~by Terry Pratchett
It has been years since I've read anything by Terry Pratchett, which is somewhat surprising as I really enjoy his work. Like most people, I am most familiar with his Discworld novels and the adaptations thereof. As a result of a conversation with a coworkers that I don't' even remember what it was about, I found a copy of Only You Can Save Mankind pressed into my hands. Now, I thought I recognized most of Pratchett's books, but I had never even heard of Only You Can Save Mankind, one of his young adult novels. The book sat on the to be read mountain for some time before I actually got around to reading it, but I am very, very glad that I did.
Johnny Maxwell is your fairly typical, slightly nerdy twelve-year-old kid living your fairly typical, slightly nerdy twelve-year-old life. His parents aren't around all that much, and when they are they're fighting, so Johnny ends up looking after himself much of the time. He occupies himself by hanging with his blokes and playing video games. Most recently, he's been trying to beat a bootleg copy of Only You Can Save Mankind, a space warfare game known for its realism. Everything is going fine until he receives a message from the alien capital ship, "We wish to talk." They surrender to him, but they're not supposed to do that. In fact, the manual doesn't say anything about direct messages at all. But now Johnny finds himself escorting the ScreeWee to their home, even in his dreams. He might be going crazy, but those dreams seem awfully real.
Most of the story takes place in this marvelous mix of dreamspace, gamespace, and realspace. They're constantly shifting and it's often difficult to separate one from another, but that's really not the point. Or maybe it is. There were little details that Pratchett included that just thrilled me to no end. Johnny's typing skills, for example, are simply atrocious. The various gaming and movie references, some more obvious than others, were great. Granted, I'm not sure that the younger generations are all that familiar with Space Invaders anymore (so sad!), or will realize that Alabama Smith is just another way to say Indiana Jones, or why the screen name Sigourney is so amusing, but they should still be able to get most of the jokes at least on the surface level. Surprisingly enough, except for some of the references, Only You Can Save Mankind isn't too terribly dated--an impressive feat, especially seeing as technology and gaming systems play a pretty significant role in the plot.
Only You Can Save Mankind was an unexpected delight; I had forgotten just how much I liked Terry Pratchett. I found myself grinning for pretty much the entire book and certainly more than one giggle escaped. The novel is short, under two hundred pages, but seeing as the book is intended for younger readers, this makes a fair bit of sense. And just because Only You Can Save Mankind was written for a young audience doesn't mean adult readers won't enjoy it as well; I know that I certainly did. It may have been a very quick read, but it was also very enjoyable, entertaining, and a lot of fun to boot. It even has a moral to the story which thankfully didn't end up being too heavy handed which it easily could have been. Even though the book might be a little dated, it was still a worthwhile read and a great pick-me-up. I really want to go read some more Terry Pratchett now. Only You Can Save Mankind is actually the first book in the Johnny Maxwell trilogy, something that I only discovered as I was writing this review. The next book in the series is Johnny and the Dead.