Tongue Tied

Better Than Life front cover.

This article is about the Red Dwarf Novel. For the Red Dwarf episode, see RD: Better Than Life

Better Than Life is a science fiction comedy novel by Grant Naylor, the collective name for Red Dwarf creator/writers Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. The main story was developed, and expanded, from the Red Dwarf episode of the same name.

Better Than Life was the first Red Dwarf novel to receive its first print run in hardback edition. The previous novel Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers was only being printed in paperback. As with that first novel, Better Than Life became a best seller and was reproduced in paperback, omnibus and audio cassette versions. Two further novels Last Human and Backwards followed in 1995 and 1996 respectively.

Plot summary

Following on from Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, Lister, Rimmer and 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.

Lister settles down with a woman who looks exactly like Kristine Kochanski in Bedford Falls, which looks exactly like the Bedford Falls in Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life", Lister's favourite movie. He has two sons, Jim and Bexley, and opens a successful shami kebab shop. Rimmer becomes the head of a multi-national corporation, Rimmer Corp., and has a 50 billion DollarPound fortune. He's married to Juanita Chicata, the most beautiful model and actress in the world, with a massively fiery temper. He's also developed a time machine, which he uses to beat George Patton, Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte at "Risk". The Danish government gives the Cat an island, on which is built a giant golden castle, right out of a gothic fairy tale. The castle is surrounded by a moat of milk, and is staffed by eight-foot tall, scantily clad Valkyrie warriors. He likes to travel on fire breathing yaks and shoot dogs.

Back in reality, Kryten is cajoled by Holly to laser messages into Lister's arms. Lister feels the pain of this in Bedford Falls, and when he applies cold cream to the areas of pain, they spell two messages - 'U=BTL' on his left arm and 'DYING' on his right. These messages cause Lister to realize that he is in the game and 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. This is easier said than done, as Kryten also falls victim to the game when he begins washing an infinite pile of dirty dishes and before he knows it months have passed.

Their collective fantasies fall apart because of Rimmer's massive self-loathing. He loses his fortune, has his body repossessed, and ends up in the body of a woman prostitute. Upon attempting to leave, he can't, and realizes that all four must leave together. He travels to Bedford Falls in a giant truck, accidentally wrecking the town square in the process, ruining Lister's fantasy. They travel to Denmark, to discover that Cat's Valkyries have gone on strike, the milk moat has curdled, and a volcano has started to erupt. The crew leave the game together.

They seemingly arrive back on Red Dwarf, but soon realize they're still in the game when things are stil impossibly perfect... the lifts arrive immediately, toast lands butter-side and three statis tubes containing Rimmer, Kochanski and Petersen are found. At this point, the creator of the game appears and offers them a replay. They decline, and finally return to reality. Due to their having not moved for such a long time, Lister and Cat's muscles have atrophied considerably, and they have to be placed in special suits for some time to re-hydrate and restore their muscles.

While Lister and the Cat recover, Kryten and Rimmer realize Holly has shut himself off and the ship's engines are dead. His companion, a novelty appliance named Talkie Toaster, convinced the computer to perform a dangerous repair operation which lead to Holly having a five digit IQ, but has less than two minutes of run time left. To make things worse, a rogue planet is on a crash course with the disabled Dwarf.

In order to restart the engine, hundreds of mile-high pistons must be test fired. Things are going well, until Rimmer accidentally crushes most of the skutters when he test fires the wrong pistons. Rimmer turns Holly on to warn him that Red Dwarf is doomed. Holly prints out a solution and shuts himself down again. Starbug is to fire a nuclear missile into a nearby sun, causing a solar flare that will knock its planet out of orbit and in turn, knock the rogue planet away from the Dwarf. Rimmer and Lister carry out the plan and although successful, Starbug crashes into the icy rogue planet.

Rimmer and Lister are marooned on the planet, Lister begins to starve and Rimmer begins to slow down due to the distance from Red Dwarf. He shuts down and is brought online back on Red Dwarf, where he intends to launch a rescue operation. However, the Dwarf is being sucked into a black hole. Although the crew cannot activate Holly as his components are experiencing different time periods throughout the ship, he had earlier told the toaster how to pass through a black hole while showing off his intellect, allowing the Toaster to tell the crew that they can safely pass through the black hole by accelerating at the right moment (Although Kryten and the Cat are forced to consume large quantities of toast before the toaster provides this information).

