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Better Than Life (Red Dwarf) - Grant Naylor

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Genre: Sci-Fi & Fantasy / Author: Grant Naylor / ISBN: 0140124381 / Publication date: 1991 / New Edition / Publisher: Penguin.

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      14.11.2011 15:16
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      Not Better than the first, but Better than most!

      Predictably continuing with my Red Dwarf book write up's, (I will write four), here is the second novel in the series and sequel to Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers (IWCD). Better Than Life has received fewer readings from me in the time I have own it, but only because it's slightly shorter and closer to the shows scripts, but no less enjoyable than the first book. Here are my thoughts on the second Red Dwarf novel, which I will refer in the review to as BTL (Better Than Life). Unfortunately, I have to contain at least ONE plot-spoiler to the previous book in this review, as it is sets the main story to this one, and making opinion of it without this information would be nonsensical to the reader.

      --A Smegging Sequel!--

      The first published paper back edition of BTL was back in 1991, and is a direct continuation of the story from Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers. At this point, the fourth series of the show had just been run, and like the previous book, BTL follows the trend on taking some of the major plot-lines and dialogue from the show and massively expending it. When the two books were amalgamated into as the Red Dwarf Omnibus, the ending of BTL was altered slightly because of fan feedback that some confusion was left. I never detected this however, and enjoy both endings in the same light, but it doesn't change anything major that effects the story-lines of the next to books.

      Better Than Life seemed to receive a higher accolades than the first book however. I believe this is due to the title being the same that of a series two episode, and the basis of at least half the book about a single, but popular idea taken from said episode. It's also clear that Grant Naylor have got into their novel writing stride, and the book follows our regular ragga-muffin crew at a faster pace with lots more sci-fi concepts thrown in.

      First Published: 1991
      Publisher: Penguin/Viking
      ISBN: 0-67-083547-1

      --Price, Availability and Cover Art--

      Unlike it's predecessor, the original paperback version of BTL is still available, and you will be able to pick it up from on-line stores and from book stores quite commonly, or by contacting the Red Dwarf Fan Club. The hardback edition is still available new too, as is the Omnibus version. Expect to pay around £7 to £10 for the hardback edition, and anything between £1 and £6 for the paperback. It is not available as an Ebook, but I would imagine this is only a matter of time before it makes that progression, more than likely as the Omnibus edition. It is also available as a audio book, both abridged and unabridged and read by Chris Barrie who plays Rimmer in the show.

      The classic big typeface of the original Red Dwarf logo is again prominent on the cover, on the back of a familiar star-scape, with the Better Than Life title printed in silver in a Star Wars/Superman-style parody font. Dominating the cover however is a rather ungainly but colourful illustration of a man (Lister?) lying on an inflatable lilo drifting through space, looking up from his feet. This is in keeping with the tone of Red Dwarf, but I always thought it's a louder cover than the first book, and a tad ugly even. I assume that the image has been inspired from the show's closing theme song lyrics. (Fun in the sun...)

      --Plot Summary and Primary Characters--

      This part does contain a major plot spoiler to the previous book, so feel free to skip if you wish to. The story picks up straight from the ending of IWCD, were we find Lister, Rimmer and co trapped in the virtual video game Better Than Life. The narrative follows there subsequent escape from the game, and their adventures hereafter, having to recover from years trapped in the game and the reality of the dangers the ship is now in without them being aware. Much like the first book, the tone is the same and all our the characters are present, with the ever evolving persona's of Lister and Rimmer to become better people.

      This time, while the focus still remains on the two men, other characters are highlighted much more so. Holly, the ships computer has a far bigger role in this book, and we are introduced to Talkie Toaster and the Polymorph. (Both lifted from the parent show). This expansion on the protagonists is a welcome one, and makes for a faster flowing plot and ultimately more diverse than the first book, much like the comparison between the first two series' of the show and the third and fourth series.

      --My Thoughts--

      My personal opinion of this book is very similar to the first, with some minor points to make. Reading this without reading the first book will not make any sense to the reader, as the story goes right in without warning, that's a negative I feel to some, but to the fan a bit of a welcome. No introductions or back-story, you are assumed to know the characters and the predicament they are in. Opening with a very amusing account of a recent stag-party Rimmer has had in the game, things become fast and a little complicated from the outset.

      All the primary characters do move on a bit more in this sequel. Kryten increasingly becomes more independent, and The Cat becomes a little less self-centred. His toast eating exploits are a fun bit to read. Rimmer makes big strides into becoming a more likable men, both for the crew and himself, but it's Lister's transgression that is the most progressive. This is played out in a very unusual way, but interesting and thoughtful whilst being amusing at the same time. As I have said before, Holly is more involved in the proceedings, and the sequences with him and the toaster are funny in the most baffling way! Who'd of thought you could make such a wise and equally annoying character out of a mechanical toaster. Only Grant Naylor can do this with such ease.

      BTL, like IWCD before it, takes major plotlines from the show's scripts, but unlike the first book, BTL takes larger chunks of dialogue as well as full screenplay parts of the shows. The episodes Marooned and Polymorph get the full re-working in this book, and certainly brings a smile to my face when I recognise a piece or a one-line gag taken from the show. Somehow, it still seems fresh in the context of the expanded and alternate story the novels follow. It's not a script-to-book copy, but it's closer to the show more than the first book. The links and story between these set-pieces is of course totally original anyway, so it seems like it's all written specifically for the book.

      Grant Naylor certainly delve a little more into a bit of social commentary with this book. I major part of the plot towards the end is basically a massive rant on the environmental issues of today, put written in such a satirical and amusing way that even the most polluting people of the world can admire and appreciate the connection of the parody and metaphor between the stark reality. While the story can be light-hearted, it can transmit a message through the comedy, and feelings towards the crew and their actions can be even more empathised with than before.

      Still witty, imaginative and compelling, BTL goes into the slightly darker Red Dwarf than before, and certainly set up the tone of the following book, which although written by the authors separately, share a more serious and colder tone than both previous Red Dwarf novels. It seems that was the way Grant Naylor were taking Red Dwarf, just like the parallel of the show changing from space-sitcom to comedy drama in space over the years, so to speak.


      Again, as a fully fledged RD nutcase, I recommend this book to all comedy and Sci-fi fans. Unlike Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, this is a book really for people who have either read the aforementioned book or seen the show, as it's a hard book to read or understand or even get interested in if you haven't. As with all sequels in any media, (Terminator and Aliens the exception!), it's not quite as good as the first book, but still a original and entertaining read all the same. It's takes Red Dwarf into a new direction too, an unexpected one, and leaves us with an ending which simultaneously puts a smile to your face and leaving that little bit of...'What happen's next?' element. It's a happy ending, but with a twist. Where the story goes next is up to you now, because both the third instalments take the tale in vastly different directions. Both of these books, 'Last Human' and 'Backwards' will be reviewed by me soon too, until then, enjoy Better Than Life. It's another smegging great Red Dwarf read!

      Thanks For Reading. © Novabug


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