from the
Johnny Maxwell
series of children’s fantasy novels by
Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett

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Only You Can Save Mankind
Johnny and the Dead

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Johnny and the Bomb


Children’s Fantasy

index pages:

Only You Can Save Mankind

Copyright © 1992 by Terry and Lyn Pratchett

The Hero With A Thousand Extra Lives

Johny fired the laser one more time. Swsssh. He didn’t really know why. It was just because you had the joystick and there was the Fire button and that was what it was for.

After all, there wasn’t a Don’t Fire button.

Basically, there were two sides to the world. There was the entire computer games software industry engaged in a tremendous effort to stamp out piracy, and there was Wobbler. Currently, Wobbler was in front.

Operate Controls To Play Game

“No! We must fight on!”

“And then we die,” said the Captain. “We fight, and then we die. That’s how it goes.”

“Then we die gloriously!”

“There’s an important word in that sentence,” said the Captain. “And it’s not the word ‘gloriously’.”

Cereal Killers

Wobbler had written an actual computer game like this once. It was called Journey to Alpha Centauri. It was a screen with some dots on it. Because, he said, it happened in real time, which no-one had ever heard of until computers. He’d seen on TV that it took three thousand years to get to Alpha Centauri. He had written it so that if anyone kept their computer on for three thousand years, they’d be rewarded by a little dot appearing in the middle of the screen, and then a message saying, “Welcome to Alpha Centauri. Now go home.”



His mother was watching the little television in the kitchen, where a very large man disguised as an entire desert was pointing to a lot of red and blue arrows on a map.

Note (Hal’s):
This story takes place during the 1991 Gulf War. Recognize the “very large man”?

— end note

One alien in every box! Wait until they were in every cupboard in the country, send out the signal and bazaam!

Cereal killers!

Maybe on some other planet somewhere you got a free human in every packet of ammonia-coated Snappi-crystals. Hey, zorks! Collect the Whole Set! And there’d be all these little plastic people. Holding guns, of course.

The trouble with all the aliens he’d seen was that they either wanted to eat you or play music at you until you became better people. You never got the sort that just wanted to do something ordinary like borrow the lawn mower.

“No-one Really Dies”

“You shoot at us as well!”


“No! Often you shoot first!”

With humans, we have often found it essential to get our self-defence in as soon as possible.

He wondered why people made such a fuss about dreams. Dream Boat. Dream River. Dream A Little Dream. But when you got right down to it dreams were often horrible, and they felt real. Dreams always started out well and then they went wrong, no matter what you did. You couldn’t trust dreams.



After ten minutes with the index he got as far as prisoners of war, and eventually to the Geneva Convention. It wasn’t something you could illustrate with big coloured pictures so there wasn’t much about it, but what there was he read with interest.

It was amazing.

He’d always thought that prisoners were, well, prisoners—you hadn’t actually killed them, so they ought to think themselves lucky. But it turned out that you had to give them the same food as your own soldiers, and look after them and generally keep them safe. Even if they’d just bombed a whole city you had to help them out of their crashed plane, give them medicine, and treat them properly.

Johnny stared at the page. It was weird. The people who’d written the encyclopedia [...] had shoved in all these pictures of parrots and stuff because they were the Natural Wonders of the World, when what was really strange was that human beings had come up with an idea like this.



The Dark Tower
Bigmac’s brother was reliably believed to be in the job of moving video recorders around in an informal way.
On Earth, No-one Can Hear You Say “Um”

“I’ve got to talk to you. I mean face to face.”

“How do I know you’re not some sort of maniac?”

“Do I sound like some sort of maniac?”


“All right, but apart from that?”

It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to tell her. There was a glint in her eye. No, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to be honest. Truthfulness would have to do instead. After all, he hadn’t actually lied.

“Do you know,” she said, “there was an African tribe once whose nearest word for ‘enemy’ was ‘a friend we haven’t met yet’?”

Johnny smiled. “Right,” he said. “That’s how—”

“But they were all killed and eaten in eighteen hundred and two,” said Kirsty. “Except for those who were sold as slaves. The last one died in Mississippi in eighteen sixty-four, and he was very upset.”

In Space, No-one Is Listening Anyway

“Why do you just accept everything? Why don’t you ever try to change things?”

“They’re generally bad enough already,” he said.


Shoot them in space, shoot them on a screen, and there was just an explosion and five points on the score total. When they’d been shot from a few metres away, then there was simply a reminder that someone who had been alive was now, very definitely, not alive any more. And would never be again.

Just Like The Real Thing

“What did you mean . . . you know, back there? When you said I see aliens everywhere?”

“Um. Can’t remember.”

“You must have meant something.”

“I’m not even sure there are aliens. Only different kinds of us. But I know what the important thing is. The important thing is to be exactly sure about what you’re doing. The important thing is to remember it’s not a game. None of it. Even the games.”

text checked (see note) Jan 2005

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Johnny and the Dead

Copyright © 1993 by Terry and Lyn Pratchett


Wobbler Johnson, who was technically Johnny’s best friend, said it was because he was mental.

But Yo-less, who read medical books, said it was probably because he couldn’t focus his mind like normal people. Normal people just ignored almost everything that was going on around them, so that they could concentrate on important things like, well, getting up, going to the lavatory and getting on with their lives. Whereas Johnny just opened his eyes in the morning and the whole universe hit him in the face.

Wobbler said this sounded like “mental” to him.

This was Phase Three of Trying Times, after the shouting, which had been bad, and the Being Sensible About Things (which had been worse; people are better at shouting). [...] There was a vague feeling that it might all work out, now that people had stopped trying to be sensible.

