You don't have to remember playing Space Invaders to enjoy this book, but it does make the story a little more enjoyable. As always with Pratchett, the characters are well-developed and quite remarkable. I really liked Wobbler, the future hacker who designed a game of his own called Journey to Alpha Centauri to be played in real time, meaning all the thousands of years it would take to reach Alpha Centauri is how many years the game would take you to actually finish it. Beyond the comedy present in this story, there is also a message. The backdrop of the earth-based events of the book is the Persian Gulf War, and the juxtaposition of this war that is real but seems like a game with the computer game that becomes real for Johnny Maxwell conveys a message about violence and one's attitude toward it. It is not an overbearing theme, but it is there to some degree, helping make this short novel much more than just a juvenile read intended to entertain the reader and nothing else. This is a short book that never falters from beginning to end, and it houses much more in its pages than might be apparent at first glance. It is not as complicated or brilliant as the Discworld novels, but it is a fun read nonetheless, sure to entertain Pratchett fans while capturing the attention and interest of young readers.
Johnny Maxwell is an extremely smart but otherwise ordinary English boy, who enjoys hanging out with his friends Wobbler, Yo-less, and Bigmac (their respective nicknames are all explained in the book) and exchanging pirated video games. One of these, "Only You Can Save Mankind," focuses on defeating reptilian aliens called ScreeWees.
But suddenly the ScreeWees surrender. Johnny is, unsurprisingly, quite taken aback: video game enemies are supposed to continue fighting, not surrender and ask him to stop firing. Then the game shows nothing but empty space. Johnny assumes that there is something odd about it, but nothing can prepare him for what it turns out to be: The ScreeWees are real aliens, who are attacked when someone uses the video game.
Though very different from his Discworld series, "Only You Can Save Mankind" has the stamp of a Terry Pratchett book. From the quiet hero who sees it all, to supporting characters called "Wobbler," it's all Pratchett. The conversations are Pratchett's usual slightly rambling, nuggets-of-wisdom dialogue. The narrative style is much rougher and starker than in this later books, without the polish to be found in his later books. However, he also adds in some swsssh and fplatfplatfplat sound effects whenever the video game is dealt with.
The ScreeWees are interesting and original, although I hope Mr. Pratchett has since learned that amphibians do not have scales. The humor is very unique and original, such as when the Captain tells Johnny to order Jumboburgers for an entire spacefleet, or the long-running Sigourney Weaver joke. On the other hand, he also provides some intelligent questions that are left for the reader to ponder, and an enjoyably whimsical plot: "What if video games were real acts of war?"
Johnny is an endearing hero in the mold of Pratchett's Discworld character Teppic, a young and slightly naive young boy with a quick brain and a very difficult situation. His supporters Kristy, Wobbler, Yo-less and Bigmac are all set apart by individual quirks like Wobbler's endearing lack of ethics, Yo-less's conscientous attitude, and Bigmac's appetite. The Captain doesn't appear much, but she is tough and easy to sympathize with.
Though hard to find in the United States, the Johnny Maxwell trilogy is well worth the read, especially for Pratchett fans.
Johnny Maxwell, while his parents are going through "trying times" and the Gulf War is getting going on the tele, was playing a shoot-em-up computer game when he found that the Mighty ScreeWee(tm) Empire had no interest in fighting back, and wanted to surrender. This becomes quite complicated.
There are deeper meanings, etc, but don't let them frighten you off a book that is also very entertaining for adult Pratchett fans. :)
The basic plot? Read more