Literature / Johnny Maxwell Trilogy
aka: Johnny And The Bomb

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/pratchett_johnny_maxwell_trilogy.jpg
To look at him, you'd think that Johnny Maxwell is just an ordinary twelve-year-old. But weird stuff keeps happening to him. Of course, you could blame these Trying Times — his parents are in the middle of an acrimonious divorce — but really, the kinds of things we're talking about aren't part of a normal kid's routine. I mean, what would you do if...

...the aliens in your favorite video game surrendered instead of shooting back? At first, Johnny and his friends think it's part of the programming. But this scenario isn't in the manual. Then Johnny starts having incredibly lifelike dreams — where he's at the controls of a starfighter, and the alien fleet, hanging in space before him, is waiting for him to lead them safely home. As hard as it was trying to save Mankind from the Galactic Hordes, it's even harder trying to save the Galactic Hordes from Mankind. But hey, it's only a game, isn't it?

...Or if you started seeing the dead — just as their cemetery was about to be demolished? Not many people can see the dead (not many would want to). But Johnny can, and he's got bad news for them: the town council wants to sell the cemetery and put up an office complex. But the dead have learned a thing or two from Johnny, and they're not going to take it lying down, especially since tomorrow is Halloween...

...And what if your local bag lady turned out to be a time traveler? Johnny and his friends discover Mrs. Tachyon semi-conscious in an alley. It seems there's more to Mrs. Tachyon than a squeaky wire cart and a bunch of mysterious black bags. Somehow this wizened little woman holds the key to different times and different eras-including the Blitz of 1941. Suddenly now isn't the safe place Johnny thought it was as he finds himself bound up more and more with then...

The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy is a series of three books comprising Only You Can Save Mankind, Johnny and the Dead and Johnny and the Bomb, written by Terry Pratchett. It concerns the adventures of Johnny Maxwell and his friends, Wobbler, Bigmac, Yo-less, and Kirsty, as they deal with whatever weird thing the Universe throws at them this week. Only You Can Save Mankind has been adapted for radio, the other two for TV (The Dead for ITV in 1995 and The Bomb for The BBC in 2006). There's also been a stage musical of Only You Can Save Mankind, with accompanying soundtrack CD.


Johnny Maxwell Trilogy contains examples of the following tropes:

