It has taken ages for me to get around to reading this book, namely because when my sister first bought it back in 1995 she told me that I couldn't read it until she had finished it. I'm not sure if that ever came about – her reading it that is – however over Christmas, when I was back in Adelaide for a few weeks, I asked her if I would be able to borrow it (half expecting her to say no, namely because she hadn't got around to reading it yet) and fortunately she had this one, and Backwards, and leant them to me. So, I can now say that I have read all of the Red Dwarf books and can now look forward to bigger and better things.
I did quite enjoy this book, and while there were a couple of amusing moments, I wouldn't say that it is one of those huge, laugh out loud type of books (though I did draw a few stares from my fellow commuters on my regular trips by train to work) but it was amusing nonetheless. The biggest problem that I found with this is that it seems that Grant and Naylor didn't seem to communicate with each other as to how they were going to proceed from Better than Life. While both books follow on from Better than Life, it was clear that there were some conflicts between the two. For instance in Backwards only Lister, the Cat, Kryten, and Rimmer escape the world (and both Lister and the Cat are teenagers). However in this book, despite it being set years after they left the Backwards Universe, Kochanski had left the universe with them (and this had been done by placing her ashes in the universe so that she would then return to life and then grow younger with Lister). However, it is clear that the events of Backwards didn't get a mention in this volume.
As I said it wasn't bad, but I found myself having to change the story a bit to try and make the two books eventually fit in (and I did that by assuming that when Lister had returned to Red Dwarf at the end of Backwards, albeit in a different universe, that Kochanski was with the crew as well). Another thing is that in parts it seemed that the editors didn't pick up some glaring mistakes, such as Rimmer blurting something out that should have clearly come from the mouth of the Cat. Oh, and while it was good to have Kochanski in the mix, she really didn't seem to fit with the original crew, and in a way seemed to come across as a third wheel (and the Cat also seemed to sit in the background a little too much as well).
Like the other books, Last Human borrows heavily from the show so you will no doubt encounter some memorable scenes from the episodes (such as when Kryten becomes human, and the jokes that stem from that particular episode) as well as the one where Lister accidentally offends a tribe of gelfs and is forced to marry one of them to appease their anger. Those who have followed the show will no doubt be aware that in the later seasons they decided to bring Kochanski (who is Lister's love interest by the way) into the mix which I have to admit (and my Dad, who is a huge fan of the show, agrees with me) that it was the beginning of the end of the series – the best parts were with the original four crew members.
One of the interesting things is the concept that humans are alone in the universe – something that also comes out in Asimov's Foundation series. However that doesn't mean that the universe isn't populated, it is, it's just been populated by gelfs, or genetic engineered life forms. However, despite the fact that the Gelfs were created by humans doesn't mean that they are friendly to humans – much the opposite – they are actually quite hostile. This is where Red Dwarf differs immensely from Asimov – in Asimov humanity is being moved towards a point where they will be able to live in harmony with each other whereas in Red Dwarf humanity is inherently self-destructive and they will create things for their own ease and pleasure without actually thinking anything through – everything they do to try to make themselves more advanced ends up backfiring – there are no laws built into the gelfs to prevent them from turning on their creators.
Mind you, the whole concept of the last human is an interesting one. This is a part of the absurdity of Red Dwarf – humanity's last and best hope for survival comes down to this one person, Dave Lister – a good person, but not a shining example of the human race. Mind you, the original series, with just Lister being the last human alive, suggests the whole absurdity of the show, and in part the pointlessness of existence. Here we have Dave Lister, being kept alive for no reason other than to preserve the human race, yet there is no way that the human race can be preserved because there is no way that Lister can reproduce – it is interesting that the only other life form happens to be a cat, and an incredibly vein one at that. Also we note that all of the characters are male, but once again that just adds to the absurdity.
In this volume, however, the original absurdity, and existentialist nature of the show, has now taken a back seat and it has effectively turned into a action romp where at the end the good guy gets the girl and everybody lives happily ever after. In fact the main characters (which unfortunately doesn't include the Cat for, as I suggested previously, seems to take a back seat in this story, having been pushed out by the introduction of Kochanski) all overcome their obstacles (Rimmer included) and the book finishes on a upbeat note. However, I really did like the Rimmer plot (there are numerous plots being woven through this book, which is one of the great things about this volume), and I thought it really brought the character out well. However I will leave it at that and move on to my next project.