On The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

Lives of Tao Wesley Chu (large)Wesley Chu seems like a cool guy. Chuck Wendig threw a bunch of questions at him earlier this year, and helpfully got a tweetable story pitch for The Lives of Tao out of him: “Fat loser meets snarky alien. Gets in shape. Fights war over control of humanity’s evolution. Gets a girlfriend. Not in order of importance.”

The central premise is simple: aliens are amongst us, and have been for thousands of years; they need hosts or “agents” to survive on Earth and have decided humans make a pretty useful vessel; through ostensibly benign occupation of these agents, they have managed to significantly impact the course of human history;  then “lovable disgusting slob [Roen]” meets “gas-life snarky alien symbiote [Tao],”  and we’re off …

Roen is, in some respects, a wonderfully reluctant hero/antihero–he’s almost literally dragged kicking and screaming from his sedentary, dull existence to become a secret agent for an alien faction in a war for the future of humanity. I did feel Chu relied too much on the Roen-is-a-fat-loser joke, which he carried through far into the novel, even as Roen progressed to combat competence and gained significant experience and skill as an agent.

If I chose to dwell on it, I might become disgruntled about the role of women in the book. I suspect the novel would fail the Bechdel test, which assesses a fictional work’s gender bias–essentially, it asks whether the work features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. But at least Sonya is, on the whole, a kick-ass sort who can look after herself.

The overall writing style suggests first-draft meets not-very-diligent-editor, and you need to be a little generous to overlook it. For example, in the middle of a car chase scene there’s this incredible sentence: “Then suddenly, a white van came out from the corner of Roen’s eyes and rammed into the side of the lead-grey sedan” (my italics, chapter 28, p.321). This is probably the worst example of clumsy writing in the book, and while it’s not a crime punishable by death it did detract from my reading experience.

Ultimately, I was happy to be generous, because books like this have their place. For me, this one’s place was keeping me amused on my bus commute to and from work, and for that I give thanks to Chu.

The sequel, The Deaths of Tao, will be published later this year.

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