From the back cover:
Life just couldn’t have been better—or maybe it couldn’t have gotten worse. Aboard the massive starship Red Dwarf, life was barely happening at all. Holly, the ship’s computer, had gone from super genius to so dumb that even a talking Toaster could hold its own with him. And the only surviving human aboard, David Lister—along with the holographic Arnold Rimmer; Cat, the best-groomed entity in the universe; and the cleaning robot Kryten—was trapped in a game called “Better Than Life.”
At one time Holly could have easily saved them. But right now Holly couldn’t even keep Red Dwarf from colliding with a runaway planet. It looked like Lister might be stuck in the game until he died—or until Red Dwarf was destroyed. Unless, of course, the cheap little Toaster and the cleaning robot could find the way back to reality without killing everyone in the process…
Every now and then it’s tempting to post a review that consists merely of the word “meh.” This is one of those times.
Better Than Life picks up where the first Red Dwarf book, Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, leaves off: all four members of the crew are stuck inside the addictive virtual reality game, Better Than Life, leaving Holly (the computer) alone with only a talking toaster for company.
They do eventually make it out, only to discover that Holly, having followed the toaster’s advice, has increased his IQ to over 12,000 but has decreased his remaining runtime to about two minutes. Oh, and there’s an ice planet headed straight for the stalled ship.
From here on out, the book is basically a sequence of dire perils over which four rather moronic characters must somehow triumph. Lister performs a feat of planetary billiards to knock the incoming planet away, but then ends up stranded on it. As it thaws due to the proximity to its new sun, it’s revealed to be Earth, relegated to garbage planet status by the rest of our solar system literally eons ago. There are flying cockroaches. There is a black hole. There’s a fair amount of scientific explanation for things.
And that’s where the book falters. See, as a show, Red Dwarf is a sci-fi comedy. The science takes such a back seat it’s four cars back. Better Than Life, on the other hand, attempts to be comedic sci-fi, but it doesn’t even manage that, because hardly any of it is actually amusing. Even Chris Barrie’s narration—again, excellent with the voices but a bit dodgy with pronunciation—can’t resuscitate what is essentially an exceedingly dull story. There are a few good moments of characterization, however. I especially enjoyed anything that proved that Rimmer really does care about Lister.
We end on another cliffhanger, with Lister transported to a planet on another universe on which time runs backwards. I can only assume that this is what the later book in the series, Backwards, is about. The only thing is… that one’s not available on unabridged audio and though I did procure myself a used copy, I’m not inclined just yet to expend the effort and time that reading a paper book demands. Maybe someday.