Book Review: All You Need is Kill, by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

When the trailer for Tom Cruise’s next movie, Edge of Tomorrow, first started making the rounds on the social networks, I didn’t bother to watch it. It sounded like yet another generic sci-fi movie where Cruise is a superhero like he always is. In fact, I haven’t watched Oblivion for much the same reason, despite actually liking most of Tom Cruise’s movies and science fiction in general.

But then – for whatever reason – I sneaked a peak, and I was hooked.

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Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise star in “Edge of Tomorrow”.

It’s not that the movie seems completely original, or has the potential of being a masterpiece. No, it actually does look kind of like yet another generic sci-fi movie where Cruise is a superhero like he always is. What grabbed my attention were two things: one, the trailer was beautifully made, and two the SF “Groundhog Day” time loop he seems to be trapped in. Looking for more info on the movie I found that it was based on a Japanese military SF novel titled All You Need is Kill, and that was all I needed. To get the book, I mean.

Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel has much the same qualities as my favorite SF novel of all time, The Stars my Destination: reads fast, grips you and never lets you go. Neither one of them has the brilliance of Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, for example, but both possess good stories set in worlds turned upside down by uncommon circumstances; while The Stars my Destination changed the landscape of human civilization by the advent of mental teleportation, All You Need is Kill does so by trapping its main character Keiji Kiriya in a time loop where death is but the reset button.

The setting is as follows: an alien civilization far more advanced than us is exhausting their planet resources and needs new worlds to colonize in order to survive. They find Earth suitable for those needs, but first they must terraform it, so they send a big ship full of terraforming machines (called “Mimics” by the humans) to do the job. Neither the aliens nor the machines care much about the life they are about to wipe out, so the humans have no choice but to defend themselves.

As we enter the story the war has raged on for years, and new recruit Keiji Kiriya enters his first battle.

And dies.

He wakes up thinking that that was a weird dream prior to his first real battle, except that everything he experienced in the “dream” is happening again. The one thing that changes this time around is how he gets killed, as a spear that had previously done his friend now came straight at him. By the time he realizes what’s going on, it’s clear that, no matter what he does, the Mimics will find him and kill him.

Enter Rita Vrataski, the hero of the United Defense Force, nicknamed officially “the Valkyrie”, and unofficially the “Full Metal Bitch”. Rita is a one of a kind supersoldier, winning so many accolades now the UDF is making up hero awards just for her, since no one else had ever done the things she has. Turns out Rita was the first to be trapped in a time loop and, just like Keiji after her, has used the battle experience to hone her mental skills into something normally impossible for a human. Obviously, at one point Keiji and Rita will unite forces, but the interesting bit here is that Keiji’s time loop is not the same as Rita’s (she eventually managed to get out of hers), so he has to begin at zero every time they meet to train together.

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The UDF propaganda machine in full force for Rita Vrataski.

Since death isn’t the end in a time loop, the real threat comes from dying once the time loop is broken. I have spoiled enough already so I won’t give away how they have to do it; suffice to say that once they were on their way to break it, I was genuinely concerned for them both. You see, Sakurazaka didn’t focus only on the technical aspects of the war and the time loop; he took his time to expand not only on Keiji but also on Rita, so that by the end we know them and are rooting for them to beat the damn Mimics and come out on top. The ending, while I felt was a bit forced, did its job emotionally, and somewhat reminded me of how I felt about the ending of the SF military classic The Forever War. The ride was great, and the ending stays with you. What else can you ask of a good story?

I wonder how Edge of Tomorrow will fare. I’m not really expecting it to be a great adaptation, but so long as they keep the core elements intact and don’t change the end into a Hollywood cliché I’ll be happy. Tom Cruise is as far removed from Keiji as you can get, but Emily Blunt is sort of how I pictured Rita in the novel (although I have a friend that fits the Rita mold like a glove, and that’s who I was picturing as I read it). If the adaptation is at least as good as Ender’s Game‘s was, I’ll be a satisfied customer.

Here’s me crossing my fingers.