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    Review of ONLY YOU CAN SAVE MANKIND by Terry Pratchett (see his website)


    HarperCollins, July 2005 (originally published 1992)

    What would you do if you were set to win a space simulation shooter and the enemy starship suddenly surrender? At first, Johnny Maxwell figures he'll shoot them anyway. He wants the end of game screen, wants to know that he, in the last experimental spaceship, actually did save mankind. But the alien starships have stopped shooting--and really seem ready to surrender to him. Accepting their surrender isn't easy--as Johnny discovers when he learns that he's abruptly become responsible for the safety of a huge fleet of starships--torn by internal dissention but needing food, protection from other starfighters, and hoping for a distant dream of safety and a homeworld of their own.

    Johnny has a lot going on in his life--he's a 12-year-old kid, after all, so he's got school, friends, and 'The Troubles' at home (as his parents' gradually break up). The last thing he needs is a bunch of aligator-shaped space aliens depending on him. Still, he's given his promise--and other computer gamers keep hunting down the fleeing fleet and hammering away at it.

    Author Terry Pratchett (see more reviews of novels by Pratchett) sets his book during the Gulf War and very real smart-bombs, joystick-launched killing, and anti-different propaganda form a highly serious backdrop for a story that manages to be simultaneously funny and thought-provoking. Shattered remains of ancient and extinct 'Space Invaders' add a poignant touch. Johnny's relationships with the alien captain, his friends, and especially Kirsty/Sigourney seem real and troubled, further adding to the story.

    ONLY YOU CAN SAVE MANKIND is targetted at the grade 5-8 market and the writing is certainly accessible to that group. I wonder, though, whether Pratchett's concepts are a bit subtle for that age group. Older and adult readers will find a lot to like in this thoughtful story.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 9/06/05

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