Only You Can Save Mankind
By Terry pratchett
Published by Harper Collins
Copyright © 2005
In 2005 Harper Collins introduced Terry Pratchett’s Johnny Maxwell trilogy to America. Originally released in Britain in 1994 “Only You Can Save Mankind” is the first installment in this series. As the forward acknowledges a lot has changed in the 10 years since the original release of this story, but some things are the same. There always seems to be a war going, and kids still love video games.
In this story Johnny Maxwell is playing a pirated computer game, called “Only You Can Save Mankind,” that his friend and wannabe hacker Wobbler gave him. The game is your typical space invaders type shoot ‘em up. But when Johnny plays a strange thing happens – The aliens surrender! It seems as if the game is actually talking to him and urging him to accept their surrender and escort them to the border out of game space. Soon Johnny is caught up in a battle to save the aliens rather than shoot them. Between this alternate/virtual reality gig and his “Troubled Times” at home with his parents, Johnny’s friends begin to think he is going a little crazy.
In this allegory Pratchett juxtaposes the violent nature of video games and the Gulf War (but really any war for that matter). Though not heavy handed in my estimation, there is a clear moral to this story, that violence should only be a last resort after we have listened well and tried every other alternative. This isn’t the best science fiction I’ve ever read, but it is very good. It has a plot and conflict that youths will relate to, and a while they won’t be looking for it they should find the moral in this tale. Recommended for children ages 9 and up.