Tongue Tied
This article is about the Red Dwarf Novel. For the Red Dwarf episode, see RD: Backwards.

Backwards cover page

Backwards is the fourth Red Dwarf novel. It is set on the backwards universe version of Earth. The novel was written by Rob Grant on his own. It follows on directly from the second Grant Naylor novel, Better Than Life, ignoring Last Human which was by Doug Naylor. As well as "Backwards" it contains elements of the episodes "Dimension Jump" and "Gunmen of the Apocalypse". A popular audio book of Backwards was also produced, read by the author.


On the Backwards World

The Red Dwarf crew arrive on htraE (a version of Earth in Universe 3, where time is running backwards) in order to rescue Lister, who has returned to life and the age of 25 (following his death at age 61 the end of the previous novel, Better Than Life) as a result of the crew depositing his body on the time-reversed Earth 36 years earlier. After failing to meet Lister at the arranged rendezvous, Kryten, who has reversed his and Rimmer's speech units, learns from the television that Lister and Cat are associated with a murder that, due to the backwards flow of time, has not yet been committed. Lister (who has just finished... or rather is about to begin a lengthy prison sentence) soon arrives injured and in the custody of the police who, after a backwards fight which restores Lister to health, promptly unarrest him. Lister greets Kryten, insults Rimmer and is mildly annoyed that Cat cannot understand "back talk", his term for backwards English. Lister then takes off in backwards pursuit of one of the officers, explaining to the others that due to the nature of reverse time he is forced to follow the policeman (who if time were running forwards would be chasing him) until he is 'unspotted'. After a harrowing backwards car-chase (especially for Arnold Rimmer, who is unable to trust that no harm can befall him while time is running backwards) the policeman un-sees them, and the crew retreat to the mountain area where they landed their ship, the Starbug. They notice bullet holes in the windows and end up being un-shot at by an extremely angry hillbilly. It is revealed that although Lister was married to Kochanski for years, she was (unlike him) subject to this planet's backwards time flow... after being together for years, the two were introduced to each other and she promptly forgot him after which he was released from prison. Lister still doesn't know whether or not he is guilty of murder, but is curious to find out. . 

When they arrive, the crew examine Starbug to find most of the landing jets missing and the underside a mess of rust and badly-repaired damage. Unable to understand how it happened, but realising that on the backwards Earth they will need the landing jets to perform a take-off, they begin searching for the missing jets. While searching Kryten discovers the body of the hillbilly, who has been killed with a pickaxe. He is confused as he saw the man earlier on, until he realises that this man must be a relative of the first hillbilly. He panics when the corpse begins returning to life and removes the pickaxe from the man's chest. Once the man leaves, Kryten replays the incident 'forwards' and realises he was responsible for killing the man, a serious breach of his programming not to harm humans. Overwhelmed by guilt, Kryten shuts himself down. Lister finds Kryten, who learns from Rimmer what happened, realising this was the crime for which he was imprisoned. Lister is stunned that not only was he innocent of the crime for which he spent eight years in jail, but it was actually Kryten who was responsible. Regardless, Lister forgives the mechanoid and sets about repairing him.

Having only found one landing jet in terrible condition, and with Lister busy repairing Kryten, the crew's attempt at a reverse landing fails and they're trapped on htraE, having missed their flight window. Kryten is eventually fixed and he informs them they will have to wait 10 years for another opportunity to leave.

Ten years pass and, while Kryten and Rimmer are physically unaffected, the reverse time of backwards Earth means Lister and Cat have regressed to fifteen-year-olds. During the wait, Cat becomes a virgin during a backwards sexual encounter with a female cousin of the 'un-murdered' hillbilly, Lister is suffering the hormonal effects of backwards puberty, and the crew busy themselves reburying the landing jet they found and 'un-repairing' the damage to Starbug, which begins to become less rusted but more damaged as the reverse landing window approaches. When the time arrives, the crew begin the reverse landing, sending the under powered ship scraping backwards over a nearby mountain, a process which repairs much of the damage as several landing jets leap from the forest and reattach themselves. With the craft still out of control, they are unstruck by a missile from the American 'Star Wars' defence system, which had misidentified Starbug as a threat. With the remainder of the damage repaired, the crew leave for their own universe to rendezvous with Red Dwarf, but find it to be missing without trace.

