Only You Can Save Mankind



Aliens in Johnny's video game don't want to fight.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Johnny has to wrestle with trying to do the right thing when what's right (or real) is unclear. A group of street kids steal a car and subsequently wreck it, seriously injuring themselves. Johnny's friend pirates video games.

Violence & scariness

Space battles, some fighting, a car accident. Aliens are killed.

Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that, though this book is aimed at middle elementary readers and is mostly lighthearted, it touches on some serious topics, including the first Gulf War, families in crisis, and inner-city street life.

What's the story?

Johnny is playing a pirated copy of the new video game, Only You Can Save Mankind, when suddenly a message appears on the screen -- \"We wish to talk.\" These aliens don't want to fight, they want to surrender and be granted safe conduct back to their home world. But that's not how the game is supposed to work, right?

Soon Johnny is entering the game in his dreams, and his actions are affecting all of the other copies of the game all over the world. Johnny finds himself responsible for a fleet of alien ships while gamers all over earth try to destroy them. Meanwhile Johnny's family is breaking up, his friend is in serious trouble, and Gulf War I rages on the TV set. The TV war seems like a video game, while the game is becoming increasingly real. But if the aliens really exist, does Johnny want that kind of responsibility if they are?

Is it any good?


While this book quite a bit simpler, preachier, and less clever than his other work for children, the plot is incredibly gripping. It raises so many fascinating questions and issues that it is definitely worth reading, especially for literature circles and discussion groups. Johnny and his friends, Wobbler the hacker and Bigmac, who leads a very different life at home than at school, are compelling, if not very fleshed-out, characters. And Pratchett's trademark humor is here, even if it is a bit muffled.

In addition to the major themes, Pratchett touches on a number of serious side topics, such as inner city violence and divorce, but then seems to drop them again. Perhaps they will be important to other entries in this series, but here they seem a bit gratuitous and out of place, as if the author wasn't quite sure where he wanted to go. But none of this quibbling will stop kids from enjoying the story, and the odd plot flaws may even be grist for more group discussions.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about issues like war, reality, what makes us human, gender roles, and lots more. Today's kids may need some background about the first Gulf War and the way it appeared on television.

Book details

Author:Terry Pratchett
Genre:Science Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:HarperCollins Children's Books
Publication date:July 22, 2005
Number of pages:207
Read aloud:8
Read alone:9

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Teen, 13 years old Written bynuker April 29, 2010

for younger kids

What other families should know
Too much violence
Adult Written byA.j.crowley May 29, 2009

Even more relevent that when is was written.

Johnny is the kid no one notices, his parents are breaking up and there’s nothing on TV but news of a distant war in some place called Iraq, oh, and the space aliens in his computer game have just started talking to him. Apparently they are tired of being shot at and want Johnny to save them. Frequently hilarious, and when has Pratchett been otherwise, and often thought provoking, it's probably going to convince kids about the desensitizing effects of video games much more effectively than there parents ever could, and may even, heaven forbid, encourage them to think.


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