All You Need is Kill (Book Review)

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If you’re an avid movie goer (or not,  information spreads through all sorts of channels these days) you may have seen the trailer for the new Tom Cruise sci-fi action movie titled Edge of Tomorrow. You can see the trailer here if you’re interested.[1] The movie looked like it had an interesting concept, so when I heard it was based upon a novel I was excited to hunt it down.

The novel was published in 2004 and written by Japanese author Hiroshi Sakurazaka. The novel is called All You Need is Kill. I would be interested in the notes from the Warner Brothers board meeting that turned All You Need is Kill into Edge of Tomorrow, but it has already been well established that I put too much thought into the word choice of titles. It is also getting a graphic novel adaptation this year as well.

The story is told entirely from the perspective of our protagonist Keiji Kiriya as he participates in a war against an alien threat known only as mimics. Almost the entire book takes place during one single battle. The rub is that every time Keiji dies during the battle he wakes up 30 hours before the first shots are fired. We follow him as he tries to figure out what is causing this phenomena and whether or not he can ever escape. Picture the movie Groundhog Day with less Bill Murray and more aliens.

There is a scene early on I liked a great deal. His third of fourth time through the loop, after he has died horribly several times, he wakes up and immediately shoots himself with his sidearm. It’s the sort of thing that everyone who was honestly trapped in a time loop would try at least once. The main character has ‘real’ reactions throughout the novel and that sort of thing is particularly necessary in a sci-fi novel. If the reader is already asked to suspend their disbelief for the sake of the premise, there is a lot less leeway with character motivations.

The aliens are given little in the way of a physical description, but it works because they aren’t the focus. The idea is the growth of our protagonist as he goes from fresh out of boot camp to veteran of over 150 battles. Most fascinating to me was the fear of change that grew within him. He knew what was going to happen in exacting detail so when the possibility is presented of him escaping the loop, and being able to die permanently, there is some great inner dialogue.

Given the trailer, it’s clear there is quite a bit they’re changing for the sake of the movie, but that isn’t too surprising. I do feel obligated to see the movie now given my enjoyment of the book despite the crystal clarity of the movie’s intention to turn a novel about what control we have over life into a sci-fi shoot ’em up.

All that said, it is still a sci-fi novel with time travel, aliens, and power armor. These things are all set pieces, not the focus, so to miss the novel because it includes those things would be a mistake, but they are still present. Worth your time especially if you like the concept behind the movie and you want to skip some of the violence. It clocks in at a mere 150 pages, so it’s perfect for a lazy spring weekend.

★★★★☆ – Substantially better than pulp sci-fi and keeps character growth as the focus instead of the aliens.  A reminder of my rating system.

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