Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers
Unabridged Edition published by Laughing Stock productions
By Grant Naylor (Rob Grant and Doug Naylor)
Read by Chris Barrie
This is the first of a series of four books based on the very popular, Red Dwarf, an SF Comedy series from Great Britain. If you have seen it, it is probable no further explanation is necessary, but that would make this a very short review. So, let’s start with a discussion of the TV Series.
“Red Dwarf” is the name of an incredibly large mining spaceship owned and operated by the Jupiter Mining Corporation. Our only “Human” hero, Dave Lister, is a classic under-achiever who is working as a “Technician 3rd Class” which means he is doing the jobs the menial robots refuse to do. His immediate boss is Technician 2nd Class Arnold Judas Rimmer, a man with a Napoleon Complex as large as his inability to do anything correctly.
By itself, that could be the basis of a very funny series… but wait, there is more. Dave has fallen in love with one of the ship’s officers, Kristine Kochanski, with whom he has five week-long romance before she dump him. After the affair Dave smuggled a cat named Frankenstein on board against all ship’s regulations and was caught when the photographs he took with the cat are developed by the ship’s lab (Apparently in the future we are back to using film… well in fairness when the series started digital cameras were not how we took pictures). Rather than turn in the cat for testing (a series of examinations that result in a dead cat) Dave agrees to spend the rest of the trip in stasis (with his pay docked for the time in stasis).
So Dave goes into stasis. End of story? Uh uh! Rimmer… remember Rimmer? The second class technician with the third class attention to details? Rimmer has to work alone and one day fails to properly secure a radiation hatch. So when one of the ship’s nuclear reactors fails, everyone on the ship is killed.
At last! A happy ending? Not yet.
Well, the ship had been flooded with radioactive cadmium and it takes three million years until radiation levels are low enough to safely release Dave from stasis. By this time the ship has been slowly accelerating away from Sol System and is approaching the speed of light. But finally Holly, the ship’s computer (he once had an IQ of 6000, but now it has fallen a bit… to 60) releases Dave. Knowing that Dave will need companionship lest he go crazy, Holly can bring one member of the ship’s crew back to a sort of life as a hologram with all the memories of that person. Does Holly bring back Kochanski? No. One of Dave’s old drinking buddies… No. Holly points of that Jean Paul Sartre once said that “Hell is being locked in a room with your friends.” Dave argues, “But all his mates were French!” So, who does Holly bring back? You got it… Rimmer.
Finally… remember Frankenstein? Dave had her very well hidden and by chance she was also in a place that was well shielded from the radiation. She had her kittens… the kittens had kittens and so on and the cats evolved and became sapient. They developed a civilization, competing religions involving the Great Mother Frankenstein and the creator, Cloister the Stupid… it goes on and on. Anyway, eventually the cat people invent space travel and leave the ship to find their own ways in the universe leaving behind the insane and the cripples, two of whom manage to have a child who grows up in the hold of the Red Dwarf. When he, (his name is just “The Cat”) goes exploring discovers/is discovered by Dave and Rimmer.
So Dave, discovering he is God… at least to a race of evolved cat people, orders Holly to set a course for Earth and the four of them, Dave, Rimmer, Cat and Holly start off on a series of shows that have so far run ten seasons.
This book, includes that basic story (which was entitled “The End”) and gives us a lot of details and goes on tell other stories related to shows in the first two seasons.
It was fun to read, but in all honesty, I think the TV shows were better. Admittedly they were a bit uneven and some seasons were better than others, but it’s a fun show to watch and very funny. The book and the other three, for that matter, are a bit low-key in comparison. It is natural for a novelization to expand on a television show or movie. It would be very thin if it did not, but somehow the jokes were not quite as funny when read as they were when acted.
Still, I’ve read a lot worse. If you are already a fan of the show, you will probably enjoy the books.
Chris Barrie, plays Arnold Rimmer on the show. Having seen him in Red Dwarf and other shows, I think it is fair to say he is a talented actor even though he frequently plays characters I do not like. But he does play them well.
It is a bit jarring hearing him narrate the book, however. I mean it obviously sounds like Rimmer is telling the story. I think Mister Barrie knew this and very carefully kept Rimmer’s neurotic tones out of the narrative passages, but the result was that his reading of those passages comes off as nearly emotionless. However, he is very good at imitating the voices of Craig Charles (who player Dave Lister in the series) and Danny John-Jules (the Cat) and Robert Llewellyn (who played the robot, Kryten, a character I failed to mention above). So while he fails a bit on the dull narrative voice, Barrie excels on bringing the story to life with voices that fans will recognize and enjoy.
All told. The audiobook is not perfect. The story drags a bit here and there where the authors struggle to describe in a thousand words things a single picture on the screen would tell, but for fans of Red Dwarf, this is a great chance to learn some of what was happening that they did not get to see on television. And in spite of the failings I listed above I rate Chris Barrie’s reading as Good.
Listen to it for yourself, though, and make up your own mind.