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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Lives Of Tao by Wesley Chu (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website 
Order The Lives Of Tao HERE 
Read an excerpt HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Wesley Chu
Read Villains by Wesley Chu 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Wesley Chu was born in Taiwan and soon immigrated to USA. He was then raised in Chicago, Illinois. Wesley graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also an avid gamer and a contributing writer for the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. He has previously worked as a stunt man as well as a Senior Software Systems Engineer and is a member of the SAG. He has worked in Hanes and Chicago Blackhawks commercials and also films like Fred Claus. He currently works as an Associate Vice President at a bank and spends his time writing and hanging out with his wife and their Airedale Terrier.

OFFICIAL BLURB: When 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 has to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

FORMAT/INFO: The Lives Of Tao is 464 pages long divided into thirty-nine chapters. The narration is in third person and is via Roen Tan, Sonya, Sean Diamont, Edward Blair, Tao and Devin Watson. This is the first book on the Tao trilogy with the second book titled “The Deaths Of Tao” and the third being tentatively titled “The Rebirths Of Tao”.

April 30, 2013 marks the paperback and e-book publication of The Lives Of Tao by Angry Robot books.

ANALYSIS: Wesley Chu’s debut The Lives Of Tao comes with very little fanfare attached to it. This book was selected by an open submission call taken by the Angry Robot folks in March 2011 and frankly I think this was a stroke of luck for Angry Robot that lead to the discovery of Wesley Chu among other authors. When I started reading The Lives Of Tao, I didn’t know what to expect entirely and that just helped in knocking my socks off even more explosively.

The Lives Of Tao begins with an agent named Edward Blair who has a being within him called Tao that is helping him with his mission. The mission fails as Edward is betrayed and Tao’s own existence gets endangered. He however gets another vessel and that turns out to be Roen Tan. An overweight slacker who just barely manages to not get fired at his job as an IT tech but still leaves a lot to be desired for Tao. Tao is an alien being belonging to a race called Quasing who have inhabited Earth since eons ago. These beings have since then shepherded humanity on the path that that has been recorded as our history (including all its ups and downs).

However in the midst of this shepherding, a schism developed within the ranks of the Quasing over the philosophy and the trajectory of their actions. This lead to the formation of the two groups titled the Prophus and the Genjix. Tao is a member of the Prophus who have been on the back foot since the past few decades. His main nemesis is Chivya, a Genjix who is looking for every way to kill Tao, nullify the Prophus’ plans and eradicate them from the face of the Earth. His vessel Sean Diamont (who was the basis of Wesley’s guest post about Villains and what goes into great villains) makes for a fine mirror antagonist for Roen as he’s everything that Tao wants to Roen to be.

The story is basically about what happens next as Roen’s life is not only turned inside out but he literally discovers the existence of a whole new way of life. Knowing his transformation won’t be an easy one, Tao enlists the help of another fellow Prophus called Baji and her host called Sonya. Soon Roen learns what it truly means to be a host to the Quasing but he only has so much time before he’s drawn in to the Genjix-Prophus war and before he knows it, his life will never ever be the same. That I think is a close summation of non-spoilery things in the plot, the rest can be discovered by the readers as I did and hopefully the read will be a fun one as I found out.

I think this is one of the best amalgamations of SF, Thriller, buddy-stories, comedy and other genre assortments, which was even more impressive because it’s a debut and is funny as hell. The story is a nice one with a bit of everything to satisfy most readers, beginning with characterization. We get to meet Roen who is for a lack of a better term, a genuine lost individual however as Tao takes over his life, his transformation begins. It isn’t a pretty one but boy is it a hilarious one to read about. The mental banter between Roen and Tao is written nicely and keeps the reader in splits as Roen is getting his ass handed to him by all the tasks. Also there are the supporting characters that though don’t get as much page time as Roen but stamp their authority for the reader to see. The Rocky soundtrack played throughout Roen’s entire transformation in my mind and it was even more hilarious with all the stumbles and mis-fires in between.

The story is a well plotted one as the reader is given a nice glimpse of the actual war that is taking place covertly and with comes all the various things that come along with such covert warfare. Roen and the readers learn that it’s not all like James Bond except certain action-oriented events. Roen learns all the ricks of the trade while also learning more about Tao and all of his previous human hosts. There’s a lot more to Tao especially with those whom he terms his mistakes for example Genghis Khan but there are only cryptic reminders to those events and hopefully we’ll learn more about that aspect of Tao’s history in the remaining books of the trilogy. Overall I can easily see this book converted into a film and with the right screenplay, it would be a kick-ass one.

This I believe is the book’s biggest strength that the author has combined several elements into a coherent plot and managed to execute one of the oldest tropes of genre fiction spectacularly. His slant of science fiction mixed with a thriller and then laced with several comedic overtones might not please everyone but for the casual reader or the genre fan who’s is looking for a good read, Wesley has aced his debut. The world system and its mythology are very tantalizing and the author drops enough hints of things to come, things that have been and how the Quasing has modeled history. There’s also a nascent love story that has been handled well by the author and I was particularly surprised by the author’s twists in the climax in relation to Roen’s personal life and Quasing alliance.

Things that weren’t so groovy with this book, now this is going to be entirely subjective. I thought this was a very good debut. Perhaps the author could have given more page time to the other POV characters Sonya and Sean and we would have gotten to know them a bit more. Also the author could have revealed a bit more about the world in context of the Quasing, but these things are not a major hindrance as the story is more about Roen, Tao and Roen’s transformation vis-à-vis Tao. In this regard, the author hits all pertinent points and so I have no major complaints with it.

CONCLUSION: Wesley Chu’s The Lives Of Tao is a debut that is a perfect amalgamation of many things, which I love. I hope other readers will also see it for what it is, a rather well written book about genre tropes handled competently by a debut author. The Lives Of Tao is an excellent find by Angry Robot and IMO heralds Wesley as a fantastic debutante to watch out for.


Anonymous said...

This is definitely a book I've been looking forward to reading since the first reviews started popping up. Everything I hear, your review included, makes me think I'm really going to enjoy this one.

Paul Weimer said...

I've heard good things about it, everywhere, too. I need to check it out.

The Reader said...

@ Bibliotropic

Thanks Victoria, I think you'll definitely enjoy this one.

@ Paul

This is one book, I'll genuinely encourage you to check out simply because of the humor factor.


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