The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

The Lives of Tao book cover
Rating 8.5/10
A fun book with a lot of energy, action, adventure and martial arts.

The Lives of Tao is the debut novel from Wesley Chu, an action packed, secret organization, globetrotting sci-fi thriller. As an action junkie, this book his all the right notes for me - think The Matrix meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

The story follows Roen, a down on his luck programmer who is wearily plodding through the daily motions of his depressing life. That all changes one night when Tao, an ancient alien life form who survives through a symbiotic coupling with a human host, is forced from his current body and has no choice but to couple with the nearest human - who just happens to be Roen. Tao is not alone, he and his race have lived on Earth for a very long time, influencing events by coupling with some of the most influential people in history. Roen is thrust into the middle of a secret war between the two factions that govern Tao's race (the Prophus and the Genjix), and since Tao is a highly sought after target, Roen must get fit and become a fighter if he wants to survive.

The Lives of Tao is a reasonably straight forward story, one that plays out like a big game of hide and seek / training montage until Roen has built up the necessary skills to start going out on missions. It's almost like a coming of age story for a mid-twenties programmer with no ambition and no hopes for the future. The training montage probably went on for too long, but it was handled very effectively. We get to know both Roen and Tao inside out as the two of them work together to build up Roen physically and mentally, and the frequent action scenes that occur when Genjix agents find Roen are great at demonstrating Roen's progress. But once Roen starts heading out on missions, the action is cranked up a few notches and destruction ensues. This is loads of fun, and I can't wait to see what Chu comes up with next.

In terms of characters, Chu has put together a very Matrix like cast which I think suits the style of the story very nicely. Roen is our Neo - he is not a great student and he often acts like a five year old and throws tantrums when things get too hard, but he is brave and will do reckless things to help out people in need. Tao is our Morpheus, a wise sage with ridiculous amounts of experience who has a very personal stake in the war with the Genjix. Sonya is our Trinity - a prodigious young woman who was raised by The Prophus and acts as Roen's training partner. Chu's characters aren't just transplants of the Matrix characters, they are very much their own characters with their own strengths and weaknesses, but they do share very similar roles with their Matrix counterparts, and I think it makes for an interesting comparison.

The Lives of Tao is a fun book with a lot of energy and it really worked for me. Full of action, adventure, martial arts, gunplay, and large quantities of geeky goodness. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for something a lighter than the current swathe of serious sci-fi / fantasy.

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