While reading The Lives of Tao I kept having this nagging feeling in my head that there was something familliar aobut this story. Then it hit me, it seems as though Wesley Chu was given the writing prompt, take Scientology and make it into a viable science fiction story: Aliens in people’s bodies responsible for the pain in the world.
Actually, Chu has created a pretty compelling world in which we discover that a race of aliens crash-lands on earth and can’t survive in our atmosphere, but can inhabit and communicate with animals on earth. Eventually they make the move to humans and are able to use humans’ ability to build tools and communicate to form a plan – they will figure out how to build a spaceship to get back to their planet. Something that just occurred to me (fridge moment) is that it’s literally been millions of years – their planet may not exist. It may not even be worth returning to. Oh well.
I enjoy books that posit alternate explanations for history and this one has the aliens responsible for many of the conflicts on Earth – under the theory of all science comes from war, which I’d definitely read before in non-fiction books. Eventually this strategy causes a rift between the alieans and they split into opposing groups. There’s also the idea, mostly hinted at, that ancient gods were really just the aliens speaking to humans and not revealing their true identities. In fact, it’s revealed at some point that one of the sides ended up taking over the Catholic church and humans with those aliens in them refer to the aliens as “holy ones”.
All that world building was my favorite part, including main alien protagonist Tao’s stories of his former hosts. But the main thrust of the book is a premise that makes me surprised it hasn’t been adapted for the large or small screen yet. Tao ends up going from being in a secret agent to a schlub of a programmer. Of course, there’s lots of comedy to mine from that. I think where Chu excels and pushes this novel from 3 to 4 star range is that he slowly moves the slider from comedy to drama. And he does it successfully so that by the end the reader doesn’t experience mood whiplash when things become deadly serious. As with some of the other books I’ve read recently, Chu does a good job balancing the need for the protagonist to have plot armor with relatively realistic high stakes. Even if he can’t die early on, he can be harmed and it’s pretty clear the antagonists have no qualms with incapacitating people and/or killing them if necessary.
Interestingly, Chu wraps the story up so well that I’m not DYING to read the next entry. I do want to read it to see how things progress now that we’re past the neophyte stage with our protagonist. While publishers might cry to read that, I appreciate it as a reader. It allows me to enjoy a story without being burdened by needing to continue a series to get closer. And the world is compelling enough that I’m adding it to my list of sequels to read.
If you like spy v spy thriller and historical conspiracy fiction, you’ll definitely like it.