I can't say exactly when I first encountered Red Dwarf – I was probably sitting at home one night, board out of my brains, and channel surfing, when suddenly I discovered this show that looked very science-fictiony on the ABC and was instantly intrigued. While I can't remember the first episode that I ever watched (though I believe it was the third season), I do remember instantly falling in love with it. In fact, at the time I was still really interested in film making and seeing what I could do with little to no funds (and this was the days before mobile phones, so a video camera cost something in the vicinity of $1000.00 – and I didn't have one). I was always particularly interested in low budget science-fiction shows: Blake's 7 and Doctor Who. When I stumbled serendipitously upon Red Dwarf my interest was immediately caught.
Anyway, Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers is basically the novelisation of the first two seasons of Red Dwarf, though it is drafted in a way that creates a much more seamless story. Those of us who have watched the early shows will be very familiar with the episodes that make their way into the books, including the one where they first meet Kryten, the one where Rimmer creates a duplicate of himself, and of course the pilot episode. However, unlike the series the authors (who also created the series – which was originally a radio show) did a brilliant job creating what is in effect a seamless story from a collection of disparate episodes. However, while the idea of a science-fiction sitcom in space is always appealing, it is the characters that really attract my attention.
The thing with the characters is that they are all extremes. Mind you, I am actually hesitant to suggest that Lister is an extreme because he just seems to be your everyday working class slob. Sure, they paint him as being somewhat of an extreme slob that lives on a diet of vindaloo and beer, however there is actually something realistic, and appealing, about him. I guess it has something to do with the fact that he really doesn't care. Sure, life as thrown its fair share of punches at him, and wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he seems to just roll with the punches and simply gets on with life. In a way he is carefree and really not worried about what people think of him, or what the next day would bring (and despite the fact that he is a working class slob, he is actually pretty smart, though these smarts would be considered street smarts).
Rimmer couldn't be the more opposite, which is probably why they suggest that Red Dwarf is the Odd Couple in space. Unlike Lister, Rimmer blames everybody else, but himself, for his short comings, and is always trying to impress the wrong sorts of people, which generally lands him up in a lot of trouble. In fact the friendships that he should be cultivating he actually rejects and he pretty obviously brown noses people that really couldn't care less about him. Rimmer is the classic example of the pointlessness of the career minded individual that seeks to elevate himself above others, which in the end earns their disdain. His repeated failure to pass the astronavigation examine (namely because he doesn't actually study for it) is a clear example of how all of his priorities are wrong (and let's not forget him spending his spare time in stasis so that by the end of the seven year tour, he is only six years older).
The Cat, however, is a rather enigmatic creature. In a way he is the opposite of Lister, for where Lister is a slob, he is incredibly stylish. In fact his attention to neatness and style puts him in the same camp as Rimmer, who always appears in an immaculate uniform. However, unlike Rimmer, he lives a carefree life which has no ambition beyond eating, sleeping, and looking for women (as well as making sure he looks incredibly stylish). Ironically it turns out that he relates to Lister much more than he does Rimmer (in fact nobody likes Rimmer, probably because he is just one enormous goit).
Red Dwarf is an incredibly existentialist piece of work. What we have are three (actually four if you count the computer Holly) characters stuck millions of miles from home, millions of years in the future. In fact from their vantage point there is unlikely to be any home left. As such anything, and everything, that gives them character – their home, their friends (if they have any), their goals and their dreams, have all been stripped from them leaving them alone without a world that can define them. As such they are in a situation where they are defined only by how they define themselves (though of course there is an element of creating a definition of each other: yes, Rimmer, you are a goit!). Of course, in this environment, where they are effectively on their own, they don't necessarily need accept what the other makes them out to be, which in a way gives them strength. Even though Rimmer still believes that he is in command, there is no formal command structure, which means that despite what he believes, there are only two things that Rimmer is in command of: Jack and shit, and unfortunately for Rimmer, Jack just left town. However, despite the fact that there are three people on the ship that all agree the Rimmer is a goit (and the reality is that Rimmer is a goit), that doesn't mean that he has to accept that. What Red Dwarf teaches us is that by stripping away all of society, and our peers, all we are left with is that which we have defined for ourselves (though of course, in Rimmer's case, this is completely delusional).
Of course, this all comes down to the scene with regards to the gazpacgo soup. When Rimmer first came on board the ship he was invited to the captains cabin for dinner and he saw this as his one big break, so he went out of his way to impressed them, and to say that it turned out to be a disaster is an understatement. The crux of the whole event was when he was served gazpacgo soup (which is supposed to be served cold – something that I didn't know until I watched the show) and Rimmer calls the waiter over to him and asks him to heat it up. This, allegedly (we are only going by Rimmers account here) the entire cabin burst out laughing and Rimmer was never invited back. A Lister points out, when Rimmer finally spills the beans, the only person that is holding onto that event, and letting it drag him down is him – even if it wasn't the case that everybody in that room has been dead for three million years, in any event, after a few days of chuckling, they would have got on with their lives, while Rimmer is forever kicking himself for that one mistake (or many mind you, but that is the one that haunts him – and it wasn't his fault by the way, they should have taught him in basic training).