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TPG Reviews: The Lives of Tao, by Wesley Chu (Tao #1)

February 8, 2014

Slow, clunky and annoying; a real disappointment.

When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it. He wasn’t. 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…

Tao

My rating: 4/10

I have three basic issues when it comes to this book:

  1. It is, in my frank opinion, not very good.
  2. Much of the book’s setting, while not necessarily bad, simply wasn’t to my taste
  3. Judging from Amazon and Goodreads, I am very much in the minority on those first two points

I mean…really? Nearly four stars average on Goodreads with over a thousand ratings? Have I missed something here?  I just…I really, honestly do not understand what people are seeing in this book. I’ve read worse – believe me, I’ve read worse – but The Lives of Tao was nonetheless a massive exercise in patience, and not one I’d be keen to repeat.

The titular Tao is a Quasing, a race of symbiotic entities who crash-landed onto Earth many thousands of years ago. These aliens have split into two opposing factions, the Prophus and the Genjix, and have been secretly warring over humanity’s fate for several centuries. After a mission goes badly wrong, Tao ends up inhabiting the body of Roen Tan – an overweight IT worker entirely unsuited to fighting a covert war. In order to get back in the fight and save humanity, Tao must first turn convince Roen to turn his life around.

It’s an interesting concept, if not entirely original, but the execution simply kills it dead. Roen Tan is practically a case study in why making a character “flawed” is not sufficient to make them good. Much of the book is simply a training montage for Roen in which he whines, makes dumb decisions and then whines some more. He takes forever to start developing, and I seriously spent much of the book wanting to punch him the face. Notably, the book’s climax is caused almost entirely by Roen’s stupidity, and yet not one character calls him out over this. Needless to say, Roen is not an easy character to like.

Most other characters were decidedly undercooked, seeming to exit purely to fulfil their defined role within the story. Particularly bad in this regard was Jill, Roen’s main love interest, who was so unmemorable I honestly had to look up her name just to write this. She only even appears in a handful of scenes and we never see anything from her perspective, so she never feels like anything more than a cheap plot device.  Sonya, the OTHER love intereset, was far better for the simple reason that we actually get to see her for decent lengths of time. Sonya is the Action Girl of the story and is more than a little flat, but I nonetheless found her far more likeable than the actual protagonist.

The whole book, by the way, feels at least a couple drafts short of completion. Action sequences are long and clunky, words are frequently repeated and, every now and then, something will happen which simply doesn’t make sense. In one instance, Roen is in a firefight and notices an enemy sneaking up on a fellow agent. We are told he has no time to shout a warning; he does however have enough time to pick up his empty rifle, which he just dropped, and then throw it at the enemy in question. In another instance, Roen is firing down from the top of a flight of stairs, is knocked back (IE: away from the stairs), and somehow begins to fall down the stairs.  Such instances really killed my sense of immersion, and would surely have been fixed by a competent editor.

As mentioned at the start, I had problems with much of the book’s worldbuilding – though, admittedly, this is more down to my own taste than to the book’s quality. To provide just one example: any important figure ever, from Genghis Kahn to Churchill to Steve freaking Jobs, was secretly a Quasing host. At first, I found these details cute; by the end…not so much.

All things considered, The Lives of Tao is not really something I would recommend reading. I really wanted to like it for fairly obvious reasons, but what I read left me decidedly underwhelmed.  The book can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be comedic or serious, and so ends up doing neither particularly well. A real disappointment, in my opinion.

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3 Comments
  1. Feel a tad bad that I subjected you to this. So first up: sorry!

    Agree with a lot of what you say, but the issues you point out didn’t seem to bother me that much. Totally agree that Jill was tacked on, but I kind of saw where the story was going with her so it didn’t surprise me so much. Completely agree with the Tao’s inclusion in just about every singular moment in human (and other species!) history. Got a bit annoying towards the end. Have to say though, I thought the action sequences were actually quite good. Seemed to flow for me, but I’m guessing by the time you got to the end (and the last third of the book is pretty much just one big action piece) you were taking no prisoners 🙂

    Pick a book you despised and I’ll go read it as penance…. 😉

    • Eh, no worries. It’s clear that I’m very much in the minority on this particular book, in any case.

      I do wonder if my thoughts on Roen coloured my opinions on the book as a whole, now that I think of it. I distinctly remember the Decennial being the book’s highlight for me: the sheer black comedy of it was something I wish the book had done more. And then the climax started without anyone calling Roen out over his own stupidity and…well.

      As for a book I despised…hmm…ooh, I know! *Evil grin*

      How about the OTHER bodysnatcher book I didn’t like: The Host, by Stephenie Meyer? Don’t feel you have to, mind; my memory of this book is hazy nowadays, but I recall it being exceedingly slow.

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