Wesley Chu – Lives of Tao

wesleychu-livesoftaoWhen out-of-shape IT technician Roen Tan woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.

He wasn’t.

He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.

Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

One of my favourite TV shows in recent years was Chuck. For those of you unfamiliar with the show: Chuck is about a regular geeky guy who one day wakes up to an email from his long estranged roommate from Stanford and opens it. Once he does a video starts playing and the next thing he knows he’s lying on the floor of his bedroom with a huge headache. Little does he know he’s downloaded a super computer into his brain and he is now wanted as a valuable asset for the CIA and other TLA’s. Not only does the Intersect, the previously mentioned super computer, allow him access to amazing amounts of data, he also has sudden access to incredible fighting skills. The series is wildly entertaining and if you haven’t checked it out, you really should. But how does this relate to Lives of Tao in any way, shape, or form? Because if anything, Lives of Tao‘s protagonist Roen, reminds me of Chuck a lot. Only instead of the Intersect, Roen is possessed by a symbiotic alien called Tao.

Of course, there are more differences than having an alien instead of a computer in his brain. Where Chuck sort of instantaneously has these new skills, we follow Roen during his quite extensive, if somewhat expedited training. I really enjoyed this aspect of the story, not just because it lent some veracity to the story – one doesn’t go from overweight slob to fit super-agent overnight – but also because it gave Roen and Tao time to get to know one another and as a consequence so does the reader. This latter is quite important as the book is very much dependent on the chemistry between Roen and Tao. Roen is quite sympathetic; a thirty-something single guy, working a job that makes him miserable and pretty much going through the motions, he’s quite ready for finding a new purpose in life. A purpose that arrives in the form of Tao and his species’ civil war. Whatever happens to him, Roen stays believable; he doesn’t come to his new life without challenging it, asking questions and having ethical and moral reservations. I really enjoyed the bond he develops with Tao and their banter, which is snappy, wry and sometimes rather cutting. Tao for his part feels surprisingly modern for all that he is millennia old–he’s aged well. Tao’s care for his hosts and especially his care for Roen is well-shown, not just through the narrative, but also through the small epigraphs at the start of each chapter, which share some of his history with previous hosts. There is a lot of depth to him and more history to uncover.

Tao and Roen don’t move alone through the world. Roen has a roommate, the irrepressible Anthony and a girlfriend, Jill, who strengthened the Chuck link as his ex-girlfriend is Jill too. They are fun centres of normality for Roen in the crazy world he gets thrown into once he gets chosen by Tao. On the Prophus-Genjix side the cast is far larger and quite interesting. I liked the different levels of play going on there. On the one hand there are the power struggles of the human hosts to get themselves positioned better, on the other hand there are the ancient enmities and personal vendetta’s that exist between the different aliens which influence the choices the different players make. Roen’s human trainer Sonya, who helps Tao get him into shape was a wonderful character, along with the two senior Prophus agents Roen gets to know best, Stephen and Dylan.

Lives of Tao, Wesley Chu’s debut novel, does what it says on the tin amazingly well; it is above all amazingly entertaining to read; it gives us geekery, aliens, and hijinks; and it gives a whole new spin on the gods-are-aliens theory that has been around for decades. That isn’t to say there aren’t any beauty flaws, because there definitely are, mostly in the shape of some debut author mistakes: clunky sentences, odd phrases, some strange plot leaps, and a convenient appearance of a character in an inconvenient place. However, I didn’t really mind any of it, as the book was just so freaking fun to read. Lives of Tao might not make my ‘Best of’ list, but if I had a Most Entertaining Read category in my end of year posts, it would definitely come out in one of the top spots! If you’re looking for a funny, entertaining, and exciting read, you can’t go far wrong with Wesley Chu’s Lives of Tao.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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  • Yeah, I need to push this up the virtual pile. I give some leeway to debut novelists, although that’s a whole other topic.