A creative and thoughtful plot, bringing science fiction to the world of espionage, Wesley Chu makes his book debut in The Lives of Tao. Throughout the story, Chu creates a world that, though somewhat alien, reminds us of the world we live in.
When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.
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…
The synopsis of this book had me hooked and I was eager to read page after page. Unfortunately, try as I might I couldn’t enjoy The Lives of Tao as it started out on a high note and preceded to go downhill from there. The concept is utterly unique- a tale from both a parasite and host’s perspective as they become the ideal agent. However as thrilling as this premise sounds, Chu spends too much time in the banal.
Much of my frustration surrounds the overall plotline and the desires of Roen, the main character. For a man who always wanted to lead an interesting life, he spends an awful lot of time sulking and thinking about marrying when he does get what he wants. I can respect wanting to have a character be apprehensive to a duty that is thrust upon them, I can also respect an individual choosing that a life of espionage isn’t for them. However, Chu writes this progression too fast which makes it unbelievable. Roen simply put, was entirely too boring. Not only did he resemble countless individuals I know, but his choices made me literally yell ‘Are you kidding me?!’ Yes, there is a market for the reluctant hero, but Chu’s take on the “slacker turned kick ass hero” feels at war with the aforementioned reluctance. The plotline which most exacerbated my dislike of Roen’s goals was once he decided he wanted to get married to his girlfriend, she becomes kidnapped and the entire book turns from a training saga to a damsel in distress scenario. I was left consistently wondering why I should care.
Though I had several grievances with Chu’s plot choices, there were other more technical aspects that I took note of, many of which were positive. As I initially stated, I truly wanted to enjoy this book as the initial concept is so strong. I wished that Chu had let this concept truly grow and form rather than spend so much time on the familiar. Chu revels on action scenes yet somewhat paradoxically lacks much detail such as visual cues to fully realize the setting which any action takes place. That being said, I still craved more action than the constant focus on relationships and conversation.
Overall, I couldn’t help thinking of The Lives of Tao as a Stephanie Meyer’s The Host for the male demographic. Much of this was due to heavy emphasis on relationships and to put it frankly, the suburban dream. Though I find nothing wrong with this dream, I question its consistent place in a science fiction based espionage book. Frankly, if I wanted to read about everyday life, I wouldn’t pick up a science fiction book. Chu tried to infuse the alien with the ordinary but went too far. In fact, I feel that the shining parts of The Lives of Tao were too few and far between, and all in the first half of the book. The second half seemed like a different novel entirely, one that was predictable and severely lacking. Characters, including the alien Tao seem severely one dimensional and lack charm and mystery. For me, The Lives of Tao severely failed because it took an amazing concept and turned it to the common. This may sound like the book for you but I for one, couldn’t get past Chu’s poor choices of plot direction and wasted opportunity.