Friday, April 13, 2018

The Lives Of Tao - Wesley Chu

   2013; 464 pages.  Book #1 (out of 3, plus a couple of spinoffs) in the Tao series.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Fantasy; Humorous; Action-Intrigue.  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

    Ah yes, those pesky voices in your head.  Roen’s got them.  Well, technically, there’s only a single voice in him, at least that’s what the voice tells him.

    He’s got a name, too – "Tao".  And he says he’s an extraterrestrial, and he’s sorry he jumped into Roen’s head, but now he’s stuck there, so there you go.  And Tao says he and Roen are a team now, and they’ve got to save the world from other people with aliens in their heads, or something like that.

    Roen’s pretty sure he’s just going crazy.  But don’t crazy people just blindly do whatever those voices in their heads tell them to?  Roen isn’t having any of that, so he must not be crazy, right?  On the other hand, if he’s not crazy, then that means there really is an alien camped out in his cranium.  It’s all so confusing.

    But when other people start calling him Tao, while in the process of trying to kill him, Roen has to admit – Tao’s story is beginning to sound a lot more plausible.

What’s To Like...
    The Lives of Tao is the start of a fresh new (for me at least)  Action series, with a touch of Fantasy thrown in for fun.  The story is equal parts character-driven and plotline-driven, and I liked this balance.  Our protagonist, Roen, starts out as overweight, out-of-shape nerd, and it’s fun to watch Tao, and some of the other spirit-ET’s, mold him into a secret agent that just might eventually survive encounters with the bad guys.  Heck, he might even get a date with an earth girl, something that never happens in real life to nerds.

    The best part of The Lives of Tao, as other reviewers have noted, is the witty dialogue  and alien/human interaction that goes on between Tao and Roen.  This could get awkward to read, especially when there’s a third entity taking part in the conversation, but Wesley Chu handles it quite deftly.  Tao’s thoughts are in italics, and the humans’ words are in quotation marks.

    For the most part, the book is set in Chicago; presumably the author hails from there.  There are 39 chapters covering the 464 pages, which makes them of moderate length.  Starting with Chapter 9, each chapter opens with a sort of ‘prologue’, giving details of Tao’s various previous lives.  He’s been inhabiting humans for several millennia, and has an impressive résumé.  There is some cussing in the dialogue, but it's few and far between and fits in nicely.

    It is obvious that Wesley Chu is a history buff, and I very much enjoyed that.  One of my history heroes, Vercingetorix, gets some ink here, as does playing chess with a chess clock. Both of those were nerdy treats for me.  One gets the feeling that perhaps the author is a bit of a nerd himself, and I mean that as a compliment.

    The overarching plotline concerns the ongoing war between the two extraterrestrial forces – the Prophus (the good guys, including Tao), and the Genjix (the baddies).  At the moment, the baddies are kicking butt, and presumably the trilogy is all about the Prophus making a comeback, with Tao/Roen leading the charge.  It’s fun to watch Roen get used to being a Prophus agent, especially trying to come to grips with the fact that his new line of work be necessity involves killing people.

    Everything builds to an action-packed, tension-filled ending.  There are, of course, a number of threads still to be resolved.  But hey, that’s why Books 2 and 3 exist.  The Lives of Tao is a standalone novel, and its sequel, The Deaths of Tao, resides on my TBR shelf.

    “Oh, this makes perfect sense now.  Million year-old geriatric aliens.  How do you stay alive for so long?  What’s your secret?”
    “Technically we self-reproduce, similar to how amoebas on your planet reproduce.  Over the course of time, we continually regenerate, sustaining ourselves from the nutrients of our hosts.”
    “So you’re a parasite?”
    “We like to think of it as symbiotic, but we can discuss biology another time.”  (loc. 815)

    Roen leaned back onto the couch and picked up his cat.  The poor creature had been feeling neglected for months now and hissed, trying to escape.  Roen held on to the tabby as he squirmed and dug his claws into his arm.  “Now, now, pussycat,” he murmured.
    “Have you decided on giving him a real name yet?”
    “Nah … Meow Meow’s a fine name.”
    “No, it is not.  That is like calling a dog Bark Bark.”
    “Actually, it would be more like Woof Woof, but I think Meow Meow sounds cuter.”
    “Your naming habits will get your kids beat up in the schoolyard.”  (loc. 3000)

Kindle Details...
    The Lives of Tao sells for $6.99 at Amazon.  The other two e-books in the series, The Deaths of Tao and The Rebirths of Tao, sell for the same price, as does the spinoff, The Rise of Io.  A related novella, The Days of Tao, goes for $2.99.

 What are you going to do next time a Genjix wants to kill you, beg him to death?”  (loc. 1356)
    It’s really tough to come up with any quibbles about The Lives of Tao.  The only thing I can think of is that you aren’t alerted about any scene shifts as you’re reading, and that got confusing at times.  But that’s really a very small nit to pick.

    I suppose one could carp about the storyline being somewhat less than “epic”.  We spend most of the book watching Roen go through spy training boot camp and then accompany him out on some rookie-easy surveillance jobs.  Yet somehow, Wesley Chu makes it all very interesting, and the reader is rewarded with more exciting capers as Roen gains experience.

    9 Stars.  It’s always a literary thrill to “discover” a great new author who thoroughly entertains you and who you’d never heard of before.  That was the case here.  I remember my local Half Price Books store promoting the heck out of this series a couple years ago.  Now I understand why.

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