So, at the end of Better Than Life we leave Lister trapped in a universe in which time goes in reverse, namely because he had become so old (due to being caught up in a temporal distortion caused by a black hole) that when they encountered the polymorph he had literally been scared to death (or something like that – I'm not quite sure even though it was about a month ago that I actually read the book). Anyway, in an effort to save his life they take his body to an alternate universe, in which time runs backwards (as I have mentioned), with the intention of picking him up again when he is much younger. I must admit that that is a pretty interesting way of saving one's life, especially when onehas aged a lot quicker to those around them, thanks to the local black hole (though this is all speculation since nobody has actually tested it out – it's based on some guy's, possibly Einstein's, mathematical modeling).
In the previous book it was suggested that life makes no sense to us because our timeline travels in the wrong direction, which means that we find ourselves travelling into the future, namely from birth to death. While hindsight is 20/20, our vision of the future is basically non-existent (though we do have a habit of making speculative assumptions, and once again resorting to mathematical models). Mind you, the fact that the future is unknown gives way for some very profitable industries, form your average circus fortune teller, to the gambling industry, to investment banks like Goldmen Sachs (and isn't all they are doing is making bets based upon statistical probabilities?). However, if we travel backwards it sort of works a little different, we know where we are going, it is just that we progressively forget where we have been.
Okay, I know, this is a Red Dwarf book, so it isn't meant to be taken seriously, but in reality we really don't know if these people in this backwards universe actually realise that their universe is travelling in the opposite direction to our own, and the funny thing is that Lister, who is living through this backwards universe with a forward looking mindset, sort of knows the future, but is mystified by the past (though of course he could always pick up a history book). It's sort of like having an accent – you notice everybody's but your own.
I have to admit that I was a little disappointed with this addition to the Red Dwarf series – for some reason it didn't seem to work as well as the previous two books. I guess it had something to do with the episodes not being some of my favourite. Also it is a lot less episodic than the previous two books, so while Grant is making the story flow better, it sort of doesn't work as well. For instance Grant spent way too much time on developing Ace's character (the alternate Rimmer for those who don't know, who is much more daring, sophisticate, and loved), to the point that it started to get somewhat dry. So to were the four horsemen of the apocalypse part. While I understand that he wanted to create a but of a mystery in the lead up to the story, it didn't seem to really work all that well.
As for Rimmer, I don't know whether to feel sorry for the guy or not. I guess that is what the character is trying to do though. By blaming everybody else for his shortcomings, and also regularly fails, I sort of feel that maybe the guy should get a bit of a break. Mind you, the fact is that he does blame everybody, and refuses to admit that he is wrong. Still, there are a lot of people out there that are pretty smart that seem to be forever condemned to mediocrity, and they actually aren't like Rimmer because they don't complain about it. Okay, they might not be content, but the sad thing is that where one is born to a wealthy family, is sent to a good school, and inherits the family business (and is a thick as a brick), there is another that is basically lands up, though no fault o their own, on the wrong side of the tracks. The difference is how they learned to roll with it. It is clear that Rimmer's mother isn't a very nice person, and even when Ace succeeds she doesn't show a huge amount of emotion. It is just that Rimmer is trying too hard to impress her, and failing miserably, particularly since he is never going to get an “I'm proud of you” from her.
The funny thing that we find out in this book though is that the reason Ace succeeds, and Rimmer fails is because Ace was held back at school. However in the show it was always suggested that it was Rimmer that didn't want to be held back whereas in the book it was his mother. In the end I guess Rimmer was right all along – it was somebody else's fault.