Liz's Reviews > Only You Can Save Mankind

Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett
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Jan 08, 12

Who else indeed? And that's really the question, isn't it? The old saw says that one person can make a difference, but no one ever thinks that it's them so no one does anything. And no difference is ever made. That's what the question on the cover of the book points out, if not you, then who else will?

In this case, Johnny is that one person, one out of thousands, but the only one who listens and takes on the responsibility of trying to do something. He has no power in the "real" world; his parents are on the verge of splitting up and he feels like he's just drifting through life. But now he has both power and responsibility, as little as he thinks he wants either.

It's always been just a game to him; kill the aliens and advance to the next level. But what happens when the aliens surrender? When they place their lives in his hands, ask for his protection? They just want to go home, to escape the strange humans who attack them without provocation. Johnny has the challenge of not just helping them, but learning to see them as people instead of just "things." Because it's all too easy to kill a thing. When you let that "thing" become a person to you, become real instead of an object, then it's not easy anymore.

And that's the lesson here, in a story where the first Gulf War is always on the TVs and being discussed in the background. It's all too easy to wage war when you see your opponents as less than human. When they're nothing more than a target on a screen. It's a lesson that Johnny initially fights against learning, but one that he comes to accept, just as he accepts that he's the only one both willing and able to help these aliens who are becoming people to him.

Eventually he does have help in the form of a genius with the nickname of "Sigourney" (good ode to the "Aliens" franchise). A girl who despite her intelligence, is caught in the mindset of having to win at everything, even if it means killing everything. It's the hardest on her to learn that the ScreeWee are people, and the lesson doesn't drive home until it's nearly too late. Her character is a good commentary on the entire "kill 'em all!" mindset and the way high intelligence doesn't always negate prejudice or massive blind spots in morality.

As always with Terry Pratchett, I have the distinct feeling that a great deal of the humor is going far over my head in that British way that, as an American, I just can't grasp. However, the story itself is so solid, as are the characters and the messages, that it doesn't matter much. There are plenty of jokes that I did get and I enjoyed the rest of it for what it was. I'll be looking forward to seeing the other two books published here in the states.
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