“She says witches are abroad on Halloween,” said Wobbler.

“What?” Johnny’s forehed wrinkled. “Like . . . Marjorca and places?”

“Suppose so,” said Wobbler.

“Makes . . . sense, I suppose. They probably get special out-of-season bargains, being old ladies,” said Johnny. “My aunt can go anywhere on the buses for almost nothing and she’s not even a witch.”

“Don’t see why Mrs. Nugent is worried, then,” said Wobbler. “It ort to be a lot safer round here, with all the witches on holiday.”


“We all supported Bigmac when he was in juvenile court, didn’t we?” said Yo-less.

“You said he was going to get hung,” said Wobbler. “And I spent all morning doing that ‘Free the Blackbury One’ poster.”

“It was a political crime,” said Bigmac.

“You stole the Minister of Education’s car when he was opening the school,” said Yo-less.

“It wasn’t stealing. I meant to give it back,” said Bigmac.

“You drove it into a wall. You couldn’t even give it back on a shovel.



“The point I’m making,” said Yo-less, “is that you’ve got to help your friends, right?” He turned to Johnny. “Now, personally, I think you’re very nearly totally disturbed and suffering from psychosomatica and hearing voices and seeing delusions,” he said, “and probably ought to be locked up in one of those white jackets with the stylish long sleeves. But that doesn’t matter, ’cos we’re friends.”

“I’m touched,” said Johnny.

“Probably,” said Wobbler, “but we don’t care, do we, guys?”



He’d never opened them. He’d just built a bookcase for them. Grandad was superstitious about books. He thought that if you had enough of them around, education leaked out, like radioactivity.


Books (general)

Johnny hesitated. He was by nature an honest person, because apart from anything else, lying was always too complicated.




Doing a project. It was amazing. If Saddam Hussein had said he was doing a school project on Kuwait, he’d have found life a lot easier . . .


Fakin’ it


The words would fill up the hall until they were higher than people’s heads. They were smooth, soothing words. Soon they’d close over the top of all the trilbies and woolly hats, and everyone would be sitting there like sea anemones.

They’d come here with things to say, even if they didn’t know how to say them.

The thing was to keep your head down.

But if you did keep your head down, you’d drown in other people’s words.



Mad is a word used about people who’ve either got no senses or several more than most other people.

[...] Blackbury Volunteers. That’s a good name.”

“But that doesn’t say what we’re going to do, does it?”

“If we start off not knowing what we’re going to do, we could do anything,” said Johnny.

It was currently occupied only by Adrian “Nozzer” Miller, who’d wanted to be an astronomer because he thought it was all to do with staying up late looking through telescopes, and hadn’t bargained on it being basically about adding columns of figures in a little shed in the middle of a windy field.

The figures the telescope was producing were all that was left of an exploding star twenty million years ago. A billion small rubbery things on two planets who had been getting on with life in a quiet sort of way had been totally destroyed, but they were certainly helping Adrian get his Ph.D. and, who knows, they might have thought it all worthwhile if anyone had asked them.

“I saw a film about this, Sarge,” said another policeman. “These aliens landed and replaced everyone in the town with giant vegetables.”

“Really? Round here it’d be days before anyone noticed,” said the sergeant.

The constable put the phone down.

“He just said it was like a strange alien force,” he said. [...] “And it was invisible, too.”

“Right. Would he recognize it if he didn’t see it again?”



“Belief in the survival of what is laughably called the soul after death is a primitive superstition which has no place in a dynamic socialist society!”

They looked at him.

“You don’t tzink,” said Solomon Einstein, carefully, “that it is worth reconsidering your opinions in the light of experimental evidence?”

“Don’t think you can get round me just because you’re accidentally right! Just because I happen to find myself still . . . basically here,” said William Stickers, “does not invalidate the general theory!”




It occurred to Johnny, not for the first time, that the human mind, of which each of his friends was in possession of one almost standard sample, was like a compass. No matter how much you shook it up, no matter what happened to it, sooner or later it’d carry on pointing the same way. If three-metre-tall green Martians landed on the shopping mall, bought some greetings cards and a bag of sugar cookies and then took off again, within a day or two people would believe it never happened.

 9 Real dark forces . . . aren’t dark. They’re sort of grey, like Mr. Grimm. They take all the colour out of life; they take a town like Blackbury and turn it into frightened streets and plastic signs and Bright New Futures and towers where no-one wants to live and no-one really does live. The dead seem more alive than us. And everyone becomes grey and turns into numbers and then, somewhere, someone starts to do arithmetic . . .

“You know those games where this ball runs up and bounces around and ends up in a slot at the bottom?”

“Pinball machines?”

“Is that what they’re called now?”

“I think so.”

“Oh. Right.” The Alderman nodded. “Well . . . when you’re bouncing around from pin to pin, it is probably very difficult to know that outside the game there’s a room and outside the room there’s a town and outside the town there’s a country and outside the country there’s a world and outside the world there’s a billion trillion stars and that’s only the start of it . . . but it’s there, d’you see? Once you know about it, you can stop worrying about the slot at the bottom. And you might bounce around a good deal longer.”




Mr. Grimm had taken life very seriously, starting with his own.

People didn’t talk much about that sort of thing in those days. Suicide was against the law. Johnny had wondered why. It meant that if you missed, or the gas ran out, or the rope broke, you could get locked up in prison to show you that life was really very jolly and thoroughly worth living.



text checked (see note) Jan 2005

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