in the seats and reads the obituaries detailing a "Retsil Divad" being resurrected today at the age of 61. Searching the personal column, Lister finds text printed forwards from the crew, detailing Lister to meet them at Niagara Falls in thirty-six years.
Lister returns to his new home and discovers Kristine Kochanski, resurrected.
Sequels and White Hole
Better Than Life was the final Red Dwarf novel to be written by cocreators, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, who would split their partnership in the mid-1990s following Series VI of the television show. Two sequels to Better Than Life would follow due to a contractual agreement owed to publishers, and as such Grant and Naylor agreed to write two separate sequels. Last Human, written by Doug Naylor, would be released in 1995 followed by Backwards, written by Rob Grant, in 1996.
A section of Better Than Life, specifically the majority of She Rides (excluding the adaptation of Marooned), would see adaptation into the fourth episode of Series IV, White Hole. Similar to the episode, Holly's IQ is doubled to 12,000 while also having the effect of a dwindled lifespan, Talkie Toaster reappears and converses with the genius Holly, Holly converses with the Red Dwarf crew through messages after quick conversations, and Lister plays pool with planets along with dialogue being carried over. Differences include the differing genders of Holly (the Holly in the novels being modelled after Norman Lovett's performance from Series I and II and not Hattie Hayridge who went on the play Holly from Series III-V), the threat being a time hole distorting time and not a collision course with a planet, and Talkie Toaster having less impact on the overall story as well as a few other minor differences.
Garbage World was originally planned to be adapted as well, with Series IV production reports detailing the crew riding giant cockroaches as part of a planned episode, however it was scrapped.