These excerpts are from the Red Dwarf book “Better Than Life”.
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)
Today was the day. Today was the big one.
John Ewe had been doing the Jovian run for the best part of twenty years. Not many people were prepared to spend their life ferrying human sewage from Jupiter’s satellites all the way across the solar system and dropping it on the dump planet, but John Ewe actually enjoyed his work, and what’s more, it paid well.
It wasn’t just sewage that was disgorged on the dump planet, it was everything: all humankind’s garbage – nuclear waste, chemical effluence, rotting foodstuffs, glass waste, waste paper; every kind of trash – all the unwanted by-products of three thousand years of civilization. But John Ewe specialized in sewage. He was the King of Crap. And right now he was sitting on top of two billion tons of it.
His tiny control dome, the only inhabitable section of the vast haulage ship, made up less than one per cent of the gigantic structure. The bulk of the craft was given over to the twin two-mile-long cylinders that stored the waste.
The ship’s computer indicated that they were about to go into orbit. Ewe climbed into his safety webbing and switched on the view screen.
The refuse ship powered through the thin atmosphere and hit the thick, choking black smog that spiralled up from the planet’s surface. And there it was.
Whole landmasses were given over to particular types of waste. For twenty minutes the ship flew over a range of a dozen mountains composed entirely of tin cans, so high the peaks were covered in snow. It passed over an island the size of the Malagasy Republic piled high with decomposing black bin bags. It flew over a fermenting sea, flaming with toxic waste. It skimmed over an entire continent of wrecked cars: thousands upon thousands of rusting chassis. It crossed a desert: a vast featureless flatland of cigarette dimps.
And then it arrived at the continent for sewage.
This was the moment. The moment he’d been planning for almost two decades.
Like anyone else in a dull job, John Ewe made up games to help pass the time.
His game was graffiti.
And he was about to complete the biggest single piece of graffito ever attempted in the history of civilization.
It sprawled across a continent. It was visible from space. It was written in effluence, and it said: ‘Ewe woz ‘ere’.
Today he had the final two billion tons he required to complete the half-finished loop of the final ‘e’.
The bay doors on the belly of the ship hinged open and the effluence poured down and splatted into place.
John Ewe unhooked himself from the safety harness and swaggered down the thin aisle, the cleft of his buttocks wobbling hairily over the top of his jeans. He flicked on the satellite link, and examined his masterpiece in its completed glory. He scratched his hairy shoulders and belched.
John Ewe was a colonial. He’d been born and raised on Ganymede, one of the moons that spun around Jupiter. He was aware that his ancestors had once lived here – but no one, no one at all had lived there for five or six generations. He felt no affinity for the world of his forebears, any more than Anglo-Saxons felt any affinity for Scandinavia.
Earth didn’t really mean anything to Ewe – it was just there to be dumped on.
The mathematics were simple: civilization produces garbage; the greater the civilization, the greater the garbage – and humankind had become very civilized indeed.
Three hundred years after the invention of the lightbulb, they’d colonized the entire solar system. The solar system was soon jam-packed with civilization too, and humankind rapidly reached the point where there was so much indestructible garbage, there was nowhere left to put it.
Something had to be done. Firing the garbage willy-nilly off into space was cost-prohibitive. So the Inter-Planetary Commission for Waste Disposal conducted a series of feasibility studies, and they concluded that one of the nine planets of the solar system had to be given over to waste.
Delegates from all the planets and their satellites submitted tenders to lose the contract.
The Mercurian delegation pointed to their solar-energy plants, which provided cheap, limitless energy for the whole system.
The study group from Uranus hinged its case on its natural stores of mineral deposits.
Jupiter and its moons relied on their outstanding natural beauty.
Neptune built its case on famous planetary architecture – it had been terraformed to the highest specifications.
Saturn’s rings, a massive tourist attraction, made that planet safe, and its network of moons, though often seedy and down-market, generated a lot of business, merely because of their position along established trade routes.
Mars was the safest of all, because it was the home of the wealthy. It was the chicest, most exclusive world in the planetary system, handy for commuting to other planets, yet far enough away from the riff-raff to be ideal for the mega-rich.
Venus took the Martian over-spill – the people who wanted to live on Mars, but couldn’t quite afford it. Venus was full of people who wanted to be Martians, so much so they often quoted their address as ‘South Mars’ or ‘Mars/Venus borders.’ Still, it was a fairly wealthy planet, and the Venusians constituted a powerful political lobby.
