Only You Can Save Mankind (Johnny Maxwell Trilogy #1)
  • Only You Can Save Mankind (Johnny Maxwell Trilogy #1)
  • Only You Can Save Mankind (Johnny Maxwell Trilogy #1)

Only You Can Save Mankind (Johnny Maxwell Trilogy #1)

4.2 25
by Terry Pratchett

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It's just a game . . . isn't it?

The alien spaceship is in his sights. His finger is on the Fire button. Johnny Maxwell is about to set the new high score on the computer game Only You Can Save Mankind.

Suddenly, a message appears:
We wish to talk. We surrender.

But the aliens aren't supposed to surrender—they're supposed to die!

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It's just a game . . . isn't it?

The alien spaceship is in his sights. His finger is on the Fire button. Johnny Maxwell is about to set the new high score on the computer game Only You Can Save Mankind.

Suddenly, a message appears:
We wish to talk. We surrender.

But the aliens aren't supposed to surrender—they're supposed to die!

Editorial Reviews

Daily Mail (London)
“Funny and thrilling.”
Daily Telegraph (London)
“An impressively original book with its thrills and spills, its inventiveness, its wit, and continuous readability. A rare treat.”
The Guardian's Children's Fiction Prize short-list report
“A witty and intriguingly thought-provoking adventure.”
Booklist (starred review)
“A wild ride, full of Pratchett’s trademark humor.”
"A wild ride, full of Pratchett’s trademark humor."
Children's Fiction Prize short-list report - The Guardian
"A witty and intriguingly thought-provoking adventure."
Publishers Weekly
Released in Britain in 1992, just after the first Gulf War, the launch title in Pratchett's Johnny Maxwell trilogy reaches American shores in the midst of current conflicts in the Middle East. A whimsical but ultimately unsettling "war game" conceit drives the book: what if video games weren't just games? Teenager Johnny plays video games (pirated copies from a friend) to escape the "Trying Times" that his parents are going through and the bombs dropping in the Middle East every time he turns on the television. But one afternoon while Johnny is playing the game Only You Can Save Mankind, the alien ScreeWee fleet from within the game surrenders to him, an action that is outside the game's parameters. The hero begins to dream himself into the game space and pledges to help give the ScreeWee safe passage to avoid slaughter by the human gamers. Johnny has less success convincing his friends of what he's doing, except for a proficient gamer, Kirsty, who is motivated to win at all costs. Pratchett's wartime allegory is apt, if frequently heavy-handed ("Do you think the pilots really just sit there like... like a game?... We turn it into games and it's not games"). Still, the compelling premise and Pratchett's humorous touches (such as the aliens' frustration with human attackers who "die" and just keep coming back) may well attract fans to this trilogy. Ages 8-up. (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Johnny and his friends live to play video games, to conquer and kill one alien race after another. When the aliens surrender, stop shooting back, and ask for help, Johnny is puzzled. Can he really save them from mankind? This is not the way a computer game works. Aliens flee or fight back. They do not ask for help. When he turns on the computer, he enters another world—or is it just in his mind? Is he making up the whole scenario? He sees other players and tries to get them to stop shooting, but no one listens and he finally turns and shoots on his own brethren. It is just a computer game, right? Turn the computer off and you are back in your bedroom. No one dies, right? He convinces Kristy to help him and they enter the alien spaceship where they fly the ship at breakneck speed to send them home. Store copies of the game now contain no aliens. Where did they go? What is real or imaginary? Which is more real—killing aliens on a computer screen or watching news broadcasts of people getting killed? One never knows if it is really happening or only going on in Johnny's mind but the main issue is, are we out to destroy other worlds or here to save them? This book is the first in the Johnny Maxwell trilogy. 2005, HarperCollins Publishers, Ages 11 to 14.
—Janet L. Rose
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2005: What happens when war games become all too real? When Johnny starts to play a computer game called "Only You Can Save Mankind," he unexpectedly gets a message from the alien ScreeWee he's supposed to be battling on screen: they wish to surrender, it seems. The British 12-year-old gradually gets drawn into their reality (how this works is a bit murky) and their desperate attempt to survive, aided by a clever girl and by his friends, an entertainingly varied group of misfits. Set against the backdrop of the first Gulf War and the "Trying Times" Johnny is experiencing at home with his squabbling, neglectful parents, this is a suspenseful and sardonically funny tale by a master of fantasy (known for his Discworld series, which includes The Wee Free Men and other YA titles), with terrific dialog and characters. It has some mordant observations to offer on war and peace, too. This novel was first published in Great Britain; in a brief introduction, Pratchett explains that in this updated American edition there are only a few changes in slang and plot details. Sequels are Johnny and the Dead and Johnny and the Bomb. A treat for all humor and SF fans. (The Johnny Maxwell trilogy.). KLIATT Codes: J*--Exceptional book, recommended for junior high school students. 1992, HarperTrophy, 207p., $5.99.. Ages 12 to 15.
—Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Johnny Maxwell, 12, thinks he's a loser. People don't seem to notice him, his parents are threatening to split up, and he's not very good at the shoot-up-the-bad-guys computer games that he and his friends are always playing. But after his hacker buddy, Wobbler, gives him an illegal copy of "Only You Can Save Mankind," strange things happen. The captain of the alien fleet that Johnny is supposed to shoot up surrenders to him-unheard of in a computer game-and soon after that all of the aliens from all copies of the game have vanished. Players looking for someone to shoot at sail through light years of empty space and return the game to the store, demanding their money back. Johnny also discovers that he is able to enter the alien ship in dreams and grows convinced that the aliens are somehow real, and are actually dying when human players shoot at them. And soon the day arrives when the humans can resume their shooting. The story is told against the backdrop of the 1991 Gulf War, in which many of the battles were fought with the help of PC screens, and the antiwar message of the story soon becomes a little too heavy-handed and obvious. Although the storytelling here is not as polished as it is in Pratchett's The Wee Free Men (HarperCollins, 2003), the humor is sharp and the story is great fun to read. This is the first in a trilogy published in England; U.S. editions of Johnny and the Dead and Johnny and the Bomb will soon follow.-Walter Minkel, New York Public Library Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An author's note explains that this volume, the first in the "Johnny Maxwell" trilogy, was written during the first Gulf War, though this is its first publication in the U.S. Johnny Maxwell is like many boys, spending his time after school busily blowing up alien ScreeWee fighters in his new computer game. Until one of the ScreeWee talks to him. She is Captain of the ScreeWee fleet, and she has asked Johnny for safe conduct back to ScreeWee space, because "[w]hen we die, we die. Forever." Juxtaposed against Johnny's inexplicably real involvement in a computer game-when he dreams, he enters game space and can wake up only when he "dies"-are the televised events of the first war in Iraq, when the nightly news showed missile's-eye views of the remote bombing of Baghdad. This offering doesn't pretend to subtlety at all, but the premise is so very intriguing, and so well-presented (in characteristically wry Pratchett fashion), that Johnny's cry for the essential humanity of all to be recognized, whether English, Iraqi or ScreeWee, loses none of its poignancy-or timeliness. (Fiction. 10-14)

