Pratchett, Terry: Only You Can Save Mankind (audio); Johnny and the Dead; Johnny and the Bomb

More backlog catchup, Terry Pratchett’s Johnny Maxwell trilogy. I’d been vaguely meaning to re-read this for a while, and bumped it up my list after the news that Pratchett had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Yes, as he said, he’s not dead, but I think it’s best to pay tribute while people are still around to appreciate it.

I listened to the first book, Only You Can Save Mankind, read by Richard Mitchley. Johnny Maxwell is playing a bog-standard computer game in which he’s supposed to shoot as many alien spaceships as possible . . . but then the aliens surrender to him. Defending the aliens turns out to be a lot harder than killing them.

There’s quite a lot I hadn’t remembered about this book, such as its being set during the first Gulf War. I’d like the resulting parallels better if they weren’t paired with explicit statements of The Message, which I found suboptimal for listening purposes. A happier rediscovery was Johnny’s home life and friendships, which I thought were pleasingly complicated and realistic, as best I can judge. Overall, I like the concept of this book better than the execution, particularly since I’m not sure the worldbuilding ends up being coherent.

I read the next two books, because they don’t appear to exist in unabridged audio format. My favorite of them is Johnny and the Dead, but I read it very quickly as pre-bed distraction during a difficult time, and thus didn’t subject it to nearly as much analysis at Only You. In this book, Johnny starts seeing dead people in a local publicly-owned cemetery, which is scheduled for sale to a corporation. As I said, I’m not sure whether this book is actually less anvilicious than the first, but even it’s not, I like the way the central message comes around in the end. I also enjoyed the look at a 1990s British city; so many fantasies are set in a non-modern Britain that this was a nice change of pace.

The last Johnny book, Johnny and the Bomb, is a World War II time-travel story. I am—not precisely allergic to stories of time travel, but tend to be unable to get my head around them. As a result, I have nothing useful to say about this book, other than it still has Johnny and his friends, and I like reading about them.

[For many years, these were only available in the U.K., but have been recently printed in the U.S.; actually, on checking, Johnny and the Bomb will be released next week.]


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  1. I’d read the first two Johnny books years ago and they didn’t really stick with me. I preferred the Truckers/Diggers/Wings trilogy. And his most recent YA novels, the ones set in Discworld, are even better. Keep writing, Terry.

  2. I also like the Bromeliad books a lot, though I’m a bit mixed on the Discworld YAs (they’re all in the archives).
    If the first two Johnny books didn’t stick with you, there’s definitely no reason to read the third.

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