Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett

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Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Dave Martin
Reviewed by Dave Martin
Summary: 'Only You Can Save Mankind' is the first in Pratchett's Johnny Maxwell trilogy. It's a reasonable read, but lacks any trace of Pratchett's trademark humour and is now somewhat dated.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 179 Date: September 1993
Publisher: Corgi Childrens
ISBN: 0552551031

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Johnny launches another missile. KABOOM! Another Screewee ship destroyed. He banks left and spots another in his radar. He lines up for a shot,"STOP! We surrender!" Huh! How can they surrender? That is not in the manual.

"Only You Can Save Mankind" is the first in Terry Pratchett's Johnny Maxwell trilogy, his first tentative foray into the world of children's literature. Johnny is the typical eleven-year-old boy. Obsessed with computer games, he occupies a small world that consists of school, homework, friends and - most importantly - what's for tea. Therefore, it comes as something of a surprise when he becomes the most important person in a whole galaxy. The question Pratchett poses is whether a young boy, going through what his mother and father call "trying times", should have to cope with saving the universe.

Johnny is a likeable creation. He has all the insecurities of every eleven-year-old, coupled with an unshakeable confidence that he knows enough about everything to stumble along. Johnny's hints at the "trying times" in the Maxwell household give you a real empathy with him as his father comes upstairs for one of their "weekly chats". I remember these cringe making chats myself as a child and you can only feel sorry for him. It is no wonder her retreats to his computer night after night.

As a novel "Only You Can Save Mankind" works in that its characters are engaging. The Screewee fleet that Johnny has unwittingly volunteered to protect is well realised and imaginative. Johnny's friend, the nerdy computer hacker "Wobbler" is an intriguing character. However, I do not think this novel will work well with a modern group of children. "Only You Can Save Mankind" was first published in 1988. It is a novel littered with references to "Space Invaders" and computer hacking. The children of the twenty first century will not recollect any of this and talk of pixels and passwords may mean nothing to them. As a result, the book may well be wasted on a modern audience. I get the references, as I was a child of the 80. The majority of other readers will not.

What is perhaps most disappointing about this novel is the almost complete lack of Pratchett's trademark humour. By focusing on action set pieces there is a complete lack of light relief and none of the trademark witticisms and one-liners for which Pratchett would later become famous.

That is not to say "Only You Can Save Mankind" has no value at all as a reading experience. There are semblances of a good novel here with plenty of action, a tight plot and short, sharp chapters even the most impatient child should be able to get through this. The language is very simplistic although this does lead to very little in the way of description and atmosphere. Pratchett leaves a lot to the imagination, which is fine for a child reader but a bit of a struggle for this unimaginative adult!

As you can see this is a bit of a mixed bag of a novel. Interestingly, I believe that a twenty-something who wants to reminisce will find this of more interest than the children's market for which it was written. As a standalone novel, it is a very lightweight read and would probably be at home in airport bookshops. Probably not one your children will be raving about. It is certainly not on a par with any of Pratchett's more recent efforts, yet it is strangely compelling for the 80s child.

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