All You Need is Kill

June 28, 2009

I just started a new job and have had a schedule a bit all over the place, which is why I haven’t been updating with as much stuff the past couple weeks.  Today was a day off, but I opted to read this novel from the new Haikasoru science-fiction novel imprint rather than a few volumes of different things.  It was time well spent, and this and Zoo are the two titles in the initial batch that I was most excited about.

There are a few flags that will automatically tip the scales for me here, the first being the title of the book, the second being the fact that the main character is stuck in a time loop, and the third was that the only other real character in the book was called (very seriously) “Full Metal Bitch” and “Mad Wargarita.”  The last item was a bit of a wild card, and not at all a guarantee of awesomeness, but it fits in as a nickname given by the foul-mouthed soldiers that make up the background cast in the book, so it counts as a plus as far as I’m concerned.

The story is set sometime in the near future, where alien-made… things that look like gigantic dead frogs begin terraforming and destroying the Earth.  Anyone that tries to stop them gets blown away by sheer force (they are much stronger than most anything humanity can throw at them), and fighting methods like spear launchers, 50mm guns, and rocket launchers fired from inside metal bio-suits are the only ways to really stop them… and even then, most people get killed trying to do it.  In his first battle, Keiji manages to outlive his entire platoon, but is killed at the very end after firing his last three spears into one of the creatures, called “mimics.”  He wakes up, only to relive the day before the battle and the battle itself again, where he dies almost right away in place of one of his friends.  And then he wakes up the day before the battle once again.  Before all is said and done, he lives the 30 hours before his death 160 times.  He teaches himself how to fight with 100% efficiency and learns how to get the most out of the day as far as training from his superior officer, cheating weapons out of unsuspecting scientists, and the best way to fight the mimics in the actual battle.

He also looks to a woman named Rita as his inspiration.  Rita is a superstar American soldier, famous for being one of the only people that can wipe out multiple mimics in a single battle.  It usually takes several soldiers to kill one mimic, but Rita can singlehandedly take out tens and hundreds in each mission.  The soldiers inevitably come up with the nicknames “Full Metal Bitch” and “Mad Wargarita” when talking about her.  Rita stops and offers kind words to Keiji as he dies in the first loop, and in successive loops Keiji watches her in battle to learn the best ways to dispatch mimics.  This eventually goes other places in the last couple time loops, too.

The book is mostly just the simple, straighforward story of Keiji learning enough about how to kill to get himself out of his situation, ie not die in battle against the mimics.  Some of the variations in his day are fairly amusing, and tend to be things like how to trigger an early end to punitive exercises his platoon is forced to do that day, how to get out of talking to one of his friends to buy himself more time, how looking angry triggers a fistfight sometimes, et cetera.  His progress is steady, and with those diversions and asides, the story keeps from stagnating into just being about the battles.  I quite enjoyed the simple structure, and liked the fact that I could gauge Keiji’s progress and watch him learn from mistakes like getting his arm torn off or his chest crushed and lungs disintegrated.

Keiji’s story is also broken up with a brief chapter discussing the background of Rita, another welcome change.  Normally I’m not a big fan of the narrative suddenly jumping elsewhere, but considering the only two characters in the story are Keiji and Rita (with a couple of named background characters popping in as well), giving her depth was probably essential, especially since it explained why it is that Rita is so much better at fighting mimics than anyone else.  It’s also Rita’s chapter that explains the mimics and what kind of global threat they pose.

About the only thing I didn’t really care for was the ending.  It included a twist that… well, quite frankly, Rita would have no way of knowing, and it didn’t quite make sense to me after Keiji and Rita began fighting together at the end.  There were a couple other details about the mimics that struck me as odd and impossible for anyone to prove, but for the most part, these fell into the realm of suspension of disbelief.  The ending just… did not.  I was a little disappointed, and still am, especially after the rest of the book was so fantastic about exposition.  There wera a few minor quibbles with the rest of the story too, like the fact that the suits that humanity fights the mimics in are never really explained or described, and only certain technical aspects are highlighted.

