All You Need Is Kill is a Japanese novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, translated by Alexander O. Smith. It tells the tale of Keiji, a soldier caught in a time loop that repeats every time he dies. The recent movie Edge of Tomorrow is based on it.
As a story, “All You Need Is Kill” was very gripping, with quick pacing, unrelenting action, and an intriguing premise, but it was unevenly written. This might be due to translation, but a few things turned me off over and over again, as repetitively as Keiji’s time loop.
I liked the book’s concepts: mecha “Jackets” that give soldiers super strength, an alien species terraforming Earth while we are still on it, time travel a la Groundhog Day, and a main character who dies over and over again.
Just like in a video game, Keiji keeps improving and improving with each continue until he becomes a formidable–nay, superhuman–force on the battlefield. I enjoyed how Keiji worked out a schedule that he followed every loop to allow for maximum learning. The premise of Earth being terraformed while humans fought for survival was novel, as was the use of time travel to become better and better at winning. Who wouldn’t want a redo in real life?
But past those concepts, the story runs into problems. It’s too thin. So much was left unexplored because of the story’s pace and brevity. Rita, an American soldier who is also caught in time loops, gives Keiji somebody to learn from, but their relationship felt constrained. I wanted the time loops to be consistent, but because the author decided to end the story the day after Keiji and Rita met, there was a realistic limit on how close they could get, especially since Keiji had to reintroduce himself every time the loop started over.
Also, despite the story’s brevity, time was spent on Rita’s back story, which felt hastily fleshed out, as if the author was anxious to get back to the good stuff. The author also spent time on the aliens’ back story. This let us understand their motives, but at the cost of narrative consistency. Whose story was this? Keiji’s? Rita’s? The aliens’?
Additionally, the aliens’ back story was unadulterated exposition, not information anybody would know except the author. I also felt that scientists would have explored the reason for the time loop more than they did. And why would the alien terraforming machines bother hyper-evolving starfish to eat the Earth and poop it into a toxic wasteland if they had nanobots—those microscopic wizards of science fiction that can do anything the plot calls for?
Lastly, I wonder how vulgar the original story was, compared to the salty prose of the translator. This is not a story for those with a low tolerance for profanity. F–words were as innumerable as the stars. I’ve known military grunts and officers, and certainly their language could be salty, but nothing like in this book.
Still, I couldn’t put the book down, despite its flaws. Military and hard science fiction fans will likely enjoy All You Need Is Kill because of the concepts introduced.
Release Date: July 21, 2009 (USA)
ISBNs: 1421527618 (9781421527611)
Original Release Date: December 18, 2004 (Japan)
Original Title: All You Need Is Kill (オール ユー ニード イズ キル)
Original Language: Japanese
Alcohol/Drugs: 4 (frequent references to alcohol and drinking)
Language: 5 (bad enough to make Marines blush)
Sexuality: 3 (multiple references to having sex, but no sex scenes)
Violence: 4 (war, alien attacks, brutal violence, death)