And so it became a straight battle between Earth and Pluto. The Plutonian delegation made rather a weak case, drawing attention to their planet’s erratic orbit and its position on the edge of the solar system.
The Earth delegation was beside itself with fury. Frankly, it was outraged that the planet that was mother to the human race, where life itself had been spawned and nurtured, was even being considered for such a putrid fate. It talked long and heatedly about how mankind had to remember its roots, and showed long, dull videos of Earth’s past beauty. Of course, it conceded, the planet wasn’t as pulchritudinous as it had once been. Yes, it agreed, it was now the most polluted planet in the solar system. True, most of the inhabitants had fled to the new terraformed worlds, and it was home, now, to only a handful of million, too broke, too scared or too stupid to leave. But what about tradition, it argued? Earth had invented civilization. It had given civilization to the solar system. If civilization now turned round and literally dumped on Earth, what did that say about humankind?
And so it came to the vote.
The vote was telecast live to every terraformed world in the solar system. A jury on each of the worlds sat patiently through all nine presentations, and then allocated points, the lowest points going to the planet most favoured for the new mantle of Garbage World.
The show was broadcast from the French settlement of Dione, the Saturnian satellite. It was hosted by Avril Dupont, the greatly loved French TV star.
Pause. Crackle. ‘Hello, Avril.’
‘Can you give us the voted of the Mercurian jury?’
‘Here are the votes of the Mercurian jury. Pluto: two points.’
‘Pluto, two points. La pluton, deux points.’
‘Neptune, seven points’
‘Neptune, seven points. Le Neptune, sept points.’
‘Uranus, four points.’
‘Uranus, four points. L’Uranus, quatre points.’
‘Saturn, eight points.’
‘Saturn, eight points. Le Saturne, huit points.’
‘Jupiter, five points.’
‘Jupiter, five points. La Jupiter, cinque points.’
‘Mars, twelve points.’
‘Mars, twelve points. La Mars, douze points.’
‘Venus, ten points.’
‘Venus, ten points. La Vénus, dix points.’
‘Earth, no points.’
‘Earth, no points. La Terre, zéro points.’
‘And that concludes the voting of the Mercurian jury. Good night, Avril’
And that was the best score Earth got.
It culled not one single vote.
At twenty past eleven, on 11 November the following year, the last shuttle-load of evacuees left for re-housing on Pluto, and the planet Earth was officially re-named ‘Garbage World’.
The President of Callisto personally cut the ribbon of toilet paper, ceremonially deposited the first symbolic shovelful of horse manure in the centre of what once had been Venice and declared Garbage World open for business. The President and his aides dashed into the Presidential shuttle as the first wave of three hundred thousand refuse ships swooped down and dumped their stinking loads on the planet that was once called Earth.
The dumping areas were strictly regulated: North America, for instance, was bottles. Clear bottles on the west coast, brown bottles on the east and green in the centre. Australia was reserved for domestic waste: potato peelings, soiled paper nappies, used teabags, banana skins, squeezed toothpaste tubes. Japan became the graveyard of the motor car; from island to island, from tip to tail, from Datsuns to Chryslers, to forty-cylinder cyclotronic hover cars, dead, silent metal covered the land of the setting sun.
The Arctic Circle was allocated rotting foodstuffs, the Bahamas was home to old sofas and bicycle wheels, Korea took all broken electrical equipment.
Europe got the sewage.
And over the last twenty years, John Ewe had busied himself signing his name over the corner of that once-great continent.
John Ewe shut down the satellite link, and followed his hairy beer-belly back to the front of the ship. Before he could reach the safety webbing, a massive pocket of methane turbulence rocked the refuse craft and sent him staggering into the first-aid box. He fingered the gash that grinned bloodily on his brow and invented two new swear words. The methane storms had been getting worse over the past few years, and he knew he should have consulted the meteorological computer before he ventured from his safety harness.
As he lurched to his feet, a second methane blast hit the ship under its belly, sending him stumbling back down the narrow aisle. As he slithered helplessly backwards, his flailing arm caught the door-release mechanism, and the cockpit’s emergency exit swung open.
His fat fingers scrambled for a hand-hold, but found nothing until he slid through the open doorway, and he grabbed the rim of the footledge.
For thirty seconds he dangled, screaming, over Europe.