The writing is pretty simple and straighforward, and matches the story quite well.  Some of the rather ornate and elaborate descriptions at the beginning of the book got to me initially, but it was something I failed to notice after the first couple pages, so it settles into a rhythm pretty quickly.  We never get too close to either Keiji or Rita, which also felt right in the context of the story.

Basically, the book accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, which is to tell an entertaining action story tinged with sci-fi elements.  It’s a simple story, and following along and enjoying it is fairly easy to do.  I finished it off in two or three sittings, which also felt about right for a book like this.  The ending was the weakest link, but I enjoyed pretty much everything else about it enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who thinks the premise sounds interesting.  I also liked that the book has absolutely no ties or hints of anything remotely related to anime or manga (aside from the [it pains me to use wonky caps] yoshitoshi ABe cover), so I also feel like it’s got a good chance to attract an audience outside fandom, too, especially since the story is so simple and likable.

11 Responses to “All You Need is Kill”

  1. […] Birdie on vol. 3 of 20th Century Boys (Comic Book Resources) Connie on All You Need Is Kill (novel) (Slightly Biased Manga) Gia on Blood+ Adagio (Anime Vice) Melinda Beasi on vol. 1 of […]

  2. Sara K. Says:

    “There are a few flags that will automatically tip the scales for me here, the first being the title of the book, the second being the fact that the main character is stuck in a time loop, and the third was that the only other real character in the book was called (very seriously) “Full Metal Bitch” and “Mad Wargarita.””

    So why aren’t you a science fiction fan? Science fiction has a tradition of crazy titles, such as “Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death” or “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”. Speaking of which, the people running Haikasoru are definitely Dick fans, since they named the imprint after one of his most famous novels, The Man in the High Castle (High Castle = Hai Kasoru).

    However, I am more interested in the idea of foreign sci-fi than any particular book they are offering. Not much sci-fi from abroad gets translated into English. In fact, the only sci-fi novel I’ve read in translation is Solaris (from Poland).

    Based on your description, “All You Need Is Kill” sounds a lot like the movie “Run, Lola, Run”, though I am sure that Kill is the more gruesome of the two.

  3. Connie Says:

    To be honest, since I’ve been going through the sci-fi/fantasy section at work a lot more lately, there are a few things that beg to be read more than others. Yesterday I spotted something with a title like “Attack of the Space Bimbos” or something along those lines written by a relatively well-known female author (I wish I could remember the exact title and author), so I may start sampling the genre a little more than I have in the past. I also keep meaning to read a couple Dick novels, mostly I’m waiting for one of those Library of America editions of his work to cross my path.

    I haven’t seen Run, Lola, Run, so I can’t comment on the similarities. I really should just watch it, I’ll have to raid one of my friend’s DVD collections over the weekend.

  4. Sara K. Says:

    The main similarity with Run, Lola, Run is that the same day gets looped over again and again, and the day tends to end in death. I think this type of story comes from people’s fascination with the last day of one’s life. I can even think of a comedy about it – “Variations on the Death of Trotsky”.

    I read the beginning of “Bimbos of the Death Sun” (I don’t know if it’s the same book you’re thinking of, though I think BotDS has some sequels). It’s a fine comedy, I just wasn’t interested at the time. I too should read more Dick, because what I’ve read is so mind-blowing and amazing. I should also see Blade Runner, but I am pretty sure it’s going to be inferior to the book. Especially since they changed the name. “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” is the perfect name for that story.

  5. Connie Says:

    Bimbos of the Death Sun is probably about right. I didn’t read the back when I spotted it on the shelf and couldn’t find it at work today to check it out. I’m not sure if I want to read it more or less now that I know it’s a murder mystery at a sci-fi convention. I’m sure I’d miss a lot of the jokes.

