Top positive review
"Mankind" never stumbles
on July 21, 2002
Best known for his "Discworld" series, Terry Pratchett actually penned several books prior to starting that. One of those is "Only You Can Save Mankind," the first book of a young adult trilogy, which shows some of his initial roughness but is still convincing and enjoyable.
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.