Warning: This review contains one example of adult language.
Here at BoW, we’ve all been pretty excited about the upcoming Tom Cruise sci-fi movie Edge of Tomorrow. But did you know that this movie about soldiers in robotic power suits fighting aliens comes from a Japanese book? Well I managed to pick up a translated Kindle copy, and I’m here now to tell you what I thought. Get stuck into Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need is Kill!
In the not-too-distant future, the world is in danger of being overrun by Mimics, strange alien creatures that swallow the soil and leave behind them nothing but poisonous wastelands. Even with the help of the mechanised ‘Jackets’ worn by the soldiers of the United Defense Force, humanity is barely able to stand its ground against the seemingly unending tide.
One such UDF soldier is Keiji Kiriya, a new recruit in the Japanese forces about to face combat for the first time. In the terror and confusion of warfare, Keiji comes face to face with Rita Vrataski, hero of the American forces and the only person ever to have killed over a hundred Mimics in a single battle. However, not even the one known as the Full Metal Bitch can save this battle. and Keiji is soon killed along with the rest of his unit.
The next thing Keiji knows, he is waking up and it is once again the day before the battle. Somehow, he has found himself stuck in some sort of time loop, doomed to constantly fight and die in the same battle. But with each death, Keiji’s skill grows, until he has become a veteran of countless battles. Will he be able to break free from this time loop? What are the Mimics? And what is it that makes Rita Vrataski so special? The only way to find out is to fight and survive.
All You Need is Kill is what I would think of as a very intense read. It is easy to see why it has lent itself well to visual adaptations, such as graphic novels and now a film. While I was reading an English translation, it was obvious that the writing here was top notch. It contained some of the most vibrant action sequences I have read recently, while the descriptions of battle can only be described as ‘visceral’. All of this paints a very clear picture of events, drawing the reader into the admittedly bizarre story.
The plot itself is deceptively simplistic. When it comes to describing this book, I have seen the term “Groundhog Day with bullets” flung about a bit, and this does fit as far as the basic time loop premise goes. However, this is far more than just a simple action retread. Within the book, Sakurazaka has succeeded in creating a very personal character study, in which we are privy to the breaking down and rebuilding of a person subjected to an endless cycle of war.
The story gets progressively insular, revolving around the central figure of Keiji in a manner that leaves him isolated. Throughout the first half of the book we perceive everything through Keiji. We witness his inner thoughts, but never hear those of anyone around him, forcing the reader to experience the distancing that Keiji goes through as he sees those around him die again and again.
Now the problem with this, and of course with the plot’s focus on time loops, is that it runs the risk of becoming quickly repetitive. Sakurazaka manages to avoid this by shifting the focus halfway through to that of Rita, before returning once again to Keiji. This can leave the novel feeling a bit disjointed, but helps to break things up a bit and keep the reader’s interest.
However, while the novel is certainly an entertaining and well focused read it does suffer from a number of issues which could serve to put off some readers. Firstly, there are the characters. Beyond Rita and Keiji, there are very few figures of importance, which is surprising as you might think an endless loop would give you plenty of time to get to know them better. In the end though, most of them seem to remain very two dimensional, even verging on stereotypical character types, such as the pervy friend, the veteran sergeant and the geeky, socially awkward engineer. On the other hand, the underdeveloped nature of these side characters keeps the focus firmly on the leads, and helps to create the insular atmosphere of the story, making it feel that Keiji and later Rita are the only real people in this world.
Secondly, there is the story’s structure. As I said earlier, the quick change to Rita, while preventing the story from getting stale, does leave the story feeling a little disjointed. The main issue though is that at around this point we experience a massive exposition section about the nature of the Mimics and where they come from. None of this is left for the characters to learn for themselves, and is instead aimed primarily at the audience. This is particularly off putting as, where before everything was focused around Keiji and his thoughts, at this point the narration shifts into an omniscient stand point.
This exposition comes into play later, when the reasons behind the time loops are revealed. This is another of the story’s issues as this at times seems to become nonsensical, even within the logic of the plot. Even so, this is more of a niggle than something that ruined the story, and it might just be my own personal ignorance of scientific theories that left me feeling confused.
In the end, All You Need is Kill was a fascinating and thoroughly engrossing read. Its action is intense and described in a way that lends itself to visualisation. It is impossible not to find yourself drawn into the plight of this ordinary soldier who finds himself having to relive a horrendous situation and how he finds ways to deal with it. Parts of it can feel a little off, particularly the exposition segment, but in the end this doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of a simple, yet very intelligent science fiction story.
If you have any interest in Edge of Tomorrow, I would definitely recommend picking up All You Need is Kill and giving it a read to see what you think.