The second Red Dwarf novel follows a crew of misfits, inculding LIster the slob, Rimmer the uptight hologram, Cat the, well, cat, and Kryten the android, though adventures including an addiction to virtual reality, surviving on an ice planet, and fending off a vicious polymorph. At the end of the previous Red Dwarf novel, Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, the crew were trapped in a virtual reality video game, Better than Life (or BTL), which provided them with their wildest fantasies. Lister is a successful small businessman in the community of Bedford Falls, married to his dream girl Kristine Kochanski, with two sons. Rimmer is a famous CEO with a beautiful wife, and a time machine that he uses to hobnob with history's most famous figures. The Cat lives on an island with a milk moat and a passel of beautiful Valkyries.
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Holly requests that Kryten save the others, which he first attempts to do by lasering tattoos onto LIster's arms. He follows up by entering the BTL game himself, but is distracted by his own fantasy, a job as a dishwasher with an infinite number of dirty dishes, The game's power begins to fade as Rimmer's subconscious desire to see himself punished. As he visits Lister and Cat, his negativity infests their worlds as well, ruining them. After a few false attempts, the crew is finally able to escape, only to find that Lister and the Cat have physically degenerated and need to convalesce.
As the BTL chapters unfold, interrupting segments present the dilemma of Holly, the Red Dwarf's computer, who is going computer senile. A conversation with a talking toaster convinces Holly to alter his processors to boast his IQ back up, only to reduce his lifespan to a matter of seconds. Holly shuts down to preserve his tiny remaining lifespan.
The revived and recovered crew finds Holly gone and the ship beyond their control, hurtling towards a planet. Holly, turned on for a second, quickly computes a solution to the problem, involving using the Starbug shuttle to fire a missile at the planet. The plan mostly succeeds, except for the part where the shuttle crashes into the planet, stranding Rimmer and Lister. Rimmer's holographic generation unit shuts down in the temperature extremes, and LIster is left to survive alone. Recreted on-board Red Dwarf, Rimmer finds that the ship is in yet another dilemma: it is being sucked into a black hole. This delays their rescue operation.
When the crew is finally able to launch a rescue, they find that the time distortion of the black hole has allowed three decades to pass. The ice planet has melted, revealing that it is actually the far-future Earth, having been converted into a garbage dump. Lister has become a farmer on his former home planet, raising cockroaches and olive trees. Lister is now an old man.
Back on-board the Dwarf, a dangerous polymorph, a shape-changing creature that feeds on emotion, tries to infiltrate the ship. The crew finds it and attempts to eject it into space, but a mistake allows it to remain aboard. It eats Lister's fear, Cat's vanity, Kryten's guilt, and Rimmer's anger. The crew rallies and defeats the beast, regaining their emotions, but Lister dies of a heart attack in the process.
The crew revives Holly to tell him of the accident; Holly prints out a plan of action. The Dwarfers recover an urn from space and bury it, along with Lister's remains, at a particular area. LIster revives; Holly's instructions have placed him in a universe where time runs backwards. He is married to Kochanski, who was in the urn. The two grow young together, as they await a rendezvous with the Dwarf.
Best part of story, including ending:
The Red Dwarf novels, at their best, combine the uproarious humor of the series with an unexpected degree of heart via character depth.
Best scene in story:
The extended Better than Life sequence uses the mechanism of a sci-fi false world to get to the center of the book's characters in an engaging way.
Opinion about the main character:
Lister is always fun, a hapless slacker with a hidden core of morality and decency.