Terry Pratchett’s book has gotten missed before, what with the reams of Discworld fantasies he’s written, but this is true Pratchett – engaging and funny and sly. He writes satirically of video games in Only You Can Save Mankind, bringing to mind the bad old days of playing Space Invaders or some such dreck, where there were lines of mindless aliens, lining up to shoot you — and be shot.
But what would happen if a message flashed across the screen that said “We Surrender?”
Johnny Maxwell is twelve. There’s enough crap going on at home to make video games seem like a welcome escape from the Trying Times they’re all going through. Nobody’s cooking much at home. Nobody really cares where he gets to, but he’s got pocket money, and his good mate Wobbler keeps giving him games he’s hacked and hijacked to keep him busy. It’s all going well until the day the Scree Wee captain calls a halt. It’s not a game, she explains to him. We’re dying.
We want safe conduct home.
Johnny, bewildered, says okay.
That couldn’t have really happened, his mates tell him. Bigmac thinks he’s nutty. Yo-less, his buddy who wants to be a doctor, and reads Books, says that Johnny is putting all his anxiety about his parents into his video gaming. Wobbler thinks he should just hack a new game.
The aliens are going home, right? But that’s not the end of it. See, the Geneva Convention says that the wounded have to be bound, and the hungry fed, and that all parties have be returned to safe and neutral space. How’s he supposed to do that? He’s just a kid! And anyway, there’s a really, really good player out there, and all she wants to do is kill aliens. Johnny’s got his job cut out for him.
Subtly, Pratchett writes a beautifully complex and nuanced treatise on not only games but the sanitizing of …war. And how, even though it’s on the tube 24-7, people are dying.