Tao and Roen present the ultimate odd couple in Wesley Chu’s The Lives of Tao.
So it’s not often I have an opportunity to read a book by a genuine Death Star electrician, but there you have it: Wesley Chu is this and much more.
Mr. Chu brings the action, brings the history, brings the thrills and chills while bringing all of the fun. Ostensibly, the novel is about the Quasing, an immortal alien race (with some exceptions of being killed), that crashes on Earth and can only live within humans. Now, this is not your Father’s Host; the Quasing don’t take over species as a matter of practice all over the galaxy; this is a one off. Also, they co-exist in their host rather than take them over. There are the good Quasing, the Prophus, who want to get back home but won’t do so at all cost to humans. Then there’s the bad Quasing, called the Genjix, who will use any means to return home. If this causes the annihilation of humans, so be it. Earth’s history is really a secret on-going conflict between these two factions via the humans they inhabit. So Mr. Chu gets to throw in some gratuitous conspiracy theory as well.
All of this might be fairly standard fare, except that Mr. Chu’s sets his debut novel apart by really making it about the relationships he establishes between the Quasing and their human host, the human hosts amongst each other and Quasing interrelationships. These relationships, and especially that of Tao and Roen, are complex, growing and intriguing. There is additional spice and humor added by the protagonist Roen who is a total slacker suddenly learning t’ai chi from the dude who’s invented it; but then again, he was also Ghengis Khan. You see these Quasings have inhabited some of the primary movers and shakers throughout the ages in an effort to push their agenda. So Roen’s Quasing, Tao, brings, shall we say, a wealth of experience to the relationship.
This is where the novel is at its most compelling and most challenging. Here are these creatures who have lived prior to man’s existence, yet have most of the same foibles as man. They are just much more technically proficient at conflict. There’s part of me that sees the fundamental depravity of man and see this as entirely plausible of the Quasing were they just like us. On the other, seriously, you couldn’t grow up just a bit in a few millennium? I’m torn on this. However, the juxtaposition of this incredible experience with their foibles embedded in a lovable “loser” make for a very entertaining novel.
I went between the Kindle version and the Audible recording narrated by the talented Mikael Naramore. He does a great job conveying the moment and emotion without losing pacing or being hard to follow. Very nice work. (Speaking of nice work, thanks to the Windows Phone team at Audible for enabling Whispersync for Voice on that platform, Whispersync for Voice allowed me to finish this easily picking up my Kindle right where the audio book left off. If you want to know more about Whispersync for Voice, look here.)
Now I may give the impression that this is all comedy; the action/thriller part of this is not to be discounted. Real sacrifice is made, including sacrifice from those who could live eternally if they avoided conflict. In this war, however, all must choose sides. I suggest you choose The Lives of Tao for yourself; it’s a rewarding reading experience. By the way, the sequel, The Deaths of Tao should be out at the end of October, so read up in preparation.