Then he dangled no more.
He plunged from the yawing garbage ship, and drowned in his own signature.
‘Ewe woz ‘ere’, it said. And it was right, ‘e woz.
The unmanned craft hacked around wildly in the sudden turbulence, the autopilot stretched beyond its capacity. The methane storm whipped up to hurricane force and sucked the ship to the ground.
A continent of methane exploded.
The blast triggered off a thermo-nuclear reaction in a thousand discarded atomic-power stations, and the Earth tore itself from its orbit around the sun, and farted its way out of the solar system.
Two and a half thousand years of abuse were ended.
The Earth was free.
Free from humankind. Free from civilization.
When it was clear of the sun’s influence, it froze in heatless space and bathed its wounds in a perennial Ice Age.
On it went, out of the solar system and into Deep Space, carving a path through the universe, looking for a new sun to call home.
The thing about
human beings was this: human beings couldn't agree. They couldn't agree about
anything. Right from the moment their ancestors first slimed out of the oceans,
and one group of sludge thought it was better to live in trees while the other
thought it blatantly obvious that the ground was the hip place to be. And they'd
disagreed about pretty well everything else ever since.
They disagreed about politics, religion, philosophy - everything.
And the reason was this: basically, all human beings believed all other human beings were insane, in varying degrees.
This was largely due to a defective gene, isolated by a group of Danish scientists at the Copenhagen Institute in the late 1960s. This was a discovery which had the potential for curing all humankind's ills, and the scientists, naturally ecstatic, decided to celebrate by going out for a meal. Two of them wanted to go for a smorgasbord, one wanted Chinese cuisine, another preferred French, while the last was on a diet and just wanted to stay in the lab and type up the report. The disagreement blew up out of all proportion, the scientists fell to squabbling and the paper was never completed. Which was just as well in a way, because if it had been presented, no one would have agreed with it, anyway.
Small wonder, then, that homo sapiens spent most of their short time on Earth waging war against each other.
For their first few thousand years on the planet they did little else, and they discovered two things that were rather curious: the first was that when they were at war, they agreed more. Whole nations agreed that other nations were insane, and they agreed that the mutually beneficial solution was to band together to eliminate the loonies. For many people, it was the most agreeable period of their lives, because, apart from a brief period on New Year's Eve (which, incidentally, no one could agree the date of), the only time human beings lived happily side by side was when they were trying to kill each other.
Then, in the middle of the twentieth century, the human race hit a major problem.
It got so good at war, it couldn't have one anymore.
It had spent so much time practising and perfecting the art of genocide, developing more and more lethal devices for mass destruction, that conducting a war without totally obliterating the planet and everything on it became an impossibility.
This didn't make human beings happy at all. They talked about how maybe it was still possible to have a small, contained war. A little war. If you like, a warette.
They spoke of conventional wars, limited wars, and this insane option might even have worked, if only people could have agreed on a new set of rules. But, people being people, they couldn't.
War was out. War was a no-no.
And, like a small child suddenly deprived of its very favourite toy, the human race mourned and sulked and twiddled its collective thumbs, wondering what to do next.
Towards the conclusion of the twenty-first century, a solution was found. The solution was sport.
Sporting events were, in their way, little wars, and with war gone people started taking their sport ever more seriously. Scientists and theoreticians channelled their energies away from weaponry and into the new arena of battle.
And since the weapons of sport were human beings themselves, scientists set about improving them.
When chemical enhancements had gone as far as they could go, the scientists turned to genetic engineering.
Super sportsmen and women were grown, literally grown, in laboratory test-tubes around the planet.
The world's official sports bodies banned the new mutants from competing in events against normal athletes, and so a new, alternative sports body was formed, and set up in competition.
The GAS (Genetic Alternative Sports) finished 'normal' sport within two years. Sports fans were no longer interested in seeing a conventional boxing match, when they could witness two genetically engineered pugilists -who were created with their brains in their shorts, and all their other major organs crammed into their legs and feet, leaving their heads solid blocks of unthinking muscle -knock hell out of one another for hours on end in a way that normal boxers could only manage for minutes.
Basketball players were grown twenty feet tall.
Swimmers were equipped with gills and fins.
Soccer players were bred with five legs and no mouths, making after-match interviews infinitely more interesting. However, not all breeds of genetic athletes were accepted by the GAS and new rules had to be created after the 2224 World Cup, when Scotland fielded a goalkeeper who was a human oblong of flesh, measuring eight feet high by sixteen across, thereby filling the entire goal. Somehow they still failed to qualify for the second round.
