Book Review: The Lives of Tao

I have a bit of a bias towards this type of story. I love martial-arts movies. I love ‘em dramatic, like Hero or Fearless. I love ‘em cheesy, like Warrior’s Way or Legend of Drunken Master. I love ‘em unapologetically about the fighting, like the Ong-Bak series. So, a science fiction action-adventure-comedy heavily featuring martial arts is right in my wheelhouse. 

Let’s talk about it. 

The Basics: 

Title: The Lives of Tao
Author: Wesley Chu
Genre: Science-Fiction, Thriller, Action, Comedy, Romance
Published: Angry Robot, 2013

Spoiler-Free Summary: 

For all of human history, we have shared our planet with incorporeal aliens who crash-landed on Earth millennia ago. Our world is hostile to these quasing, but they survive by inhabiting a living host. They have guided human progression towards the space age so they can one day return home. United in purpose, they go to war over their methods. The quasing split into two factions: the Genjix – devoted to sowing conflict and chaos, because war breeds innovation – and the Prophus – who foster unity and cooperation to guide humanity.

Roen in ch.1 (Kung Fu Panda (c) Dreamworks)

When the Prophus Tao’s host is killed, he escapes into Roen, an overweight computer programmer who wants anything but to be dragged into the quasing’s shadow-war. The war is heating up – The Genjix are working on a mysterious super-weapon. There could not be a worse time for super-spy Tao to be out of the action. He must whip Roen into shape… even if it kills him. 

Add to this a terrible day-job, his sputtering love-life, and a nosy roommate, and what you have is a Roen completely and utterly overwhelmed by his new reality.

Why This Book Is For You: 

For a debut, the plotting is tight, the writing clear and crisp, and the story is innovative. 

Chu has written a moving, character-driven tale. It is easy to empathize with the everyman Roen, and his development from immature, dissatisfied couch potato to man with skills, emotional maturity, and purpose is extremely satisfying. 

I laughed out loud several times reading this book. Imagine a mismatched buddy-cop comedy where the partners cannot catch a break because they literally live inside one another’s heads. Tao and Roen’s chemistry is a delight throughout. 

Roen in ch. 30 (KungFu Panda (c) Dreamworks)

In the combat scenes, Chu successfully walks the line between too much and too little. He doesn’t dwell on paragraphs of choreography – which can get repetitive over 400 pages, believe me – but does give martial-arts fans more than “they punched.” You close your eyes and feel the action.

If you want a sci-fi flavored thriller with dashes of comedy and romance layered over a gripping character arc, look no further than The Lives of Tao

Where Can You Find More? 

Wesley Chu is an occasional guest on Writing Excuses – you can find these episodes on their guest list. You can find him on Goodreads, his web site (under renovation as of 9/29/21), or his corner at Angry Robot

Thanks for joining us this week. Happy reading, and happy writing.

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