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The Johnny Maxwell Slipcase    by Terry Pratchett order for
Johnny Maxwell Slipcase
by Terry Pratchett
Order:  USA  Can
Corgi, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I can't get enough of Terry Pratchett's work, and my teen son has read everything he could find by the author. We love his wit, the repartée amongst his assorted engaging characters, and his satire of society's silliest foibles. So this slipcase collection of three Johnny Maxwell adventures - Only You Can Save Mankind, Johnny and the Bomb, and Johnny and the Dead - was triply welcome.

Johnny's home life sucks - his dad has lost his job, his parents fight all the time and he's, to all intents and purposes, home alone. Johnny is a 'natural worrier', who as his friend Wobbler says, has 'An imagination so big it's outside your head.' Not surprisingly, he escapes the drabness of his ordinary life for adventures in other dimensions, and his friends (Wobbler, Bigmac, Yo-less, and high-achiever, kick-butt Kirsty who has a 'talent for striking matches in a firework factory') are pulled in too, willy-nilly.

In Only You Can Save Mankind, Johnny is playing your typical shoot 'em up alien invader game when the ScreeWee (love their toothbrush birds) surrender and ask for his help getting home - you see, though players keep coming back after they expire, death is real for game world inhabitants. As Johnny is pulled in through the wormhole in his head - along with his friends - the boundary between real and game worlds begins to dissolve. As wisely stupid Johnny reminds Kirsty at the end, there are no aliens, 'Only different kinds of us.'

The next episode, Johnny and the Bomb, takes Johnny and company back to explore 'the other leg of the Trousers of Time' beginning with their town Blackbury's World War II experience. Their time machine? It's bag lady Mrs. Tachyon's shopping cart, full of mysterious black bags and a demonic feline named Guilty. They all experience cross-time culture shock (especially black Yo-less and female Kirsty), and one of the gang is left behind on their return, causing intriguing temporal complications. Though pursued by Men in Black, shot at and bombed, Johnny pulls them through in his own dreamy fashion.

Finally, in Johnny and the Dead, our un-hero communicates with activist ghosts, stirred up over plans for a large conglomerate to take over their cemetery. Bored, the ghosts (aside from the pessimistic Mr. Grimm) explore the present day, manipulate the communications ether, and call up radio talk shows, as these 'post-life citizens' demand the vote. (I especially enjoyed the Houdini wannabe whose greatest trick worked 'Nearly once' and iconic soldier Tommy Atkins). Johnny helps the dead (who discover new possibilities) and speaks up at a town meeting, saying 'Things aren't over just because they're past. Do you see that?'

If you haven't read Pratchett yet, Johnny Maxwell is a great place to start (but don't miss Discworld either!) These three adventures star gormless teen boys and a genius, socially inept girl who generally do the right thing in all kinds of weird and wonderful situations. And though these adventures are pure entertainment, Pratchett touches on many of the big topics - like bigotry, war and death - lightly and wisely along the way.

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