“How do you think like a human? Go into madness first, probably, and then out the other side.”
Terry Pratchett died on March 12, 2015, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2007. For some ridiculous reason, I had never read any of his books until after his passing. I aim to correct this catastrophic error and foresee myself devouring many more volumes written by this witty, creative, highly entertaining, and prolific author.
My first Pratchett adventure has begun with the inspiring title, “Only You Can Save Mankind,” the first in his Johnny Maxwell series. What a fun read!
It’s a cool concept—what if your game turns out to be real and you’re not just shooting at binary code, but real live aliens. And what if the aliens want the fighting to end? What if they surrender?
Johnny Maxwell is a lonely adolescent in early 1990’s England. His parents are splitting up (going through the Trying Times), the Gulf War monopolizes the tele, and his new computer game has just broken protocol by sending him a very unexpected message—We surrender.
The bad guys never surrender! Not in any game. The bad guys are there to be beaten. Or to beat you. That’s how games are played. There’s a winner and a loser. The end. Would you like to play again? Y/N?
“No, we do not wish to die! We wish to talk!”
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, was it?
Johnny’s perspective (and his sanity) is challenged. He is thrown into the unknown. Soon, he enters game play through his dreams. He meets the “enemy” and becomes their “Chosen One.” What will Johnny do? Destroy them, save them, or do nothing?
World conflict and family conflict are presented in the novel as real world parallels to the fantastic game world conflict. In every clash in the book, both sides of the fighting are suspect. No one is innocent. Surprisingly, Terry Pratchett doesn’t preach straight up pacifism. He encourages peaceful resolution and presents war as a regrettable last resort.
“That’s stupid,” she said. “How are you expect to win without killing the enemy?”
“I’m supposed to save them. Anyway, they’re not exactly the enemy. I can’t go around killing them.”
Kirsty looked thoughtful.
“Do you know,” she said, “there was an African tribe whose nearest word for ‘enemy’ was ‘a friend we haven’t met yet’?”
Johnny smiled. “Right,” he said. “That’s how-“
“But they were all killed and eaten in eighteen hundred and two,” said Kirsty…
Johnny Maxwell isn’t special. He isn’t super smart or attractive. He’s neglected and uninspired. But he becomes brave and learns about integrity, which is extraordinary for any age group.
“Thank you. You did not have to help us.”
“If not me, who else?”
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