The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

May 11, 2013

When out-of-shape IT technician Roen 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…

Any book that begins with a tense rooftop standoff swiftly followed by an unexpectedly dramatic escape has got to be worth a shot as far as I’m concerned. Spy type thrills and escapades are always a great deal of fun. The trickiest question though is how exactly do you make spies more exciting? Let’s be honest, they are quite exciting already. The answer, which The Lives of Tao successfully confirms, is to add two groups of ancient feuding aliens into the mix.

I like Roen Tan. He’s spent his life letting things just happen to him; reacting, but never being proactive. I think it’s fair to say I found it pretty easy to relate. Meeting Tao has a profound effect on his life and anything suddenly seems possible. To paraphrase a very wise man* “The world you think you know is not real“. Just imagine, you’re living your life. Going about your business. You might even be a bit bored of the constant grind. Suddenly, your entire world-view is wrong and everything you thought you knew is fundamentally different. Working with Tao Roen is given the opportunity to become the best version of himself that he can be, sounds pretty damn tempting to me.

Tao has spent many generations working with his different human hosts. Over the years, these symbiotic relationships have left their mark and he has developed a fondness for humanity. There is a real bittersweet note to his character. He has outlived so many hosts, yet he remembers everything about every single one. Each chapter begins with a short flashback that features some of Tao’s previous hosts. It’s a nice little touch that helps better round out his character.

Wesley Chu has written a fun debut that acts as a perfect introduction to the struggle between the Prophus and the Genjix. We get to learn how these two groups have had a hand in human development from the very beginning. What excites me most about the premise of The Lives of Tao is the almost unending potential to develop into an on-going series. If the aliens have been around since before the dawn of man, then any time period imaginable is fair game to be included in future books, any historical figure for that matter as well. Just think, any event from the whole of human history could be included.

It would have been nice to learn a bit more about the Genjix, there are only a couple of chapters that deal exclusively with their viewpoint, but I suspect that this is something that will the explored in the next book. The Genjix relationship with their human hosts has an entirely different air, they are worshipped by their followers and hosts. The way their organisation works is more like a religion than the mutually beneficial agreement that the Prophus have with their hosts. To the Genejix, humanity is just a convenience to be exploited to their advantage.

As I mentioned before The Lives of Tao is bucket loads of fun, it’s pure undiluted escapism. C’mon, who hasn’t ever day-dreamed of escaping the rat race and becoming an international man/woman of mystery? The addition of an alien race guiding human development is just the icing on the cake. I really enjoyed this novel, it’s top notch entertainment.

The Lives of Tao is published by Angry Robot Books and is available now. I suspect that it might just be the perfect summer read. The sequel, The Deaths of Tao, will be out later in the year. I will most definitely be checking that out as well when it arrives.

* It was Morpheus from The Matrix, but you get my point.

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