Review: Only You Can Save Mankind

Only You Can Save Mankind - Johnny Maxwell 1

Title: Only You Can Save Mankind
Author: Terry Pratchett
Series: Johnny Maxwell

Who’s it for? Younger Teens.

What’s it about? As the mighty alien fleet from the latest computer game thunders across the screen, Johnny prepares to blow them into the usual million pieces. And they send him a message: We surrender.

They’re not supposed to do that! They’re supposed to die. And computer joysticks don’t have ‘Don’t Fire’ buttons…

(Blurb taken from the book)


What’s good about it? There is a goodly amount to love about this. Johnny is quiet, unnoticed by a good few people – including his parents – but then these are Trying Times. The important thing is he listens, because in many ways people don’t listen to him.

Johnny has a layer of neglect to him. There are several things hinted at and stated that more than imply the Trying Times for his parents result in him being forgotten. Listening is an important factor in this, Johnny has an idea of who his friends are but then it’s turned on its head, with a single line that’s almost throwaway.

This was set during the Gulf War, the first one, and the war permeates everything. It’s at its most obvious when Johnny is in the game reality, but it’s a constant undertone of real life too. It can be a little heavy handed at times, but I’m still thinking about it now.

I quite liked Kirsty/Sigourney with her go-getting win everything attitude. She was an interesting contrast against Johnny, who really learnt the head hurting lessons of war quite quickly, whereas Kirsty was set on killing everything in sight. Right up until it stopped being a game for her.

What’s bad about it? It’s dated. There were a few references that went straight over my head, which probably says more about me than the book. But the main way to tell that it was written waaay back when? The computer game itself. Considering how intricate and detailed the plots of modern games are – think Mass Effect, think Halo – a game that is barely a step above Space Invaders takes a second to get your head around. It didn’t detract, but it did cause a few hiccups in the flow when I was reading.

Sexism! It’s sort-of-but not really dealt with and that got really annoying after a while.

The verdict? Terry Pratchett is one of my favourite authors. I’ve loved the majority of his books, yet this …

This is about war. It’s gently nudging you into to thinking about how the war you fight on the computer screen isn’t all that different to reality – except in reality there is no second chances, no checkpoints, there’s just death and people who don’t get up again. It’s pointing out how people can become desensitised to violence through such games, which isn’t a point I get behind. After all there’s a long way between shooting pixels on a screen and actually shooting someone in real life.

Did I like it? Yeah, I did. Despite the fact it’s dated and I don’t think some parts have held up well, and despite the fact there was a level of sexism amongst certain characters I wasn’t comfortable with. Would I recommend this? I would. There’s a lot of layers to this book, a lot of issues that are hinted at or just outright smack you round the face and I think sometimes people need that. Deep thinking aside this is a good, solid read with an engaging plot line.

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