Book review–“All You Need Is Kill,” the military sci-fi novel that inspired a new summer film

All You Need is Kill

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Live. Die. Repeat.

One of these lines is in the 2004 Japanese military science fiction novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. The other line gives away some of the surprise of what the novel–soon to become a major motion picture–is about.  The movie, renamed the far less interesting title Edge of Tomorrow, stars Tom Cruise as a foot soldier (Kaiji Kiriya in the novel, Lt. Col. Bill Cage in the movie)and Emily Blunt as powerhouse super soldier Rita Vrataski in a future battle with an alien incursion that takes place on Earth not too far from now.  Based on the brief previews we’ve seen, the film appears to be different enough from the novel so that reading the novel will not entirely give away the movie, and it’s full of enough classic sci-fi riffs that you may want to read it first as a separate experience.

Sakuraska’s novel will likely conjure elements from some of the best of classic science fiction.  It’s a great look at day-to-day military encounters, with real world elements from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Richard Marcinko’s Rogue Warrior, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.  It has its own thought-provoking “warning-sign” messages found in classics like Logan’s Run and THX-1138, that adversity in the face of certain doom as in Pacific Rim, and the “what the heck is going on” feel from any number of Philip K. Dick short stories (“Paycheck” and “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” come to mind).  It also borrows a lot from the endless onslaught of future military video games—it helps to know the author’s background is in information technology and he’s an avid gamer.

All You Need is Kill Edge of Tomorrow tie-in novel

As the movie’s tagline reveals, the now iconic Groundhog Day time-loop plays a part in the story.  Searching for what role the time-loop plays is the real quest Sakurazaka takes us through.  Each new year seems to bring a new take on that sci-fi device, and the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Cause and Effect” best illustrates the physics “causality loop” if you’re not familiar with it and we discussed several other examples here at back in 2011.  If you’re stuck repeating the events of a single period of time, can you ever hope to break free from it?  What do you do in the meantime?  The time-loop element is pervasive even in the future world of the novel—Keiji loosely recounts once watching Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore’s time-loop comedy 50 First Dates, which finds Barrymore’s character with amnesia every morning so she must start each day all over again.

Originally released in Japanese, the English translation of All You Need Is Kill released this month in paperback by Haika Soru Books is simply superb.  The novel revolves around a Japanese soldier named Keiji Kiriya and an American Sergeant York-type named Rita Vrataski.  Despite the Japanese source material, the translated novel manages to include plenty of Midwest American vernacular and quips that make the novel completely accessible to American readers.  The new film adaptation, based on the first movie trailers, appears to further Americanize the story, renaming Keiji to Tom Cruise’s anglo Bill Cage (in the novel “Cage” is how Americans pronounce “Keiji”).  That’s unfortunate, as Japanese tradition plays its own part in the character development of both leads.  A key moment in the novel, for example, is completely dependent on Keiji being Japanese.

Emily Blunt Rita Vrataski Edge of Tomorrow

The first two parts of the novel set up an exciting premise.   Although the last two parts let up on the energy, there’s much to like here.  All the sci-fi elements are nothing new, but Keiji and Rita, as well as a grizzled sergeant named Ferrell and an engineer named Shasta, provide some quality characters you’ll remember beyond the story’s last page.

Here is the latest trailer for the movie, Edge of Tomorrow:

Unless the filmmakers foul it up, expect to see Rita Vrataski grouped with Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor in future “best of sci-fi” lists.

All You Need is Kill is available now here from  The film adaptation Edge of Tomorrow hits theaters June 6, 2014.

C.J. Bunce

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