  • The Ace: Kirsty is a deconstruction; despite being good at anything she turns her hand to, her arrogance and aloofness kept her friendless until she met Johnny.
  • Ace Pilot: Kirsty in the video game world in Only You Can Save Mankind.
  • Action Girl: Kirsty.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Johnny and the Captain in Only You Can Save Mankind. Lampshaded that it only exists because Johnny expects it to and the video game world is a consensus reality. Subversion, the Captain complains about it being hard to navigate.
  • Almost Famous Name: A running joke in Johnny and the Dead in regard to the local cemetery. For instance, Einstein is buried there — not Albert Einstein the physicist, but Solomon Einstein the taxidermist.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Kirsty has some strong autism traits.
  • Artistic License – Nuclear Physics: Yo-less and his "fridge molecules". (Fridge Molecule Logic?)
  • Badass Bookworm: Kirsty isn't just brainy — she also knows karate.
  • Bedsheet Ghost: One of the gang dresses as one for Halloween. In a pink bedsheet with flowers on it.
    Wobbler: What are you, a gay ghost?
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Placid, unassuming Johnny is capable of getting angry if sufficiently pressured.
  • Berserk Button: Try and call Kirsty "little lady". See what happens.
  • Black and Nerdy: Yo-less
  • Black Best Friend: Yo-less again.
  • Blitz Evacuees: Johnny and his friends meet a few in 1941. One of them turns out to be Wobbler's grandfather.
  • Butterfly of Doom: Both played straight and subverted.
  • Canon Welding: The shop from Truckers has been relocated to Blackbury.
  • Catch-Phrase: Mrs Tachyon has "that's what you think," uttered at random times that seem to have nothing to do with the conversation she's having. Johnny eventually realises that she's speaking to the universe itself. You can't go back in time? That's what you think...
  • Changed My Jumper: Perhaps it would have been a better idea to keep it on.
  • The Chosen One: Johnny. Pretty much by the process of elimination.
  • City of Adventure: Blackbury.
  • Comically Small Bribe: Blackbury's cemetery is about to be sold for fivepence. Johnny walks into the town council meeting and offers a counterbid of one pound.
  • Commonality Connection: Kirsty thinks she has this with the alien captain who is female; Johnny, trying to recruit her support, does not mention that she's wrong about sexism being the captain's problem because it's a matriarchial species.
  • Condensation Clue: Wobbler writes down the license plate number of some thugs' van by huffing on a car window and using his fingertip, then keeps huffing on it so it'll remain visible.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Kirsty.
  • Conversational Troping: If TV Tropes existed in the Johnnyverse, all five of the main characters would be regulars.
  • Cool Loser: Subverted, as Johnny notes that his friends should be this but fail at it — Wobbler the computer geek is terrible with computers, Big Mac the skinhead is wimpy and has asthma, and Yo-Less is the world's most straight-laced and rhythm-free black kid (this was before Black and Nerdy was a thing).
  • Copy Protection: Only You Can Save Mankind, the in-story game, has it. There's a detailed description of how utterly ineffective it is.
  • Crazy-Prepared: For a while Johnny kept a bucket of water in his room in case he spontaneously combusted.
  • The Croc Is Ticking: Mrs. Tachyon's squeaky-wheeled shopping cart
  • Cultural Rebel: Yo-Less
  • Defensive Failure: That's what the Gunnery officer thought would happen.
  • Determinator: Kirsty, because anyone calling her plucky would live to regret it.
  • Due to the Dead: Discussed in Johnny and the Dead.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: In the first book, Wobbler is a legitimate computer wiz, and Big Mac is, if not a real badass, then at least capable of convincingly pretending to be one.
  • Easy Evangelism: Averted. Here is Johnny trying to teach Kirsty about nonviolent approaches:
    Kirsty: Do you know, there was an African tribe once whose nearest word for 'enemy' was 'a friend we haven't met yet'?
    Johnny: Right. That's how...
    Kirsty: But they were all killed and eaten in eighteen hundred and two. Except for those who were sold as slaves. The last one died in Mississippi in eighteen sixty-four, and he was very upset.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Kirsty doesn't like her name. Or any of the other names she comes up with after a week or so.
  • Expospeak Gag: The Captain's food order, which includes such delights as "pressed wheat extractions treated with sucrose". Breakfast cereal.
  • Extraverted Nerd: Yo-less.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: William Stickers.
  • For Want of a Nail
  • A Friend in Need: In Only You Can Save Mankind, when Johnny realizes Bigmac has seen his friends crash the car they stole, he is running after him before he even thinks; he stops Bigmac from getting too close.
  • Fruit Cart: Lampshaded in Only You Can Save Mankind. Johnny wonders if it's actually the same marketplace each time and what the stallholders must think.
  • Fur and Loathing: Subverted. Kirsty was noted for calling on old ladies for wearing fur, but she puts on a fur coat as a disguise going back in time.
