Friday, April 6, 2007

Only You Can Save Mankind

Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett

I thought this was a terrible book. No wonder my teens didn't show up to the book club discussion.

This was my first foray into Terry Prachett. I have heard so many good things about his fantasy novels, and I know they are very popular. Consequently I had high hopes for this book, but it was all I could do to get through it in time for the book club.

I liked the premise. Johnny finds out that the aliens in video games are real. They are really being destroyed by all of the players of that video game and while the players can start a level over again with a new life if they die, the aliens really are dead after being killed by the player.

In the game Johnny is messaged by the captain of the Skree-Wee fleet that they'd like to surrender and would he escort them to safe space. He agrees. In his dreams he helps the aliens escape. In his waking hours he finds that everyone else is having problems with the game - they are no aliens to kill, just miles and miles of empty space.

So what's the problem with the book then? Execution. In such a slim volume - it's only 200 pages long - Pratchett managed to beat a dead horse to with in an inch of it's afterlife. In the introduction Pratchett mentions that he wrote it during the first Gulf War (the one with Bush Sr.). He talks about the war footage that was on TV at the time. I remember this actually. I was 11 at the time, my brother was in high school and he skipped alot of school. I would come home and my "sick" brother would be watching the green night vision footage of bombs being dropped. Pratchett explained that with video games become more and more graphically sophisticated and the war footage not being it can actually confuse the watcher about the severity of war. Which is real the real war that looks like an old video game or the video game that looks realisticly like war?

I think the message is great even if it doesn't apply so much to the Gulf War Part 2, since mainstream TV (we didn't have cable the first time round) doesn't show footage of Iraq.

The problem comes in when the introduction states the intention of the book and then the book states the intention of the book two or three times and when the characters ask themselves this very question in the exact words of the introduction. Only the most brain dead of readers could have missed the half-dozen mention of "is the war on tv a war or a game? is the video game a game or really a war?"

There were a few clever parts, mentioning Space Invaders and showing what happens when nobody plays a game anymore, and the very end leaving it open about whether the Skree-Wee actually make it home or not. And the fact that the dream parts of the game are completely dependent on the impressions of the dreamer so that Johnny's version of the Skree-Wee are different than his friend Kirstin's.

He also did a good job of showcasing some female characters. The Skree-Wee warriors are all women and one of the game's best players is a teen age girl.

Still I think this is much more of kid's book than a YA and I really can't recommend it.

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