Because all of life is stories.
Did you know that he once claimed to discover spaghetti?
“Well, did he?”
Of course not. The Chinese did. It is called noodles.
– The Lives of Tao
Wesley Chu’s Lives of Tao is one of those military science fiction novels that isn’t afraid to have some fun in between the action scenes, or during them for that matter. Like John Scalzi (Old Man’s War) or Larry Correia (Monster Hunter International) Chu manages to deliver a tense and thrilling plot while not getting bogged down in heavy and hard science. Not that I wouldn’t mind some, but I’ve got Larry Niven for when I want scientific theory in between the blowing things up. The Lives of Tao is filled with scenes where I spend my time alternating between thinking “Oh God this is all going to go terribly I can’t watch well maybe just a little” and “This is going to be VERY FUN.”
Chu’s debut novel introduces us to overweight and under-confident desk jockey Roen Tam and his alien partner, Tao. Roen is lazy, sloppy, and unhappy. Tao is a millions of years old alien symbiote whose people cannot survive the Earth atmosphere without inhabiting a living host, mostly humans. When Tao finds himself in sudden and pressing need of a new host, Roen is the only game in town. He unknowingly is inhabited by Tao, and by virtue of his newfound vesselhood becomes an agent of the Prophus, the underdog faction of Tao’s race that has been fighting since the dawn of man for control over human evolution as a means to rediscover space travel and get back home.
The reader follows along as Tao and his fellow agents whip Roen into fighting shape and introduce him to active duty in the secret war against the Genjix, the dominant faction among Tao’s people, who will stop at nothing to return home, even if it means sacrificing humanity in the process. And as the story progresses, Roen and Tao really become a team worth rooting for. Roen for his growing confidence, Tao for his sarcasm and competence. The symbiotic odd couple are both endearing and kick ass at the same time, and they are some of my new favorite characters.
The novel does have a few bits that threw me for awhile. Mostly the idea of taking a fat programmer and turning him into a fit and combat ready poor man’s James Bond in the span of a year. But this is a minor complaint, and one that is somewhat assuaged when you stop to consider that he has an alien in his head giving him knowledge far beyond that of a normal human.
What Chu really does a nice job of is filling in real bits of history with alien involvement. The Spanish Inquisition? Aliens. The Black Plague? Aliens. Sun Tzu, Galileo, Ghengis Khan, and Cardinal Richelieu? Aliens. The secret history he slowly builds with the prologue to each chapter is the kind of thing that makes me dream of this series getting a bunch of prequels, Assassin’s Creed style. Not only does he have all of human history to work with, he has everything back to pre-historic times as well. These guys used to inhabit T-Rexes! Can you imagine the fun!? But that isn’t to say all of the cool tidbits lie in the past. Chu drops enough hints and names for us to know that there is a TON of stuff that we didn’t get to see in the first novel that is going down all over the world. That, along with the endearing characters, is reason enough for me to have already bought the sequel and anxiously begin awaiting for more.
So if you’re looking for good military sci-fi and aren’t too worried about 100% accuracy as far as training and weapons expertise go (Though he does fairly well from what I’ve read. I’m no expert.) then Wes Chu’s Lives of Tao should absolutely be high up on your list of books to read next. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll be off reading the sequel. Despite the fact that it’s past 1:00 AM here.