Why are all the online reviews of Only You Can Save Mankind rubbish?

September 4, 2011 § 2 Comments

Procrastination alert.

If I wasn’t procrastinating I wouldn’t have read these reviews at all, because I’ve read the book in question – Terry Pratchett’s Only You Can Save Mankind (1992) – and don’t need to read reviews. But when I started going through them I really started feeling diatribetical. Chrissi, I don’t care if you’ve given it 8/10, this is not a review. Anastasia, how can you blame a book written in the early 90s for referencing what was going on in the early 90s (i.e. the Gulf War). The review on Inkweaver starts to get to the point that this is a book with a core message (something neither Chrissi nor Anastasia felt like mentioning) about war and how it gets made to look like a video game in which The Enemy are inhuman monsters with whom it is impossible to empathise (see below). So Jessica, if you think the book is like The Last Starfighter in any way, you have completely missed the point that this is not a story about a video game becoming reality, but is a provocation about the relationship between fiction and reality. Seen from the rapidly expanding perspective of Johnny Maxwell, the 12-year old hero of the story, the Gulf War is a product sold to the public and even bomber pilots as a game, while the video game he is playing seems more real than his everyday life, in which his parents are breaking up and keep forgetting that Johnny exists.

Anyway I bought this book as a present for my Australian cousin who I never get to see, because I think it’s one of the most important “children’s” books I ever read, and one of the few I have gone back to again and again. And now I must get on with work. I’ll end with a quote from Bill Hicks about how the Gulf War was sold to the American public:

‘He’s a Hitler. He’s a Hitler. Saddam Hussein is a Hitler.’ What does that make you – Goebbels? Quit arming him. ‘He’s a Hitler.’ He was your friend last week. ‘He’s a Hitler now.’ Trying to motivate people, you know. It’s unbelievable how they got ‘em. People were just like:

‘He’s a Hitler – yeah, Bush. Get real man.’

‘You like dogs, don’t ya?’

‘Yeah, we love dogs.’

‘Well, we have an intelligence report that says here Saddam Hussein likes to fuck dogs in the ass and then take their spine out and use it as a toothpick.’

‘You’re shittin’ me. Let’s go kill this guy. I had no idea he was that much of a maniac. This is for Rover!’ (crash)

‘That’s what intelligence reports say. He’s a Hitler. He fucks dogs. Mm-hm.’

‘I don’t know. [sic ]You’re sure that’s true?’

‘You like kittens?’

‘Yeah, I like kittens. They’re cute.’

‘He boils ‘em and eats ‘em.’

‘Fucker. This is for Fluffy!’ (three explosions)

(Hicks 150)

I found this quote in an online copy of Jan Koula’s Bachelor thesis “Bill Hicks and the Wall of American Mentality”, but if you like it then check out some of Bill Hicks’ stuff on Youtube. I guess that Anastasia (see above) might think Bill Hicks’ work is dated because he’s talking about stuff that happened in the early 90s; but wait a minute, wasn’t our own generation’s war on Iraq justified to us in precisely the same way? Ciao for now.


§ 2 Responses to Why are all the online reviews of Only You Can Save Mankind rubbish?

  • Anastasia says:

    lol, I don’t think I was blaming it for being written in the early 1990s– I was blaming it for updating certain things (the tech) but leaving other things that kids still wouldn’t understand un-updated. If you update certain things so kids won’t go “what’s a floppy disc,” why wouldn’t you also update the other things? It’s not that I think everything written before 2005 is useless and old, it’s that if you’re going to update something you should go all the way.

    Also I did mention a bit about how the theme was war/xenophobia/whatever.

    Also I don’t know why I’m defending my review to you. Oh, whatever.

    • lol x2 – I don’t know why you’re defending your review to me either, but for what it’s worth, I know I was being unnecessarily harsh on your review, which was actually quite nuanced. In fact I think you raise a very interesting point about the updating Terry Prattchet did in the 2006 edition. A novel that deals with computers, youth cultures and contemporary affairs and is aimed at teenagers will inevitably feel dated in relation to all three in a short space of time, because they are constantly changing but also because – how can I put this – teenagers don’t have the same memory of how things were before because they weren’t old enough to see what was going on. And that point, that coming of age involves seeing things more clearly than before (and seeing the inter-connections between things more clearly and in new ways) is also part of what the book is about. I think there’s a nice parallel here with something my PhD supervisor told me – that even though social anthropologists study and write about the ethnographic “present”, whatever they write immediately becomes history, an analysis of how things were rather than how they now are.


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