Johnny and the Bomb
by Terry Pratchett
Review by Paul Haggerty
HarperTrophy Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780060541934
Date: 01 April 2008 List Price $5.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
It's 1941 and the English town of Blackbury has just been accidentally bombed by the Luftwaffe. An old, insane lady known to the locals as Mrs. Tachyon is pushing her wire shopping cart full of plastic bags down the debris-filled road and into a building with an unexploded 25-pound bomb. It's 1996 and Johnny Maxwell and his friends find the old, insane lady known to locals as Mrs. Tachyon collapsed in an alley. After she's taken away to the hospital, Johnny takes possession of her old wire shopping cart, just to keep it safe for her. What's inside those black bags is a mystery and an awesome power. One which will take Johnny and his friends on a journey back through time and down the other leg of "The trousers of time."
Third in a series by noted British author Terry Pratchett, Johnny and the Bomb is both a serious and a funny book. While only Pratchett's warped sense of the universe would try to explain paradoxes and divergent universes with so mundane a symbol as a pair of trousers, only someone with his laser-like ability to so clearly cut to the heart of a matter could actually make it make sense.
With access to Mrs. Tachyon's shopping car/time machine, Johnny and his friends find themselves traveling back and forth between 1941 and 1996. But such a journey is not taken without the risk of changing the reality you knew. And once reality is changed, so are you. The universe does not leave loose ends dangling about.
But Johnny's been doing a school report on the famous incident. He knows that 19 people died because the air raid siren never sounded on the evening of the raid. Now that they have the ability to change it, how can they not act? But even with their foreknowledge, how can they possibly pull it off? Who's going to listen to a bunch of kids talking about things that haven't happened yet? And what will happen to the present if they succeed?
Johnny and the Bomb is filled with Pratchett's usual mix of quirky characters, both totally normal and somehow completely off the wall The teenagers range from Kasandra (formerly Kristy, formerly Kimberly, formerly Klymenystra), who's trying out a new name practically every other day, to Bigmac (he likes hamburgers), who can't seem to quite get a grasp on the whole concept of World War II, and therefore, when told to show up in period costume for the time journey, shows up in a German Army officer's uniform. They're all over the top, and yet still strangely reminiscent of friends of old that we somehow managed to considered normal at the time.
It's a strange story, filled with physics, history, heroes, idiots, the stubborn, the dedicated, and a psychotic cat named Guilty. It's a story that reminds us that the past may not be so totally out of reach after all. It may just be reachable if we can only figure out the "other" way of making a left-hand turn. In some fields of physics, time is just another axis in a multidimensional universe. Who says you can only travel down it in one direction or at one speed?