REVIEW SUMMARY: I couldn’t put this fast-paced story down. The combination of anime mecha “Jackets,” time-loops, the main character’s attitude, and a kick-ass character like the Full Metal Bitch reeled me in.
SYNOPSIS: All You Need Is Kill is the story of green recruit Keiji Kiriya fighting an epic battle against aliens called the Gitai determined to terraform Earth for themselves, even if that means turning it into a wasteland for its current inhabitants. To save the planet, Keiji must figure out the secrets of the Mimics, but first he encounters the legendary Full Metal Bitch — a woman with a crimson mecha “Jacket” named Rita Vrataski. Humans have outfitted themselves with “Jackets,” mecha suits equipped with numerous weapons onboard, none of which have much impact on the aliens. Nicknamed “Mimics” because they mimic the appearance of the first creature they came in contact with — starfish — the Gitai stand about four feet tall, possess multiple limbs, a hard exoskeleton, and shoot razor-sharp “javelins” from their bodies in battle. Only one soldier has made a difference against the Mimics, taking out about half of all the Mimic kills humans have made overall. They call her the Angel of Death, Valkyrie Incarnate, or Mad Wargarita and the “two-metre-long behemoth” of a battle axe she’s attached to her Jacket instead of a regulation pile driver makes all the difference. Stuck in an unexplainable time-loop, Keiji gives in to his fate and decides to become a warrior to rival Rita. After all, he has all the time in the world. On his 158th iteration, Keiji receives a message from Rita with the key to his escape and the secret of defeating the Mimics.
PROS: A great cover quote by John Scalzi calls this story “Science fiction for the adrenaline junkie. Reads fast, kicks ass, and keeps on coming.” That’s completely accurate. I didn’t want to put this book down. At only 200 pages, this story still felt like a full-length novel. The plot-driven nature of the time loop actually provided a framework for the characters to open up and show new facets of themselves in each iteration. The story opens with a stream-of-consciousness style in Keiji’s POV that at first felt jarring, but ultimately worked well to show the character’s complete cluelessness in his first battle. He does exactly what you’d expect: die. On page fourteen. Then it starts all over again. Keiji is an entertaining and humorous narrator despite the story’s violence, gore, and overall apocalyptic plot. He never gives up hope that somehow he’ll figure a way out of the time-loop and, later, is determined to defeat the Mimics at the Battle of Kotoiushi Island.
CONS: I can’t remember the last time this happened, but I really have no particular cons for this story. I do offer a couple warnings to readers, though. All You Need Is Kill is not a deep, emotional book, so if you’re looking for that sort of story this novel is not for you, but it was just what I needed when I read it. Also, American audiences used to happy endings should be warned that the ending is bittersweet but satisfying. The nature of the time-loop leaves possibilities open that aren’t directly stated.
BOTTOM LINE: All You Need Is Kill is a sprint not a marathon, but the fast pacing lends itself well the nature of the story, both Keiji’s rise as a formidable warrior and Rita’s revelations. The translation by Alexander O. Smith read smoothly and I never would have guessed it had been originally written in another language. Warner Bros. is slated to release this story as a movie in 2012 directed by Doug Liman and based on the screen adaptation by Dante Harper. I’ve heard rumblings that Ryan Gosling may be cast in the lead role (named Billy Cage, which is a reference to the last chapter called “Killer Cage”) and the story will likely be moved from Kotoiushi Island to the U.S. Nothing against Gosling, but I think someone like Daniel Henney would be great in the role of Keiji, but I guess that’s Hollywood. I agree with Nix, though, in the review of the novel over at SciFiCool that:
Casting the right person for the Keiji role is important, but casting the right actress for Rita is downright make-or-break.
I bet Olivia Wilde from Tron: Legacy could pull it off even if she is a little tall for the character as described in the book. Either way, can I buy my tickets now?