In 2009, Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need Is Kill was released in an English translation to almost ecstatic reviews. Now that a movie version, starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, is about to be released, the novel has finally been released in a mass market paperback under the movie’s title – and with the movie’s poster art as the cover. It still kicks much ass!
The setting: the Japanese coast where alien invaders are being fought by humans wearing Jackets that greatly enhance their strength and speed – and are heavily armed (because the aliens are virtually invulnerable to most regular weaponry).
The twist: although the invasion originates from another star system, the actual aliens are terraforming creatures who have emerged from the sea after coming in contact with starfish and frogs. Their very nature can change their environment to match that of their creators’ planet. Not so good for humans.
The other twist: when rookie Keiji Kiriya is killed shortly after the beginning of his very first battle, he finds himself back where he was, reading a mystery novel twenty-four hours prior to that battle.
Kiriya has gone through six months of training – piloting a Jacket is not easy – but nothing could prepare him for actual battle – though he does kill a few Mimics before dying barely an hour into battle. When he is fatally wounded, an American Special Forces soldier, Rita Vrataski, finds him and promises to stay with him until he dies. It’s purely a strategic decision: when he dies, she can commandeer his suit’s battery.
Everything goes black and he finds himself reliving events from twenty-four hours earlier. His friend, Yonabaru, is giving him grief; he’s marking his place in a murder mystery with his fingers. He’s signing a confession to the theft of booze from the mess (everyone signs them, then the confession by whoever dies in the next day’s battle will be used to avoid punishment for the theft).
After this happens a couple of times, Kiriya tries to go AWOL, but stuff happens and there he is – on his bunk, fingers marking his place in the book; signing the confession; listening to Yonabaru…
This time, he makes a conscious decision to get better at fighting. Through an (also repeating) hour of punishment training, he spies Rita Vrataski – the ace of aces; the Full Metal Bitch, who has killed more Mimics than every other soldier combined. He takes to marking the number of ‘loops’ he’s gone through on the back of his hand.
As Edge of Tomorrow continues, we learn more about the various characters who are or become part of Kiriya’s life – veteran Sergeant Bartolome Ferrell, Rita, Yonabaru, Shasta Raylle (Rita’s tech) and more.
We learn more about the aliens’ origins and why Rita uses a unique weapon – a battleaxe – and paints her Jacket a brilliant red. We also learn about her connection to Kiriya – again, not quite what we’re expecting.
Ultimately, we learn exactly why Kiriya’s life keeps looping back to the day before the battle. It’s not quite any reason we could be expecting, but it makes complete sense and sets up a surprisingly poignant sequence of events.
Sakurazaka does a remarkable job of setting up his story and developing his characters. He gets the unique camaraderie of the military as well as the difference between grunts and officers – and the non-coms that are the point of communication between them (even if that communication is one way…). He understands the humor and language of the military and the way soldiers at war fight facing the inevitability of oblivion.
The language of the novel is clipped, efficient and frequently profane – capturing and communicating the feel of war: the desperation of battle; the hurry-up-and-wait of the lulls between battles. Edge of Tomorrow is not a short novel – 266 pages – but it’s a fairly quick read because its pace is blazing fast and the characters and situations are compelling. Before long, we know these people.
The mark of a good translation is that it never feels like a translation. Joseph Reeder gets that. His translation never feels unnatural.
It’s a shame that the movie’s title was changed. All You Need Is Kill is a far better title, but I guess that’s not a PG-13 title. Hopefully, the movie will lead multitudes to the novel. It’s spectacular!
Final Grade: A+