These excerpts are from the Red Dwarf book “Backwards”.

If you are a fan of the Red Dwarf TV series, I guarantee you will love these books.

I recommend you read them in the following order:

Red Dwarf – Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers (ISBN 0140124373)

Red Dwarf – Better Than Life (ISBN 0140124381)

Red Dwarf – Backwards (ISBN 0140171509)

Red Dwarf – Last Human (ISBN 0140143882)



Kryten settled down to his book. As he did so, he experienced a pang of guilt that would have been strong enough to turn a human being into a Roman Catholic, but for him it was a fairly moderate dose, and he barely noticed it. He had long suspected, correctly, that the circuits controlling his guilt responses had somehow got themselves cross-wired with one of his accelerator boards, but it was against a mechanoid’s creed to fiddle with its own workings, and the very prospect of doing so sent his guilt quotient off the scale, immobilizing him for hours on end.

There was very little for him to feel guilty about – he had done and re-done his chores and Starbug’s interior was as clean and tidy as it could possibly be. There were areas of rust, of course, especially along the central stairwell leading down from the observation room to the social area, but scrubbing it away would have eradicated the entire structure completely, so, barring the unlikely discovery of replacement parts, he had no choice but to live with it.

The book, which was the only volume on board he had not read, was a Western called: Big Iron at Sun-up by an author whose nom de plume was ‘Zach Rattler’. It was not a good book, but Kryten had gone through the rest of Starbug's meagre library with ill-considered haste, and it was all he had left for entertainment. It was one of a series of novels chronicling the adventures of a mysterious stranger known only as ‘Big iron’, due to the extraordinary length of his weapon, with he dispensed random justice all over the frontiers of the old American West, ‘Answering to no man, beholden to no women’, as Big himself put it.

Big wasn’t much of a hero, to Kryten's way of thinking, his solution to every problem seemed to involve putting bullets into people who offended him, from distances a computer-controlled smart missile would have found challenging. Kryten would have preferred his hero of choice to adopt a more conciliatory approach to the problems confronting him, at least every once in a while, but he was stuck with Big Iron's single, if effective, method of negotiation.

Perhaps Kryten would have found less to criticize in the book, if he'd spent less time reading it, but it was the only remaining book available to him, and so he had to ration the time he allotted to it.

To date, he'd spent a little over forty-five years ploughing through it. His calculations permitted him to read only point eight two one nine seven eight words a day, and every time he came across an "a" or an "I", he was compelled to adjust downwards for the next word the following day. He was prepared to accept that this method of reading was perhaps not the best one for enjoying the flow of the novel, but he doubted it would be much more fulfilling at twice, or even three times the pace.

He sat back in his chair, found his bookmark and scanned down the page. Yesterday's eight tenths of a word had been "cact" followed by a small portion of the letter "u", which was disappointing, since Kryten guessed the entire word was going to be "cactus", spoiling some twenty percent of today's adventure.

His eyes flitted to the correct point and he sighed with displeasure. Unpredictability was not high on Mr Rattler's list of talents. Worse still, the subsequent word comprised only two letters, so Kryten was only able to read seventy-five per cent of the first vertical line of the letter "u".

He snapped the worn paperback closed, and, as was his wont, spent several minutes trying to derive some philosophical insight from his day's reading. As usual, nothing came. Big Iron was in a fist fight in the desert with a bunch of desperadoes (bless that day, the "desperad" and a portion of "o" day - reading bliss) and was about to force a cactus somewhere. Up somewhere, probably, Kryten couldn't help guessing, but he'd have to wait until the day after tomorrow to find out where.

Kryten double-checked his internal clock. It was time for shift change-over. He’d better go and rouse young Mr Lister. He slipped Big Iron at Sun-up into his private cubby-hole in the galley and mounted the metal staircase.

As usual, young Mr Lister didn’t need rousing, as such. He was clad in the helmet, gloves, boots and harness of the Artificial Reality games machine which they’d recovered from a derelict vessel they’d found on the periphery of the Black Hole.

Kryten clucked and shook his head. It was a horribly irresponsible waste of their dwindling power reserves. He waddled over and tapped on Lister’s helmet.

‘Mr Lister, sir? Time for shift change.’

Lister didn’t hear him, as usual. Unsurprising. Even Kryten had to admit the game provided a stunningly realistic simulation of reality. Electrodes in the helmet that pierced the skull and fed data directly to the hypothalamus stimulated accurate physical and emotional responses. Augmented by feedback sensors in the boots, gloves and body harness.

Frankly, Kryten was surprised that Lister even considered using the thing: they’d all had a rather unpleasant, near-death experience with a similar device some years ago. True, this simulator was not so thoroughly addictive – at least the player was aware he was in a game – and it was a simple enough matter to get out: clap your hands, and switches on the palms of the gloves retracted the electrodes and powered down the simulation.

Not so simple, though, to get a fifteen-year-old’s attention when he was in the midst of some thrilling adventure. Kryten sighed, flipped open a panel in his chest and pulled out his interface lead. As usual, he’d have to plug himself Into the game to drag Lister out of it. And once again, they’d be late for shift change.