From time to time I’ve mentioned that one of the greatest things I’ve discovered from creating this site is that I really enjoy spreading the word of good books. I like shouting out to other authors and giving that digital high five because I know how great it feels for someone to like your writing, but I seriously like recommending books to other people. It’s why I tend to write a lot of posts on the stuff I’ve been reading rather than posting about my own slog through the wordmines. The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu is already tops for the Most Recommended Book this year. It was before I even finished it.
Lives of Tao has been on my radar since Angry Robot Books announced they picked it up as part of their Open Door period of 2011. (The one I wasn’t ready for and the last one that took sci fi. Lucky me.) So Angry Robot is enough to get something on my radar. Toss in some blurbs by authors I already read like Myke Cole and Lavie Tidhar? Yes please. Now for the kicker, aliens living inside people’s noggins? Aw yeah, sign me up.
Back of the book time!
When out-of-shape IT technician Roen wakes up and starts hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumes he’s losing it.
As of last night, he has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life for called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Over the millennia his people have trained human heroes to be great leaders, to advance our species at a rate far beyond what it would have achieved on its own. Split into two opposing factions – the peace loving by underrepresented 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.
So now Roen must train to be a hero worthy of his unwanted companion. Like that’s going to end up well…
Seriously, the two consciousnesses inside one head is something I really enjoy reading about. It’s something I don’t see often enough or well enough. The twist here that makes it so good, is that Tao can’t make Roen do anything. He’s full of the wisdom of a thousand lives but he’s got to coax action out of Roen. It makes the whole story into a sci-fi action Odd Couple.
And that’s one of the biggest strengths of Lives of Tao. Roen and Tao have a relationship that takes a lot of work. Tao shines a light on Roen’s life and unsubtly points out that it’s not where he wants it to be. It doesn’t help that Tao is gearing Roen up to be a secret agent. There are stretches where they don’t even talk, which I imagine would be difficult when sharing a thought pattern. Tao is no parasite though. Roen gets a lot out of the relationship that I don’t really want to mention because the discovery of that is one of the great parts of the book.
This is science fiction that has cross-genre appeal. I think fans of the thriller genre, especially Clive Cussler readers, would enjoy Lives of Tao quite a bit. If you took out Tao and just had Roen being dragged into a spy organization and it would be perfectly readable. Clearly aliens are a lot cooler, so the point is more that all the action of the book stands up on its own. The fight scenes have this quick brutality to them. There’s no minutiae of each exact move. Blur pain deadguy. For me, that adds a layer of believability to the fighting of the book, that its not choreographed like a kung fu movie. Choreography has its place, but I don’t think it would fit the tone of this novel.
Chu has written a lot of intensely emotional moments into his novel too. Roen has to make a lot of tough choices. Tao can only help, but he can’t make Roen do anything he doesn’t choose on his own. Tao’s story is spread out throughout the book too and he had some tough times of his own going back to Genghis Kahn. The climax of the book is very rewarding and I’m going to distract you with shiny objects now by saying how the book has funny bits in it too. I caught references to Monty Python, Killer Klowns from Outer Space and others I got excited about but didn’t write down. One of these days I’m going to remember to take notes. But yeah. Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Seriously. That’s awesome.
Something that makes Lives of Tao extra awesome is the potential for more. The aliens among us for our entire history thing has… well… all of history at its disposal. There’s plenty of story left for Roen and Tao but there’s story everywhere for this one. Anything ever done can be folded into this world and I am excited and impatient to know what’s next.