American football provided the greatest variety of mutant athletes, each one specifically designed for its position. The Nose Tackle, for instance, was an enormous nose -a huge wedge of boneless flesh that was hammered into the scrimmage line at every play. Wide receivers were huge Xs -four long arms that tapered to the tiny waist perched on top of legs capable of ten-yard strides. The defensive line were even larger, specifically bred to secrete noxious chemicals whenever the ball was in play.
Genetic Alternative Sports were a huge hit, and the technological advancements spilled into other avenues of human life.
Cars were suddenly coming off the production line made from human mutations. Bone on the outside, soft supple flesh in the interior, and engines made from mutated internal organs - living cars, that drove themselves, parked themselves and never crashed. More importantly than that, they didn't rely on fossil fuels to run. All they required was carfood -a special mulch made from pig offal. Cars in the twenty-third century ran on sausages.
The trend spread. GELFs, Genetically Engineered Life Forms, were everywhere, and soon virtually every consumer product was made of living tissue. Gelf armchairs, which could sense your mood, and massage your shoulders when you were feeling tense, became a part of everyday life. Gelf vacuum cleaners, which were half kitchen appliance, half family pet, waddled around on their squat little legs, doing the household chores and amusing the children.
Finally, the bubble burst. The Gelfs rebelled, just as the Mechanoids had rebelled before them.
The unrest had been festering for half a century. The dichotomy was that, although Gelfs were created from human chromosomes, and therefore technically qualified as human, they had no rights whatsoever. Quite simply, they wanted to vote. And normal humans were damned if they were going to file into polling stations alongside walking furniture and twenty-feet tall athletic freaks.
The rebellion started in the Austrian town of Salzburg, when a vacuum cleaner and Gelf Volkswagen Beetle robbed a high street bank. They took the manager and a security guard hostage, agreeing to release them only if Valter Holman was brought to justice for murder.
Valter Holman had killed his armchair, and the whole of the Gelf community was up in arms, those that had arms, because the law courts refused to accept that a crime had been committed.
The facts in the case were undisputed. It was a crime of passion. Holman had returned home from work unexpectedly one afternoon to discover his armchair sitting on his naked wife. He immediately leapt to the right conclusion, and shot the chair as it hurriedly tried to wriggle back into its upholstery.
Finally the establishment capitulated, and Holman was brought to trial. After the two-day hearing the court ruled that since Holman would have to live out the rest of his life being known as the man who was cuckolded by his own furniture, he had suffered enough, and was given a six-month suspended sentence.
And so the Gelf War started.
And for a short time, humankind indulged in its favourite pastime. Humans versus man-made humans.
Armchairs and vacuum cleaners fought side by side with bizarrely shaped genetically engineered sports stars and living, breathing motor cars.
The Gelfs didn't stand a chance, and most of them were wiped out or captured. The few remaining went to ground, becoming experts in urban guerrilla warfare. For a short time, Gelf-hunters proliferated, and a rebel vacuum cleaner waddling frantically down a crowded street, pursued by a Gelf runner, became a common sight.
But it wasn't the Gelf resistance fighters who caused the problem. The problem was what to do with those who'd surrendered. Legally, killing them constituted murder, but equally, the authorities could hardly send them back into docile human service.
Fortunately the problem coincided with the nomination of Earth as Garbage World. All the captured Gelfs were dumped like refuse on the island of Zanzibar and left to die.
Most of them did. But not all. Some survived. Not the brightest, not even the biggest, just those best equipped to cope with the harsh rigours of living on a planet swamped in toxic waste and choking poisons. The ones who could endure the endless winter as Earth soared through the universe looking for its new sun. And gradually, a new strain of Gelf evolved.
A creature who could live anywhere. Even in the revolting conditions on Earth. A creature with a sixth sense - telepathy. A creature who was able to read its prey's mind, even through hundreds of feet of compacted ice. A creature with no shape of its own: whose form was dictated by the requirements of survival.
These were the polymorphs. The shape-changers.
They didn't need food for survival.
They fed on other creatures' emotions. Their diet was fear, jealousy, anger...
And when no other creatures were left on the island of Zanzibar, they began to feed off each other.
Until finally, there were only a handful left.
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