Title: The Last Human
Author: Doug Naylor
Year written: 1995
Publisher and year: Penguin Books, 1995
ISBN Number: 0-14-014388-2
This is the third Red Dwarf book, and as far as I know it’s the last written, though this time just by Doug Naylor rather than writing it with Rob Grant. It does continue from the second book, Better Than Life, but I had this for years before I read the other two and it stood up on its own. The beginning is slightly confusing that way but there is a bit of a ‘previously on’ type beginning that does explain it to new readers.
If you haven’t heard of Red Dwarf the basic idea of the TV series, and the books, is that Dave Lister is the last human being alive, hence the title of the book. He was put into stasis on board a space ship as punishment for having a cat and while he was frozen in time there was a radiation leak that killed the crew. 3 million years in the future the ship’s computer, Holly (who doesn’t actually feature in this book) woke him up when the radiation was safe and the human race is extinct. On board the ship Dave Lister, the last human, is joined by a hologram of his bunk mate, Rimmer, a lifeform that evolved from the ships cat, simply called Cat, and a cleaning android called Kryten.
As this is based on the TV series, and written by the same person, it is probably written for fans of the show and this one does go further away from the episodes and dialogue within them than the previous books. The characters from the TV show are in it, with some added extras, and they do stay true to their on screen versions so fans of the show would probably enjoy that, though like the other books there’s parts of this book that build on the whole lore of the Red Dwarf universe and some parts that rewrite it which could make this both interesting and frustrating if that bothers you.
I think the cover of this one is the most ‘Red Dwarf’ to me, I do like the silver glasses on the one skull. My copy is definitely looking worse for wear (inside looks worse, the back page is loose and held in by the library cover), but it was bought for 10p from a school book sale when they were selling off old library stock so it’s been well read by a lot of people.
Inside it’s separated, like the previous two in the series, into parts with chapters within these parts. It does give some obvious breaks in the story, there are definite story arc in each, so it’s almost like three episodes within the same book if you go by the TV format. Each of these parts has got an illustration at the beginning, which I quite liked, as it’s like a mini book cover within the book. The chapters within the books are short and do come at natural breaking points, whether it’s changing the scene or the different characters’ stories, so it’s the kind of book that you could pick up and read for a bit before putting it down again as they’re mostly around the 10-20 page mark and the story is fairly fast paced so you can get through a chapter quickly.
The introduction to the book seems a bit sudden, you get a very short first part which tells you about something completely different to the next bit and it doesn’t become obvious how they’re related until a while later. It does have the fast pace of a Red Dwarf episode, they always seem to fit quite a bit into each of them at 30 minutes, and the humour and dialogue help keep it moving. It does tend to jump around a bit so there are some bits where I found it harder to remember how it related to which bits if I had left it for a few days or was tired but in general the storylines are easy to follow and enjoyable once you get used to the style.
Of the three this is definitely the Red Dwarf book that goes furthest from the TV series which, for me, is a positive thing as it means we get new storylines and not just exact copies of the TV episodes with a lightly different reason for being there. There are only two obvious episodes that have parts taken from them, sometimes direct conversations, and they’re DNA in series 4 and Emohawk (polymorph II) from series 6. There are conversations from various episodes though as they’re not important to the storyline and are things like nicknames for Kryten or similar things I can’t remember which they come from without seeing the episodes.
This is definitely a science fiction book, there’s a lot about space travel and theories to do with this in this book more than the other two, but the more sciencey parts are explained by characters to each other and given a reason as to why the other character doesn’t know it (often because he’s the Cat). If you like your sci-fi to have aliens though this would not be a book for you. The Red Dwarf universe does not use aliens, though they do use a lot of Genetically Engineered Life Forms (GELFs) which essentially fill the gap. This book is more a sci-fi book with comedy than the earlier ones in the series which had more of a comedy feel that happens to be set in space. I guess this mirrors the TV series itself, it started as more of a sit come in space and turned into flying around in the Star Bug on adventures on other planets.
I bought this years ago in a school book sale where it was in the school library as year 8s only so that’s 11-12 year olds, with the TV show being rated a 12 for all of the DVDs I’d say that’s a good guide for the age of readers who would enjoy it. There’s definite mentions of sex, though it’s not too graphic, and some of the humour you’d need to be a certain age to understand so it’s not a kids book, young adult is probably the age range you’d give it though adult readers who like sci-fi comedy would probably enjoy it even without any Red Dwarf knowledge.
I would definitely recommend this to Red Dwarf fans, it stays away from the TV show storylines more and I think the few rewrites of the lore are small enough that they wouldn’t annoy people, plus parts are written in alternate universes so you can always use that as an excuse. It is definitely aimed at fans of the TV series as there are plenty of nods to things that happened in it, things like the luck virus and Lister’s wife, but without everything being pulled directly from it. I also think fans of British comedy and light hearted sci-fi would like the book. It’s not a deep read, it’ is Red Dwarf after all, but it’s very enjoyable and one that I have read multiple times in the past. It was nice to read it after 10 years or so and see that it still holds up.