Friday, August 14, 2015

The Lives of Tao (Wesley Chu)

The Lives of Tao
(The Tao series, Book 1)
Wesley Chu
Angry Robot
Fiction, Sci-Fi
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Since their dying ship crashed on Earth in the age of dinosaurs, the gaseous Quasings have been forced to survive inside native animals, protected from the deadly atmosphere of this alien world. The nearly-immortal beings watched the first primates descend from the trees, learning to communicate with each other through their evolving bodies. Today, they influence politics and wars while working to construct a new ship to take them home... yet they still need host bodies to survive.
Tao, part of the rebellious Prophus group of Quasings, lost his last host in a deadly encounter with the Genjix, who have very different ideas of how to use (or, rather, abuse) the human race. With every minute exposed to Earth's atmosphere bringing him closer to death, and with Genjix agents still hunting him, he barely manages to latch onto a new host... Roen Tan, an overweight, underconfident cubicle jockey in a computer engineering firm. Tao's influence has forged (and destroyed) whole empires through generals and emperors, but Roen can't even jog a city block without winding himself. Unfortunately, once bonded to a host, a Quasing is stuck until the mortal's death releases them. Tao has no choice but to whip Roen into shape as a Prophus agent - and Roen soon learns he has no choice but to listen to the new voice in his head. Even if he wants no part in this secret alien civil war, Tao's enemies aren't through hunting for him, and to a Genjix agent, Roen's simply one more expendable meatbag.

REVIEW: For the most part, this is an entertaining story, with aliens, intrigue, action, spies, and some nice touches of humor and humanity along the way. Roen starts out as the kind of drifting underachiever many of us can relate to, stuck in a life he doesn't enjoy but unable to find the resolve or the passion to change things. Just as Tao's influence helps Roen build a life worth living, he faces the very real possibility of dying in an undercover civil war, one with ties to hidden Quasing influences around the world. At times, the story drifted, with long stretches between plot elements, and there were also things that seemed potentially important but were forgotten... possibly because there appears to be at least one more book in the works with the Quasings. A subtle sexist air lurks in the background, despite some competent female agents, though in all honesty (and at the risk of sounding sexist myself) the book really does seem more like a guy story, with the guns and the covert operations and such, so maybe it's to be expected. The climax shows both Tao and Roen just how much the former frustrated computer engineer has changed in both body and mind. On the whole, I found it enjoyable, even if it lacked that extra kick for a higher rating. I don't know that I'll go out of my way to read the sequel, though.

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