    I have seen Blade Runner, but I’ve always been afraid to go back and read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. I’ve heard both are good, but also nothing alike, so I worry that I’ll make constant mental comparisons to the movie and wind up enjoying the novel less. It’s the same reason I haven’t read I Am Legend, which has three very different movie adaptations that allegedly bear little resemblance to the original novella.

  6. Sara K. Says:

    I think you probably know enough about sci-fi and fantasy (it was as much as fantasy convention as a sci-fi one) that you could enjoy Bimbos about as much as anybody, if that’s your kind of thing.

    The best experience I ever had with watching a movie and then reading the book is Far From the Madding Crowd. It’s a great movie. Yet somehow I forgot the climax, which is impressive, considering how shocking it is. So when I read the book, which is even better than the movie, I was completely shocked by the climax once again. I’m afraid I’ll never be shocked by it a third time.

    I suppose my greatest concern about Blade Runner is that it took all of the action from the book but left behind all of the philosophy. But there’s nothing wrong with a straight-up action thriller, and Blade Runner is probably one of the best. And if it kept a little philosophy, so much the better.

  7. Connie Says:

    I seem to remember that there was some philosophy involved in Blade Runner, or at least as much as you would expect in an action movie. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, though.

    I haven’t read anything by Thomas Hardy, but mostly because we were always inundated by copies of The Mayor of Casterbridge when I worked at the remainder warehouse. I’m not sure why that title was overprinted, but we could never sell it to anyone, it was always around in stacks as leftovers, and I grew to hate anything having to do with it. I still take great pleasure in recycling copies of that book. I would be inclined to watch the film version of Far From the Madding Crowd, though. I vaguely remember hearing about it several years ago, but completely forgot about it until just now.

  8. Sara K. Says:

    You should have persuaded some school teachers to make it required reading. That’s what we did at my high school – two books every summer – and since we had to make notes in the margins of the books, we had to buy copies. I had the choice of either Mayor of Casterbridge or Far From the Madding Crowd, and I picked the latter because I had liked the movie so much.

    If you do see the movie, just know that Bathsheba saves Gabriel’s life very early on in the book. The first scene in the movie makes more sense if you know that.

  9. Connie Says:

    Even the advanced English classes at my school didn’t have a whole lot of required reading, unfortunately. We read 2-3 books a year my last two years of high school, and only Frankenstein was required summer reading. Also unfortunate was the fact that I was probably the only person who thought we didn’t do enough reading, everyone always complained when the book studies would come up.

    I would have preferred we read something less conventional than the bare minimum-type books like Grapes of Wrath and Scarlet Letter, and I think I would have welcomed Thomas Hardy, Anthony Trollope, or even Charles Dickens. I did my senior research paper on different types of banned and censored literature my senior year just so that I could do a ton of additional reading for the year.

  10. Sara K. Says:

    We did actually only read 1 book my junior year, but that’s because the focus was on writing and composition, and we read a lot of essays. Summer reading was taken very seriously. I think you would have enjoyed my laissez-faire freshman English class. We read any book we wanted, we wrote as many essays as we wanted, we could turn them in whenever we wanted. Whenever we turned in an essay, we got points, depending on the challenge of the book and the quality of the essay, and grades were based on how many points we got.

    You could have probably donated those excess copies to a high school and gotten a tax deduction out of it.

  11. Connie Says:

    Actually, yes, that sounds like something I would have loved. Most of the writing and composition was covered at my school in junior high, and I think wasn’t really touched on again because we had the same English teachers for both schools. I remember my junior and senior English classes more clearly since they were definitely themed, one was American literature and one was English literature. The American literature class was heavy on the early moralistc stuff (we read a lot of famous sermons), but the English literature class did do a pretty good job covering the history of English literature comprehensively… just in bits and pieces, rather than as whole novels since there was so much to cover. But I liked that our research topic could be whatever we wanted.

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