"That's the thing with books. Half the time the author doesn't know what the hell he's writing about - especially not those war novelists."
All You Need Is Kill is a military science fiction novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka and which follows the tradition of western science fiction works such as The Forever War by Joe Halderman. However, All You Need Is Kill has its own blend of adrenaline and fury that works to convey the themes of the novel wonderfully, even as a translation. That is the mark of a strong science fiction novel: when the themes are conveyed even when translated.
All You Need Is Kill is about to be released as the Tom Cruise film Edge of Tomorrow (with some changes likely to be made to the source material). It was for this reason that I was interested in checking out the novel and seeing what type of book it was. The novel itself features the ideas of time-travel, mech-suits (as with Robert Heinlein's classic Starship Troopers), advanced weaponry and aliens. There are two heroes to this tale if you will, though the main protagonist is Keiji Kiriya, a warrior engaged in a battle against half biological, half mechanical alien warriors called Mimics, for the survival of humanity. During one of these battles he encounters the legendary warrior known privately as the Mad Wargarita (among other names) and dies. Only to reawaken the morning before the battle even began.
As it turns out our hero is caught in a loop reminiscent of the old Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day. This cycle of death and rebirth becomes a cycle which allows Keiji to learn and learn and learn, death after death after death. I don't quite consider this a spoiler, firstly because these details can be read on the jacket of the book and secondly because the real details of the novel is found in the way in which Keiji and the female warrior engage with each other as they discover and rediscover each other across this loop. The people in the novel are always the same and yet slightly different: which poses the interesting meta-question 'Are humans changed subtly by their possession of different types of knowledge and by our experiences?'
Of course this book is about far more than simply identity and how our choices and actions define us. As much as it is a science fiction ride it is also a war novel: a novel that confronts how war affects everyone and reshapes every soldier into a machine. At one point Keiji reflects upon the scariness of the Mimics in that they do not inspire primal fear like eagles screeching or bears growling and standing on hind feet. They create fear by being calculating and predatory at the same time. This I think, is what the true horror of modern war is: that it becomes a cold, calculating game of numbers and attrition. In this remark this 'loopy' future (pardon the pun) that Sakurazaka describes is a future not so dissimilar from out own. Minus the alien killing machines.
I used the quote at the beginning of this review because I wanted to highlight the subtly written humour of the novel. It is a novel full of its own in-jokes linked to other aspects of science fiction and in many ways I suppose the particular quote I highlight is a kind of meta-joke. In its own right I suspect one could read this entire book as a meta-joke about science fiction. A work questioning all the possibilities of what can happen across one day if subtle things change every so often.