  • The Game Come to Life: The plot of Only You Can Save Mankind.
  • Genre Savvy: Continual references to movies make it clear the kids have some idea of what to expect.
  • Get Back to the Future: Wobbler gets stranded in the forties by a Grandfather Paradox which the rest of the kids then have to repair.
  • Ghost Amnesia: The living need to remember. The dead need to forget.
  • Good with Numbers: Bigmac has a natural ability at mathematics, which distresses him because "he tries really hard to be a big thicko".
  • Grandfather Paradox: While visiting 1941, Wobbler inadvertently prevents his grandfather and grandmother getting together. He doesn't cease to exist outright, but finds that he's stuck in 1941, unable to return to the 1990s, until he fixes it.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: Happens to the ghost of the communist William Stickers in Johnny and the Dead.
  • Hitler's Time-Travel Exemption Act: After giving it some thought, they decide not to kill Hitler after all.
  • Homeless Pigeon Person: Mrs. Tachyon and Guilty
  • I Have Many Names: Kirsty can't seem to make up her mind on what names she likes.
  • I'm Mr. Future Pop Culture Reference: Yo-less' friends explain his presence to the Forties people in Johnny and the Bomb as him being a foreign prince — "Prince Sega, all the way from Nintendo".
  • Implacable Man: the Screewee Empire are genuinely fearful of the protagonist's ability to keep coming back every time they kill him.
  • In Spite of a Nail: In Johnny and the Bomb, the protagonists overcome their worries about For Want of a Nail and save a couple dozen people from getting bombed. As a result a couple streets have different names and a few shops have changed, but that's about it.
  • Insufferable Genius: Kirsty.
  • Inventor of the Mundane: Wobbler is left in the past, unable to return to his time due to a paradox. While taking The Slow Path, he uses his knowledge of the present to "invent" fast food restaurants and become wealthy.
  • Ironic Echo: Kirsty rather thoughtlessly blows off Yo-Less' aggravation when he's a victim of 40's-era institutionalized racism, telling him that "you people" should stop taking it so seriously. When she's later a victim of equally institutionalized 40's-era sexism, Yo-Less glibly tell her the exact same thing back.
  • It's for a Book: The universal "out" for getting grownups to let you do things: "I'm doing a project on it."
  • I Wish It Were Real: Nobody made any wishes, but the aliens still gained some semblance of reality.
  • Jive Turkey: Yo-less gets his nickname because he isn't one, and never says "yo".
  • Kill Him Already!: Johnny and the Gunnery Officer.
  • Let's Meet the Meat: A variation is discussed, Yo-less doesn't trust ice cream that wants you to eat other ice cream.
  • Little Miss Badass: Kirsty.
  • Magnetic Medium: Johnny.
  • Malaproper: Often comes from Johnny's supporting cast.
  • Meaningful Name: Mrs. Tachyon. Tachyons are theoretical particles that appear to move faster than the speed of light; according to general relativity, they're actually moving slower than light, but backwards in time...
  • Medium Awareness: A big part of Only You Can Save Mankind.
  • The Men in Black: Referenced several times.
  • Michael Jackson's "Thriller" Parody: See Moonwalk Dance.
  • Moonwalk Dance: Johnny Maxwell and his 1990s gang teach the ghosts in the local cemetery — all of whom died in the period 1850-1948 — how to do the Moonwalk dance. (an affectionate parody of the Thriller video with real Undead). The sight of a corpulent Victorian mayor and a suffragette who died for her beliefs getting really into it is one that provokes much amusement.
  • Mr. Imagination: Johnny, to the point that his imaginations spills over into the real world.
  • Murphy's Bullet: Of all the places to hit...
  • Namesake Gag: In Johnny and the Dead, two unconnected people think that the telephone was invented by Sir Humphrey Telephone.
  • Nerd: All four boys aren't even allowed to be nerds because they're not cool enough.
  • Never the Selves Shall Meet: Johnny successfully avoided his past self. Very lucky for him and his lamp.
  • Newspaper Dating
  • The Nicknamer: Johnny is the "official nickname generator".
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: Johnny and his Thousand Extra Lives.
  • The '90s: The books were written and (Time Travel aside) set at this time. The Gulf War is going on in the background in the first novel.
  • The Nondescript: Johnny's (un)defining feature. He's so painfully nondescript that when trying to tell Kirsty over the phone which one he is of the group of boys she saw at the store earlier, he can't do any better than "that other guy who just sort of tags along and who no one really notices."
    Kirsty: Huh? I didn't notice any guy like that.
    Johnny: Exactly! That was me!
  • Noodle Incident: Johnny found the Loch Ness Monster in his goldfish pond, discovered a lost city behind Tescos and found a cave which may have had a wizard sleeping in it. We don't get told much more.
    • The 'lost city behind Tesco' bit might be a reference to the Nomes series. Especially since this was later retconned as taking place in Blackbury.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The alien spaceships after Kirsty gets there become quite dirty.