Lister, meanwhile, is having problems of his own. The ice on the planet has melted, revealing a landscape of green glass bottles. Acid rain begins destroying Starbug. When he sees the remains of Mount Rushmore, he finds that he is on Earth, converted into a garbage dump for the Solar System and accidentally blasted from orbit. Lister discovers a tiny olive tree and befriends some cow-sized cockroaches.

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, meaning Lister is now sixty one.

Kryten contacts the rest of the crew having found a polymorph disguised as Lister, which the Toaster disables. Lister insists the polymorph's remains be shot out into space, but its offspring manages to return to Red Dwarf. It steals emotions from the crew- turning into a monster to provoke fear in Lister, a beautiful woman to appeal to the Cat's vanity, poses as Rimmer to nurture Kryten's guilt, and turns into a computer virus to make Rimmer relive his rage- until they are saved by a freak accident which slays the beast as it is blasted by heat-seeking bazookoid energy blasts that the Cat had earlier trapped in an elevator, causing them to regain their emotions. The stress of the battle is too much for the elderly Lister, and he dies from a heart attack.

After Lister's funeral, Rimmer informs Holly of the loss. Holly prints out some instructions to rescue a canister from certain coordinates in space. They are then to fly back into the black hole and enter a parallel dimension, where they are to bury Lister and the canister (which contains Kochanski's ashes). Kryten explains that this is Universe 3, which is almost identical to their own but time runs backwards.

Lister comes back to life after two heart attacks, placed on an ambulance bed where he is taken to an alley way, brings up his lunch and is forced to take a wallet and watch from a mugger. After reading his driving license, he realises he is in a backwards reality. He picks up a newspaper and looks for a forward printed message. A message from the Red Dwarf crew instructs Lister to meet them in thirty six years at a novelty store at Niagara Falls.(they can't stay with him or they would have gotten younger). Lister takes a taxi to his new home, and finds to his amazement an elderly Kochanski waiting for him. They have their whole pasts in front of them.

Alternate version

When the two Red Dwarf novels were printed together as an omnibus, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor took the opportunity to alter the ending of Better than Life in order to clear up confusion about the book's ending. It is presumed that all subsequent prints of Better than Life include this new ending.

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 him 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. "Back to Reality" is often cited as being the best episode of Red Dwarf[1]

The novel

Better Than Life plays an important role in the two novels 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, unaddictive 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; Rimmer's interest in meeting famous historical figures such as Napoleon resulted in him imagining that his company has created a time machine so that they could be brought into the present so as to provide a plausible reason for their presence.

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 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 woman's body (As well as the disturbing realisation that every woman screaming to be involved with him in the game is based on a woman he was rejected by in reality, followed by the ever-more-disturbing realisation that his second wife in the game was actually a younger 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 able to get by in a simple, comfortable lifestyle without any extravegances (Although he does reflect on a slight envy of Rimmer's fantasy due to the sheer scale of what he could have created for himself).

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

Better Than Life picture on the BBC website.

  • 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 "Better than Life". Also extras include the 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)
Read by regular cast member Chris Barrie, who plays Arnold Rimmer in the series, and released by Laughing Stock Production in December 1996.
  • Chris Barrie's audiobook was serialised in six 30 minute parts on BBC Radio 4 Extra in December 2012. [2]


Rob Grant and Doug Naylor went their own way during the mid 1990s, Grant stated that he wanted to do one solo Red Dwarf novel and then move onto other things. Naylor meanwhile carried on writing the follow up to Better Than Life and Last Human was released in 1995. The story followed similar events that would occur in series VII of the television series. Grant's Red Dwarf novel, Backwards released in 1996, would stay more faithful to the ending of Better Than Life and continue from where that left off.

Smallwikipedialogo.png This page uses content from Wikipedia. The original article was at Better Than Life. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with Tongue Tied, the text of Wikipedia is available under the GNU Free Documentation License.