Backwards is the third novel from the “Red Dwarf” TV sitcom devised by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor.
The novel continues from Better Than Life (the sequel to the original Red Dwarf) so the main characters are the same and the plot is consistent.
An introductory summary paragraph provides the relevant thread of the previous book to get us up to speed, so the plot in Backwards is pretty much self contained. That said, the characters are complex – who’d have thought a computer generated hologram, a mechanoid, a humanoid creature descended from a cat and the last ‘real’ human!
I’d therefore suggest reading the first book (Red Dwarf) or watching a couple of TV episodes before reading Backwards.
At first I was hesitant in deciding to write a review for Backwards – it doesn’t set out to be a time travel novel in itself; rather it has an element of time travel in it.
The basic premise is that (in the previous book) a 30-odd year old Lister encounters time dilation and comes out as an old man and dies. He’s placed on a planet where time runs backwards (“Backworld”) so that he’ll get younger and get picked up by his crew mates when he’s ‘aged’ (or ‘younged’?) back to his original age as it was before the time dilation event.
You can imagine that writing a novel which by definition is going to be backwards is going to have to be done well for it to makes sense. And it does!
Backwards leaps straight into backwards time, assuming that the reader is aware of it.
The writing is very clever – it describes an event and then shows how that event comes about. This isn’t done in a chunky Tarantino style swapping of sections but in a smooth ‘unhappening’ of events where the reader (and characters) are slowly introduced to scenarios and logic which map out the plot line.
For example, Lister runs towards the crime scene where he’d discover whether he really was guilty of the crime that he’d been put away in jail for. Or, the pain disappeared when the policeman hit him in the face. It’s really clever stuff!
I was pleased to see consistency in that everything was backwards, including speech. For Rimmer (a computer generated hologram) and Kryten (a mechanoid) this poses no problem as they can be reprogrammed. But for Lister and “the Cat” (a human-like creature evolved from a cat) speech was more problematic. Thankfully there’s no extended or overused attempts at trying to write backwards speech phonetically.
As an aside, there’s a rumour that in the TV version if you record the backwards speech and play it backwards to hear what is being said, you hear comments such as “I bet there are sad people who have recorded this and who are playing it backwards to hear what we are really saying!”
Backwards Time Travel
Despite the backward motion of time, Backwards isn’t a time travel novel.
Time travel can perhaps be defined as experiencing time at a different rate to it’s normal flow rate. e.g. experiencing 1 second, but going forwards in time by 1 hour. I think going backwards is “different” enough!
There’s no explanation why or how time runs back wards, it just does (or undoes depending on how you look at it). Given the comical nature of Backwards, the exclusion of the scientific intricacies and nature of time is not important, indeed it would be out of place. Rather, it’s the effect of time running the wrong way that is central to this novel more than anything else – it’s the canvas upon which the story line is painted.
Playing with time is simply a backdrop to the plot which creates plenty of comedic scenarios – as you’d hope from a comedy! Some of the humour does get a bit repetitive after a while, but I suppose this is the nature of the book. As the plot progresses though, what starts out as humorous writing changes to a simple description of “Backworld” with different physics than ours. It’s not detailed to be scifi, and it’s no longer comedy. It kind of falls flat.
Rating * * *
Backwards continues the Red Dwarf comedy series with a time travel component used as a sounding block for its comedy. The concept is interesting and handled well, though the novel is clearly too long to be able to keep this up and peters out into more description than anything else towards the end.
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