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Johnny Maxwell Trilogy Series, #1
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.12(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.44(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Only You Can Save Mankind

By Terry Pratchett

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Terry Pratchett
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060541873

Chapter One

The Hero with a Thousand Extra Lives

Johnny bit his lip and concentrated.

Right. Come in quick, let a missile target itself -- beep beep beep beebeebeebeeb -- on the first fighter, fire the missile -- thwump -- empty the guns at the fighter -- fplat fplat fplat fplat -- hit fighter No. 2 and take out its shields with the laser -- bwizzle -- while the missile -- pwwosh -- takes out fighter No. 1, dive, switch guns, rake fighter No. 3 as it turns fplat fplat fplat -- pick up fighter No. 2 in the sights again up the upcurve, let go a missile -- thwump -- and rake it with -- Fwit fwit fwit.

Fighter No. 4! It always came in last, but if you went after it first, the others would have time to turn and you'd end up in the sights of three of them.

He'd died six times already. And it was only five o'clock.

His hands flew over the keyboard. Stars roared past as he accelerated out of the melee. It'd leave him short of fuel, but by the time they caught up, the shields would be back and he'd be ready, and two of them would already have taken damage, and . . . here they come . . . missiles away, wow, lucky hit on the first one, die die die!, red fireball -- swsssh -- take shield loss while concentrating fire on the next one -- swsssh --and now the last one was running, but he could outrun it, hit the accelerator -- ggrrRRRSSHHH -- and just keep it in his sights while he poured shot after shot into -- swssh.


The huge bulk of their capital ship was in the corner of the screen. Level 10, here we come . . . careful, careful . . . there were no more ships now, so all he had to do was keep out of its range and then sweep in and We wish to talk.

Johnny blinked at the message on the screen.

We wish to talk.

The ship roared by -- eeeyooowwwnn. He reached out for the throttle key and slowed himself down, and then turned and got the big red shape in his sights again. We wish to talk.

His finger hovered on the Fire button. Then, without really looking, he moved it over to the keyboard and pressed Pause.

Then he read the manual.

Only You Can Save Mankind, it said on the cover. "Full Sound and Graphics. The Ultimate Game."

A ScreeWee heavy cruiser, it said on page seventeen, could be taken out with seventy-six laser shots. Once you'd cleared the fighter escort and found a handy spot where the ScreeWee's guns couldn't get you, it was just a matter of time. We wish to talk.