  • Not a Game: War, that is. Only You Can Save Mankind goes into it several times.
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: It seems in-between their adventures the heroes are quite bored for most of the time.
  • Obliquely Obfuscated Occupation: In the second book, people keep asking representatives of the holding company trying to buy the cemetery what they actually do. Nobody ever gets an answer.
  • The One Guy: The Gunnery Officer is the only male member of the command crew on the alien ship.
  • The Only One: Inverted. The players of the video game respawn, while the aliens are Killed Off for Real. Also, you're not the only one who can save mankind, and mankind isn't really in that much danger — the aliens are.
  • Ontological Inertia: Present but not absolute.
  • Oop North: Blackbury
  • Opening Scroll: Parodied, and described as "the bit [the developers of the titular computer game] stole from Star Wars".
  • Old-School Dogfight: Though the spaceships in Only You Can Save Mankind have a few missiles, most of the work has to be done by guns.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Bigmac, Wobbler, and Yo-less. We do eventually find out Wobbler and Bigmac's names, though Johnny has to stop and think about it for a while before remembering what they are.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: It seems Johnny's adventures are taking place in between his own imagination and the real world. Although Kirsty and her pickled onion point towards the latter.
    • Word of God sums it up: "Is what happens in the books real? Yes. Does it all happen in Johnny's head? Yes."
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: And resent the term.
  • Painting the Medium: Kirsty can pronounce italics [and brackets].
  • Patriotic Fervor: Bigmac in Only You Can Save Mankind, which is set during the First Gulf War. His attempts to inspire it among the other boys, especially Johnny, aren't successful.
  • Police Are Useless: Not only do they get in the way, but they fail to get in the way very successfully.
  • Politically Correct History: averted in a scene in which a shopkeeper in 1941 uses a racial insult to refer to Yo-less. He is about as impressed as you'd expect.
  • Punny Name: William Stickers.
  • Rain of Something Unusual: In Johnny And The Bomb, a bomb lands on the pickle factory during the Blackbury Blitz, causing a short rain of vinegar. Kirsty also mentions a mysterious rain of fish from last September ("You mean, when there was that gas leak under the tropical fish shop?")
  • Reality Warper: Johnny when in a state of extreme stress.
  • Resigned to the Call: Johnny. As contrasted with Kirsty, who tends to Jump At The Call.
  • Riddle for the Ages: We never find out what United Amalgamated Consolidated Holdings actually does.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The plot of Johnny and the Dead comes straight from a contemporary scandal when Westminster Council sold three cemeteries for 5p each.
  • Ripple Effect-Proof Memory: But only for Johnny and Kirsty.
  • Rubber-Band History: To a degree.
  • Schrödinger's Butterfly: At one point in Only You Can Save Mankind, Johnny briefly becomes uncertain whether he's a boy who's having recurring dreams about being a space pilot or a space pilot who's having recurring dreams about being a boy.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: While discussing the possibility of Tele-Frag (see below), they use the example of your body being teleported into occupying the same area as a fridge, and then get sidetracked by arguing about whether you can say a fridge is made up of 'fridge atoms' or 'fridge molecules' or not.
  • Serious Business: The entire series revolves around Johnny taking a serious look at things other people dismiss as unimportant. Also, Kirsty takes everything seriously.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: The Captain trying to talk about Earth food. "Pressed wheat extractions treated with sucrose" indeed. Breakfast cereal.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Present.
  • Shoot 'em Up: Only You Can Save Mankind, the game-within-the-book, is this, which makes negotiation difficult — "they don't make joysticks with a Don't Fire button".
  • Shout-Out: Quite a few: [1], [2], [3].
    • Mrs. Tachyon would like you to know MILLENNIUM HAND AND SHRIMP!
    • The dark-robed boatman who collects one of the dead at the end of the second book sounds awfully familiar.
  • Shrouded in Myth: In Only You Can Save Mankind, Johnny helps Bigmac after he saw his friends crash their stolen car; this gets mutated, by the next morning, into his having pulled him from the wreck.
  • The Slow Path: Wobbler gets trapped in 1941 and has to get back to the 1990s the long way.
  • The Smart Guy: Kirsty. Yo-less sometimes fills in.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Kirsty absolutely refuses to fit this trope, instead referring to the others as "four token boys".
  • Soap Box Sadie: Kirsty is a ruthlessly efficient version.
  • Sole Survivor: Only one of the "Blackbury Pals" made it home from World War I.
  • Space Fighter: In Only You Can Save Mankind
  • Space Is Noisy: Johnny finds out that space has a background noise, a low frequency hum. But since that part of the book may or may not take place in his dreams, it cannot be taken at face value. Maybe.
