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.