Wesley Chu’s 2013 debut novel The Lives of Tao appears to be warmly regarded, if one can judge by its 3.77 stars on Goodreads and 4 stars on Amazon. Once again I find myself out of step with the majority of readers. Welcome to yet another installment in “Nobody Cares Why You Hate Shakespeare, Leo,” with me playing the starring role of Leo Tolstoy.
Betrayed by a fellow agent, Edward Blair does what he can to salvage the situation by leaping from the top of an office building to certain death below. This is rather hard on Blair, but it frees Tao, Blair’s alien symbiont, to seek a new host who isn’t about to be captured by the enemy. Tao must find that host quickly, before Earth’s hostile atmosphere kills him. Alas for Tao, the only possible human host close enough is an out of shape, self-loathing programmer named Roan Tan.
It was mere luck that Tan was close to where Blair went splut. Bad luck, because thanks to it Tan finds himself drafted into a covert civil war raging across the Earth.
Sixty-five million years ago, a Quasing spacecraft crashed in the Yucatan, killing the dinosaurs and marooning the Quasing. At first the castaways had to settle for mere survival. Eventually, the appearance of the primates, in particular the hominids, with their large brains and ever so useful hands, presented the aliens with the chance to bootstrap the technological base needed to go home.
About five centuries ago, one faction of the Quasings had a crisis of conscience about the means they were using to accelerate humanity’s technological development. They questioned whether their own ends justified manipulating humans into war after war. The questioning faction, the Prophus, decided that the answer was “no”; the Genjix faction of the Quasings opted for “yes.” When debate and negotiations failed, the two sides turned to violence.
The really really bad news isn’t just that Tan is hearing a voice in his head or that, because he is Tao’s new host, Tan is de facto a Prophus agent. The worst of the bad news isn’t that Tan does not seem to be covert agent material or that the side that press-ganged him is the losing side.
The really really bad news is that the only way to get Tao out of Tan’s head and into a more suitable host is to kill Tao’s current host. If Tan can’t manage get in shape and master a variety of arcane skills, the desperate Prophus will kill Tan in the name of the greater good