Book Review: The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of Tao
Publisher: Angry Robot
Date of Publication: April 30, 2013
Alien stories are always a fun ride, especially when 1) the aliens are unconventional, and 2) their relationship with humankind goes beyond the typical invade them/uplift them dichotomy. Alien stories are even more interesting when they’re mixed up in a spy thriller. That being said, the latter isn’t usually my cup of tea, but I have to appreciate The Lives of Tao for not taking itself too seriously and for being just quirky enough to win me over.
I’m also as fond of unconventional heroes as I am of unconventional aliens. A self-doubting, weak-willed, TV-dinner-munching and out-of-shape IT technician working at a dead end job probably isn’t someone who immediately comes to mind when you think of the ultimate secret agent. It definitely wasn’t what ancient alien life-form Tao had in mind either when he had to choose a new host after the untimely death of his last one, but it’s not like he had a choice. That’s how our hapless protagonist Roen Tan woke up one day hearing an alien’s voice in his head.
Two factions make up Tao’s species, the Quasings: the peace-loving Prophus and the savage Genjix. The two sides have been engaged in a covert war for centuries, with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance. As a high-profile Prophus, Tao finds himself racing against time to whip Roen into shape and to train him in the subtle arts of espionage. His new host must become combat-ready and fast — before the Genjix can discover his identity and eliminate him.
An alien consciousness in a person’s head certainly isn’t a new idea, but like I said before, this book struck me as more unique and scores highly with me because of the complexity in the relationship between the aliens and humans. And that’s not all to it either; the internal conflicts between the Quasings themselves also gave this story a nice spin. Basically, stories about aliens that are out to invade earth and kill everyone are a dime a dozen. It’s nice to read one where the extraterrestrials (or at least a faction of them, anyway) are on our side for a change, and what you do know, aliens can disagree amongst themselves too when it comes to how to deal with us puny humans.
This was a really great book, filled with action and suspense as well as plenty of humor. However, beneath all that is also a very good message. Throughout the course of the novel, we see Roen grow from a loser with low self-esteem to a someone with confidence who’s no longer afraid to fight for what he wants. As unlikely as it sounds, this really is a Cinderella story, with its main character starting out dejected and miserable but ending up a much happier and healthier man. Tao taught Roen many things beyond gathering intelligence and martial arts, not the very least is the fact that complaining will get you nowhere. If you want something, you have to work for it — and getting off your butt is only the first step.
All in all, an entertaining science fiction thriller with a heavy dose of comedy, which almost makes this one feel like an…urban sci-fi? In any case, it’ll be like nothing you’ve read before. I’m looking forward to more by Wesley Chu, and definitely can’t wait until we catch up with Roen and Tao again.