The Lives of Tao
By Wesley Chu
Angry Robot, 2013
The Lives of Tao is a science fiction novel involving alien body snatchers, global war, and this one boring IT guy. Mostly this one guy.
Roen Tan is an unimpressive person in an unimpressive job with no particular prospects for a better future. Then, one day, he is possessed by an alien named Tao. This makes everything much worse. Now he has an unimpressive life and an alien in his head nagging him constantly. And even worse, this alien is involved in an international war (against other aliens) for control over Earth, and all the other aliens are inhabiting much cooler, tougher, and better looking humans. Roen, Tao admits, was a bit of a mistake.
But it turns out that having a immortal alien in your head isn't all bad. Tao knows lots of things, and is willing to share. Tao knows how to fight, and this turns out to be useful more often than Roen would like. Tao knows how to identify evil aliens so that Roen doesn't have to fight as much, which turns out to be super useful. Tao knows good nutrition and a very serious physical trainer, and actually that is all bad... but Tao isn't going to be seen in a second rate host. Amusing high jinx ensue, most of them violent.
Unfortunately, the book suffers from two persistent flaws. The first is simply that Roen is unrelentingly, stereotypically uninspiring in this thoughts, actions, and social interactions. His character development is measured in physical fitness and the number of people he kills, or in finding himself in mundane social situations that proceed in a mundane fashion. He is always predictable and usually trite.
Secondly, the book greatly suffers from lack of an editor. This is a nuts-and-bolts complaint, but one that comes back to annoy
the reader me repeatedly. Paragraphs will repeat what was just said in the last paragraph, or contradict it. The author does not understand the difference between 'but' and 'and'. Scenes are dragged out longer than they need to be, and the author unnecessarily reminds the reader about things that have already happened. This almost fits in with Roen's personality, but it is detracting regardless... and all the more so when the immortal leaders of a wise alien race make the same mistakes. It is possible that this bothers me more than it bothers most people, and I would be remiss if I didn't also point out that this book gets pretty good reviews on Goodreads.
All in all, this is a fairly fun book and not one that I regret reading, but also not one that I particularly recommend. It's not a great alien invasion story, spy thriller, personal journey, or anything else. It's just an interesting take on the alien possession theme that moves along quickly enough to stay engaging, and sadly, that makes it par for the course among the alien-parasite-themed books that I've read.
The Tao series continues with The Deaths of Tao and The Rebirths of Tao.