The Search for Red Dwarf

Unknown to them, Holly, the Red Dwarf computer, has been reversing the process of his intelligence compression (performed in 'Better Than Life'), reducing his IQ to increase his operational lifespan. Unfortunately he takes the process too far, leaving him unable to prevent Red Dwarf falling into the hands of the Agonoids, a race of extremely sadistic simulants, who force him to divulge information about the crew. Delighted to discover the one remaining human (Lister) is among them, the Agonoids begin to plan his demise, ripping Holly's components from the ship and jettisoning them before converting the whole of Red Dwarf's interior into a giant torture chamber.

Discovering the remains of Holly, the Dwarf crew learn of the Agonoid threat, but with food and fuel supplies on Starbug severely low they have no options available but to head for Red Dwarf regardless.

At the same time, in a parallel universe, Ace Rimmer is preparing to test pilot a ship capable of crossing dimensions. The brave, heroic and charismatic Ace (a complete contrast to the neurotic Arnold Rimmer) arrives in the Red Dwarf timeline, materializing so close to Starbug as to severely damage both ships. Coming over to Starbug to help with repairs, Ace deduces it may be possible to rig up his ship to take the crew home. Ace naturally bonds with Kryten and the young Lister, but is bitterly disappointed to meet his dead alternative self, considering him a maggot. Rimmer is equally unimpressed, making snide comments about how Lister and Ace get on so well, also showing resentment at Ace's success. Lister meanwhile holds no sort of resentment to his own counterpart, Dave "Spanners" Lister, who leads a successful life and is best friends with Ace.

The Agonoids meanwhile are fighting for the right to torture and kill the last remaining human. Djuhn'Keep, the most ruthless Agonoid, succeeds in jettisoning the others into space, but notices to his chagrin that one, Pizzak'Rapp, is headed directly for Starbug. Pizzak'Rapp attempts to break into the ship, but Ace sacrifices himself to send the Agonoid into space.

Meanwhile, Djuhn'Keep arrives on Starbug, just as the oxygen supply fails. Horrified at losing the opportunity to torture Lister, Djuhn swiftly repairs the Oxygeneration unit. Kryten bazookoids the freshly repaired hull, causing a breech which sucks the Agonoid into space. The crew then learn that Djuhn has infected the ship's NaviComp with a computer virus (the Armageddon virus), causing them to be locked on course towards a nearby planet. Kryten decides to deliberately contract the virus to create an antidote, cryptically telling the crew to 'watch his dreams' before becoming unresponsive.

Entering Kryten's dream-state through a VR machine, the crew find themselves in a replica of an old Western, with the various characters representing Kryten's characteristics ('Wyatt Memory', 'Billy Belief', etc.), being threatened by 'the Apocalypse boys', representing the virus. Kryten's consciousness is represented by the town lawman, Sheriff Carton.

In order to buy Kryten time, the crew (Rimmer, Lister and Cat), adopt personas from a VR Western game, Streets of Larado. With impeccable skills in fighting, knife-throwing and shooting provided by the VR machine, along with the knowledge that they can't be injured, they attempts to take on the Apocalypse boys to distract them from destroying the town or killing Sheriff Carton. However, the virus spreads to the VR machine the crew is connected to, sealing them into the artificial reality, removing their 'special skills' and allowing them to feel pain. The crew clash with the Apocalypse boys regardless, and are subject to terrible injuries. However, Kryten has enough time to complete the antidote program just as the Apocalypse boys gun him down. Lister and Cat recover from their injuries, while Kryten dies and Rimmer's light bee is melted.

With the Apocalypse boys vaporised, Lister and Cat return to reality to find the virus has killed both Kryten and Rimmer, destroying their mechanical components. Since the VR machine only simulated their injuries, they find themselves unharmed. With the virus gone, they are able to control the ship, but since it has been accelerating for several hours there is not sufficient fuel left to avoid hitting the planet. Cramming into Ace's one-man ship Wildfire, which he had programmed for another jump, they cross dimensions (with Rimmer, Kryten and Holly dead and Red Dwarf gutted, they feel there's nothing worth staying in this dimension for. The two find themselves in a timeline where Kryten and Rimmer are still alive, but their own counterparts died playing Better Than Life. As they dock with the alternate Red Dwarf, Lister reflects that while this isn't home, it might be close enough.


  • The audiobook version of this novel eliminates the entire "Gunmen of the Apocalypse" segment. Instead Rimmer and Kryten die during the fight with Djuhn'keep (Rimmer's light bee is sucked out into space and Kryten is crushed by falling debris). Lister and Cat then immediately commandeer Wildfire upon learning their course is locked, making no attempt to destroy the virus.