The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu (Angry Robot, April 30th, 2013)-A civil war has been going on for ages between an alien race split into two opposing factions: the Prophus, who have come to love humans and strive to preserve life on Earth, and the fierce Genjix who will do anything to get back to their home planet. These guys crash landed long before humans inhabited the planet, and they’re able to use humans as hosts, and as tools to help them in the battle that’s been raging for so long. Tao is a Prophus that has just lost his longtime host. Unfortunately, this leaves him with little choice in his next host. Enter Roen Tan. Roan is a bit chubby, a little lonely, and a lot lazy. His life is spent working at his IT job and spending way too much empty time at night clubs, which he always regrets, yet always returns to. He is not, to put it mildly, the most optimum host for Tao, who has guided some of the greatest figures in history (can you say Genghis Khan?), but Tao has no choice. He’s determined to do the best he can with Roen, but he’s got a very short time to whip him into fighting shape. Luckily, Tao is more than up to the challenge! With help from fellow agent Sonya (and her Prophus Baji), Roen begins an intensive training program, and will soon have to take on his first mission. Can Tao remake Roen into an agent worthy of this epic, and far reaching fight? After all, the human race is at stake, as is the fate of an entire alien species. No pressure for poor Roen, right?
It’s pretty obvious when you start The Lives of Tao that it’s going to great fun. The opening is like a scene right out of James Bond: tense, exciting, and of course, in the end, quite sad as Tao loses the host he’s come to care so much about. We meet Roen after a disastrous (as usual), and expensive night at the club, about to drive drunk because he doesn’t want to spend another $15 bucks for a cab. It’s pretty much the perfect introduction to the guy. Roen is the guy that gets taken advantage of by women to buy them drinks, and then gets ditched at the end of the night. He always the friend, never the boyfriend. You get the idea. His self-confidence isn’t so hot, and career motivation? Not so much. And yet… There’s something about Roen that you will fall for. Maybe it IS his uncertainty, his vulnerability, his utter self-doubt. We’ve all been there at some point, and all these things, for me, made Roen endearing. When he does finally get into fighting shape, and he DOES to be sure, the self-doubt doesn’t immediately disappear. He’s undeniably proud of his accomplishments, and as he gets to know Tao better and meets his fellow agents, his feeling of being a part of something great is a huge motivator, but that self-doubt lingers and he questions himself, and even his actions, quite a bit. The internal dialogue between Tao and Roen is just plain awesome (and you’ll learn things-for serious-that sneaky Wesley Chu), and the book is chock full of action and kick ass fight scenes. The plotting is fast paced and very clever (it’s like a combo of Bond, the TV show Chuck, and something that is very unique to the author), but the real story lies with Roen and Tao, and their developing relationship. It certainly makes me think that there might something in all of us that can make us great (even if it’s not an alien being), and it’s Roen’s humility, and yes, bravery, in the midst of a very extreme chain of events that makes this book what it is: one of the freshest, most fun debuts I’ve read in quite a while! I can’t wait to find out what’s next for Roen and Tao!