Even with the Pause on, the message still flashed on the screen.

There was nothing in the manual about messages. Johnny riffled through the pages. It must be one of the New Features the game was Packed With.

He put down the book, put his hands on the keys, and cautiously tapped out: Die, alein scum/No! We do not wish to die! We wish to talk!

It wasn't supposed to be like this, was it?

Wobbler Johnson, who'd given him the disk and photocopied the manual on his dad's copier, had said that once you'd completed level 10, you got given an extra 10,000 points and the Scroll of Valor and moved on to the Arcturus Sector, where there were different ships and more of them.

Johnny wanted the Scroll of Valor.

Johnny fired the laser one more time. Swsssh. He didn't really know why. It was just because you had the joystick and there was the Fire button and that was what it was for.

After all, there wasn't a Don't Fire button.

We Surrender! PLEASE!

He reached over and, very carefully, pressed the Save Game button. The computer whirred and clicked, and then was silent.

He didn't play again the whole evening. He did his homework.

It was Geography. You had to color in Great Britain and put a dot on the map of the world where you thought it was.

The ScreeWee Captain thumped her desk with one of her forelegs. "What?"

The First Officer swallowed and tried to keep her tail held at a respectful angle.

"He just vanished again, ma'am," she said.

"But did he accept?"

"No, ma'am."

The Captain drummed the fingers of three hands on the table. She looked slightly like a newt but mainly like an alligator.

"But we didn't fire on him!"

"No, ma'am."

"And you sent my message?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"And every time we've killed him, he comes back. . . ."

He caught up with Wobbler in break.

Wobbler was the kind of boy who was always picked last when you had to pick teams, although that was all right at the moment as the PE teacher didn't believe in teams because they encouraged competition.

He wobbled. It was glandular, he said. He wobbled especially when he ran. Bits of Wobbler headed in various directions; it was only on average that he was running in any particular direction.

But he was good at games. They just weren't the ones that people thought you ought to be good at. If ever there was an Interschool First-One-to-Break-the-Unbreakable-Copy-Protection-on-Galactic-Thrusters, Wobbler wouldn't just be on the team, he'd be picking the team.

"Yo, Wobbler," said Johnny.

"It's not cool to say yo anymore," said Wobbler.

"Is it rad to say cool?" said Johnny.

"Cool's always cool. And no one says rad anymore, either."

Wobbler looked around conspiratorially and then fished a package from his bag.

"This is cool. Have a shot at this."

"What is it?" said Johnny.

"I cracked Fighter Star TeraBomber," said Wobbler. "Only don't tell anyone, all right? Just type FSB. It's not much good, really. The space bar drops the bombs, and . . . well . . . just press the keys, you'll see what they do. . . ."

"Listen . . . you know Only You Can Save Mankind?"

"Still playing that, are you?"

"You didn't, you know, do anything to it, did you? Um? Before you gave me a copy?"


Excerpted from Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett Copyright © 2006 by Terry Pratchett. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Only You Can Save Mankind (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Twelve years old Johnny Maxwell loves to play computer games especially those with alien battles. His favorite game at the moment is ONLY YOU CAN SAVE MANKIND in which he battles the ScreeWee. --- However, something weird out of virtual reality happens when a ScreeWee Captain announces to him that she and her troop surrender and ask for safe passage back to their sector of space. She explains that this is no game for when a ScreeWee dies they really are dead. A stunned Johnny does not know what to do with all these prisoners of war as he is only a preadolescent. Adding to his burden is when he sleeps he seems to enter the computer world in which he can only wake when he dies as the Americans bomb Baghdad in Gulf War I. --- Written during the first Gulf War, ONLY YOU CAN SAVE MANKIND is a powerful condemnation of war as a means to solve disputes. The story line targets the preadolescent crowd, but adults will enjoy the action-packed tale as the bewildered hero makes a plea for peace. Making no apology with his in your face claim that we are all humans whether we live in America, Darfur, Iraq, North Korea or ScreeWee, Terry Pratchett argue we need to live together in peace and harmony instead of sending our young (that is someone else¿s children) to fight when we ought to seek respectful peaceful solutions to a crisis. --- Harriet Klausner
Go4Jugular More than 1 year ago
First of the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, it's also the least strong. The basics of a Terry Pratchett novel are there, but there's just not much to it - think Terry Pratchett light. Still, the signature humor is present in nascent form, the underlying concept is innovative, and it serves as a solid introduction to the main characters that return in the subsequent two stories. Worth reading to establish that familiarity, and for a quick, enjoyable read.
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I love these books! My son and I read them when he was about Johnny's age and were totally delighted (we read a book club edition of all 3 books). I really hope that the others are published, also. They are, in many ways, more profound than the first. The final image in this book totally won my heart it was so right.