Johnny Maxwell is an extremely ordinary 12 year old child in 1995. He goes to school, he struggles with homework, he pirates videogames cracked by his nerdier friend Wobbler, and he avoids his parents shouting at each other by submerging himself in the glow of his screen. And it’s all going perfectly well for him as he plays his way through
Wing Commander 2 Only You Can Save Mankind until one afternoon, the Kilrathi Screewee reach out to talk to him.
And they want to surrender.
This isn’t part of the game, at least, as far as anyone else has said. It’s not anything that Wobbler’s seen. It’s not in the manual. And back in the day, videogames sometimes did things you didn’t expect, for really specific, interesting reasons and there wasn’t some sort of online compendium you could pop open to check out all the details of how these games work.
And that means that Johnny is confronted by a mystery that may just be a really interesting thing a game does.
Or maybe something else.
I’m going to spoil chunks of the rest of the book, though not exactly how it concludes. If you want to go read the book, it’s on Audible, it’s on Amazon, it’s on Google Books, and I like it a lot. It is however, a book extraordinarily of its time. It’s a book from 1995 about a twelve year old, playing videogames back when Amiga and Amstrad and Macintosh were all names to mention in the same breath. It’s also a book from when Terry Pratchett himself just didn’t understand women so well, and that means there are moments when a major character who’s a girl says some stuff that’s…
It’s very ‘precocious 12 year old’s vision of sexism,’ and that can make her feel pretty embarrassing to look back on now, especially because there are ways in which the story goes out of its way to prove her wrong. Like, it’s not like it makes the story markedly worse? But at the same time there’s a tragic kind of missed opportunity: That the story could have still kept what was important to Johnny while also showing more nuance and depth for the girl character.
Who I’m not naming, because it’s? It’s complicated?
Anyway. I like this book a lot and I’d like to recommend it, but with the caveats that it’s a white guy from 1995 writing about videogames and is a bit of a thicko about some of the topics he handles. Just stuff that hasn’t aged great.
Nonetheless, after this, there be spoilers.