  • Stealth Pun: Johnny's sometime nickname, revealed in Only You Can Save Mankind, is "Rubber". For those unfamiliar with British slang, a "rubber johnny" is a condom.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: In Johnny and the Dead, both Bigmac and the Dead come up with the idea that the telephone might have been invented by Sir Humphrey Telephone.
  • Subliminal Seduction: Wobbler once returned a Pat Boone single, claiming that when he played it backwards he could hear messages about staying in school and going to church.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: In Johnny and the Bomb, Wobbler is unconvinced by Bigmac's claim that he doesn't know a thing, especially not about burgers.
  • Talkative Loon: Mrs. Tachyon.
  • Talking in Your Dreams: In Only You Can Save Mankind, Johnny has recurring dreams of being a fighter pilot in the world of the video game. Then he recognizes the voice of another pilot as a girl he's seen around the game shop, and is able to strike up a conversation that leads to them meeting in the real world.
  • Tele-Frag: It is theorized that occupying the same place as a solid object might be a very bad idea, for reasons involving the atoms fusing together.
  • The Tetris Effect: Johnny initially believes his starfighter dreams are merely an example of this.
  • There Are No Therapists: Johnny is shocked to find this is the case in 1941 after a street is bombed; the victims are offered a Spot of Tea and start picking up the rubble almost immediately.
  • Timeline-Altering MacGuffin: Averted.
  • Time Machine: A shopping trolley of all things.
  • Time Master: Johnny, but only for a little while.
  • Time Police: Referenced but averted.
  • Time Travel
  • Time Travel for Fun and Profit: Wobbler opens a fast-food restaurant after being trapped in the past. Also whenever someone gives Mrs Tachyon a coin, she goes to whatever date is printed on it to spend it, getting the maximum value for money, e.g. if a 10p given in the '90s is dated 1961, it can be spent as 2 shillings or 24pence in 1961.
  • Time Travelers Are Spies: Both Bigmac and Wobbler get mistaken for spies.
  • The Time Traveller's Dilemma: A brief concern soon forgotten.
  • Time-Travel Tense Trouble: "There's an old windmill up there. It was some kind of look-out post during the war. Is, I mean."
  • Tradesnark™: The opening scroll of the in-story game Only You Can Save Mankind has TM signs liberally scattered across it. Only You Can Save Mankind™ from the Screewee Empire™! In a bonus joke, the small print at the end reveals that it's the words "Mankind" and "Empire" that are trademarks of the software publisher, not the whole phrases.
  • 2-D Space: People who enter the video game world tend to fly as if their fighter is on a 2D plane, because that's the only way it can move in the game. Defied when Kirsty doesn't fly like this.
  • Unstuck in Time: Mrs. Tachyon's mind.
  • Urban Fantasy
  • Used Future: Johnny's imagination paints the inside of his starfighter as having a kind of "grimy cleanliness" about it. The alien ship is cleaner and shinier when he visits, because that's the way alien ships look in his head, but gets dirtier when Kirsty visits, because her idea of a spaceship is influenced by movies like Alien.
  • Van in Black: One chases Johnny and Kirsty.
  • Walking Techbane: Wobbler, half the time.
  • Weirdness Censor: People find it difficult to notice anything amiss, even when it's staring them right in the face. Johnny's complete lack of one is a major factor in the books.
  • Weirdness Magnet: Johnny.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Gunnery Captain is initially this, before turning Ax-Crazy. Kirsty can sometimes get carried away as well.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Perhaps the entire point of Only You Can Save Mankind
  • When All You Have Is a Hammer...: An accusation leveled at Kirsty by Johnny.
  • The Whitest Black Guy: Johnny and his friends nickname their black friend "Yo-less", specifically because he doesn't talk, dress, or behave like the then-current stereotypes of a black male (including the then-considered-black-specific slang "yo").
  • Win to Exit: More accurately, "Exit To Win". The 'Border' that the Screewee must cross is revealed to be a giant screen with the words "GAME OVER" on it.
  • With Due Respect: In Only You Can Save Mankind, the Navigation Officer ends her objection with "With respect."
  • You Go, Girl!: Kirsty.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: averted.
  • Your Tomcat Is Pregnant: The goldfish Adolf and Stalin, who had offspring.

The TV adaptations additionally contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Accidental Kiss: Kirsty gets overexcited and kisses Johnny.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: In the Johnny and the Bomb movie, Kirsty is sweet on Johnny, though the book never explicitly stated such a thing.
  • Sexy Soaked Shirt: Kirsty's clothes get wet in Johnny And The Bomb. As if she wasn't upset enough about having to wear a frock.


Alternative Title(s): Only You Can Save Mankind, Johnny And The Bomb, Johnny And The Dead

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/JohnnyMaxwellTrilogy?from=Literature.JohnnyAndTheBomb