What is Haikasoru?
Space Opera. Dark Fantasy. Hard Science.
With a small, elite list of award-winners, classics, and new work by the hottest young writers, Haikasoru is the first imprint dedicated to bringing Japanese science fiction to America and beyond. Featuring the action of anime and the thoughtfulness of the best speculative fiction, Haikasoru aims to truly be the “high castle” of science fiction and fantasy.
All You Need is KILL
Hiroshi Sakurazaka (Trans. Alexander O. Smith)
$13.99 USA/$16.00 CAN/£8.99
Keiji Kiriya is a Japanese man who has the misfortune to be a typical soldier in the forces fighting a desperate action to prevent Japan from being overrun and ecoformed by alien mechanisms the humans have called "Mimics" (1). Even with high-tech powered armor - "Jackets" - and heavy rifles, the humans are hard-pressed to hold their own again the tide of Mimics and in fact in the first battle we see, Kiriya's entire unit is wiped out, including Kiriya himself. This would make for a very short novel except to Kiriya's surprise he wakes to find it's the day before the battle.
A reasonable person would dismiss the experience as a dream, which is what Kiriya does until subsequent iterations prove to him that he is caught in a time-loop. Experimentation reveals that it is a mutable time-loop within limits; he can alter the events of the next day or so but he always finds himself in his bunk on the day before the battle, although he is unable to simply run away (if he tries that, he ends up fighting Mimics anyway and there's a reason for this). Nothing physical travels back in time with him but he retains anything he learns; fated to spend what might be an eternity fighting in variations of the same battle, he decides to become the best soldier he can be.
157 iterations in he meets Rita Vrataski AKA the Full Metal Bitch and he discovers he is not the only person to have been caught up in a series of time-loops nor the only one to use them to acquire super-human combat skills. Rita knows what causes the loops and how to escape them; this information is potentially vital to the human effort to survive the invasion and she's happy to share what she knows with Kiriya. Together they will do what's necessary to prevail but there's a price for escaping the loops that Kiriya won't learn until the final iteration.
At 201 pages, there isn't room for Sakurazaka to screw around. Sakurazaka is a skilled author that despite the pace enforced by the brevity, Kiriya and Rita are fully realized (the supporting characters tend to be sketches) and although brief, the battle scenes are detailed and vivid. He also manages to fit in enough background information to allow the reader to know where the heck the Mimics came from and what it is they are up to.
Interestingly, despite this being a war for humanity's survival, there are places that remain untouched by the war, at least for a time, and there are people who are uninterested in becoming directly involved in the war effort themselves, or even becoming cogs in the logistical train. These people are not portrayed as weak-minded quislings who justly deserve to be ground beneath the Mimic boot .
Another way to look at the book and one hinted at in the afterword by the author (who was just 34 when he wrote All You Need is KILL) is that this is what it's like to be the unfortunate player character of a First Person Shooter. Poor choices on the part of the player - someone like Etsuro Sakagami (the protagonist of Sakurazaka's Slum Online) or even Sakurazaka himself - doom the PC; resurrection is a button-click away but this endless cycle of death and rebirth isn't very pleasant from the point of view of the PC. Pratchett's ScreeWee and Kirya would find a lot of common ground, although there is never any hint that Kiriya really is stuck in a FPS.
I note that Haikasoru managed to get a favorable blurb from John Scalzi, one I hope is successful in convincing North American readers to give this short novel the chance that it deserves.
1: "Gitai" in the original, I think.
2: Not that Mimics wear boots or are even aware of humans as anything but an enviromental complication in the task of making Earth suitable for their creators.
In the aliens' defense, they do have a completely legitimate reason to exterminate all native life on Earth:
The scholars among these people questioned whether it was ethical to destroy the existing environment of the planet without first examining it. After all, the process, once done, could not be undone. [...]
The creators of the [Mimics]argued that their civilization was built on advancements that could not be undone. To expand their territory, they had never shied away from sacrificing lesser life in the past. Forests had been cleared, swamps drained, dams built. There had been countless examples of people destroying habitats and driving species to extinction for their own benefit. If they could do this on their own planey, why should some unknown world in the void of space be treated differently?
Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comment(s); comment here or there.