[From Critical Wave #28, 1992. Reissued as a Gollancz paperback in 2004, this novel is also available via Amazon as part of the three-volume ‘Johnny Maxwell Collection’, along with the sequels Johnny and the Dead and Johnny and the Bomb.]
Whilst I still harbour deep suspicions that the Discworld franchise is suffering from too many trips to the well, even if Witches Abroad had many excellent moments, there’s no denying Terry Pratchett’s skills as a humourist, particularly when allowed to exercise them in a fresh arena. This addition to the ranks of his children’s fiction is precisely that, combining the current trend towards realism (its hero, Johnny, lives in “Trying Times”, his phrase for the off-stage collapse of his parents’ marriage) with straight fanyasy (Johnny’s discovering that an alien armada has drifted into the electronic microverse of the latest computer game, Only You Can Save Mankind).
There are a couple of minor irritants (Pratchett’s decision to substitute his own titles for a well-known Aussie soap opera and a highly successful movie series being principal), but there are so many deft touches (Johnny’s relationship with Kirsty, who prefers to be called ‘Sigourney’, the wonderful sequence recalling the days of Space Invaders) that this becomes nit-picking. On the dustjacket (intriguingly rewritten after the proofs went out), the author says he writes “fpr anyone old enough to understand”; Only You Can Save Mankind will certainly be enjoyed by readers of all ages, especially Johnny’s contemporaries