Audiobook Review: The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

15 08 2013

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

Read by Mikeal Naramore

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 20 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Lives of Tao is a fun filled, twisted buddy comedy between a slacker and his ancient alien parasite. Welsey Chu tells a tale full of light hearted humor, yet balances it with fascinating relationship full of hidden depths and well executed action. Listeners should expect to have a whole lot of fun with The Lives of Tao.

Grade: B+

A few months back I was watching Oz: The Great and the Powerful, and getting more and more frustrated. The Wizard of Oz was one of my first literary discoveries as a child, and along with Narnia, was the place I most dreamt of someday getting to visit. So, there I was, watching this movie about a carnival wizard who would be sucked through a tornado into the land of Oz, and all I could think of was that this guy was a total asshat. Here is this misogynistic shyster with almost no redeeming qualities, and he was going to get to visit the wonderful Land of Oz. I cry FOUL, good sirs and madams. Now, I understand that often times, stories require transformation. That for there to be a true payoff at the end the character must discover some new aspect about themselves, or find true love or some such hooey. Yet, do we have to start the transformation process at douchebag? There are some good, everyday people who don’t kick puppies, force fathers to work on Christmas day instead of being home with their sickly child, or treat women like pieces of meat that deserve adventure in magical lands with the potential to find true love with a beautiful good witch. Now, I don’t need my protagonist to be perfect, in fact, I don’t want them to be perfect. I like flawed characters. But why do we need to always have this handsome, physically fit, devilishly clever character who also happen to be incredible assholes? Can’t we find flaws in other areas to explore? This was one of the things that drew me to The Lives of Tao. Roen Tan is a slovenly, heavy set slacker, who is socially awkward and blames others for his own poor choices. He’s not what I would call hero material. Despite these flaws, I’d much rather see a transformation from lazy slacker to hero, than the typical Hollywood shitheel meets a beautiful women in a magical land so decided not to be quite as much of a total shitheel.

After another disappointing and pointless night drinking too much at the clubs, Roen Tan, an underachieving computer programmer, is hit with a sudden wave of nausea. A few weeks later, he begins to hear a voice in his hear encouraging him to stand up to a mugger, and questioning him on why he’s staying at a job he hates. Is Roen going crazy? Nope, it’s just a Quasing named Tao, an alien parasite that has inserted itself into his body and won’t be able to leave until Roen dies. Eventually, Roen discovers that he is now a part of an alien civil war raging among two factions of a species who have been stuck on Earth since the time of the dinosaurs. The Lives of Tao is a twisted buddy comedy between a young slacker and the alien parasite that must turn him into skilled agent. When I started The Lives of Tao, I expected a light and breezy science fiction comedy that bordered on slapstick. For the most part that is what I got. What did surprise me was that it was also a solidly written action novel with a lot of hidden depths. The first two thirds of the novel was mostly about building the relationship between Roen and Tan, developing the background on the war between the Prophus and the Genjix, and a training montage to show Roen’s transformation from out of shape desk jockey to a lean, mean fighting machine.  This segment was a lot of fun, full of funny moments, interesting characters and a great exploration of the intricacies of a human/alien parasite relationship. At times I felt it lacked a bit of depth. More often you were informed that Roen was now skinnier, better trained and really progressing as an agent, instead of actually experiencing the transformation. This caused a bit of dissonance, as you had to remind yourself that this wasn’t the lazy, whiney character that you met in the beginning. Chu peppers the novel with small tales of some Tao’s successes and failures with some of his past hosts, many of whom were influential historical figures. I found these segments to be fascinating, yet I wish these tales had also been a little more detailed. Yet, I did experience one thing that I didn’t expect. I felt a bit resentful towards our little alien friends. Sure, their war caused a lot of bad things to happen to humanity. This I could accept. Yet, the aliens seemed also to be responsible a lot of the great things humanity has accomplished. It would be one thing if this was just great leap forwards in technology or political philosophy, but when the aliens also revealed themselves to be responsible for some of the cultural and artistic achievements, I was like, DAMMIT! Can’t we have had achieve anything of value on our own, you meddling bastards!  The final third of the novel was a well orchestrated action scenario that was actually quite fun. Though the basic setup was typically action movie fare, it was well executed and full of well choreographed action. Overall, I liked The Lives of Tao a whole heck of a lot. While I wasn’t surprised by the humor that permeated the tale, what truly won me over was the relationship between Roan and Tao. Chu deftly handles this relationship, often leaving it up to the reader how much influence Tao truly had over Roen. In the end, this relationship wasn’t just about symbiosis, but how two separate entities could manage to make both themselves and the other better.

This was my first experience with Mikael Naramore as a narrator, and I was quite impressed. Naramore delivers a clean, well paced performance that easily handles the specific challenges this tale had to offer. He has a pleasant strong voice that suited this tale well. As the heart of the story is the relationship between Roen and Tao, he does a good job brining these characters to life. He gives Tao an almost dreamlike quality that almost seems like a breezy version of Roen’s own voice yet distinct enough to allow their interactions to feel natural. I also like how slowly you here the development in Roen’s character. As the novel progresses, Roen sounds more self assured. He loses a bit of the whininess of the early character which fits well with the character development. Naramore handles the action with a sharp consistent pace that allows the listener to perfectly picture the events as they unfold. The Lives of Tao is a fun audiobook experience with just the right mix of action and humor as well as a great exploration of the sometimes tumultuous relationship between a man and his alien parasite.

Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing a copy of this title for review.

Audiobook Review: Extinction Point by Paul Antony Jones

26 03 2013

Extinction Point by Paul Antony Jones (Extinction Series, Bk. 1)

Read by Emily Beresford

Brilliance Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 36 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Extinction Point Starts with a bang and ends with a roar, but gets slightly bogged down in the middle. It’s a unique and often creepy apocalyptic tale full of human carnage, strange beasties and that disconcerting last person in the world eeriness. While I may have wished for just a bit more forward progression in the tale, Paul Antony Jones does a good job wetting my appetite for what comes next in Emily’s apocalyptic adventure.

Grade: B-

I hate shopping. OK, I know what you’re thinking…. Bob, you’re supposed to be writing a review of an audiobook, what the hell does shopping have to do with anything. It’s relevant, well, sort of, I swear, just bear with me. So, I hate shopping. Really. Part of my problem is that I just can’t focus on the task with any sort of concentration required for the task. You see, I have just read way too many apocalyptic novels to actually think of shopping as a simple task. No, people, it HAS to be an adventure. It MUST be relevant to my survival. The first time I enter any store, my first thought isn’t, "oh, where do they keep the milk?" or "I can’t forget tube socks!" No, my first though is how suitable the store is for apocalyptic scavenging. Now, this isn’t a simple exercise. You’d think, the mathematics is pretty simple, lots of stuff = good for scavenging. No, people math doesn’t work that way. As Mrs. Getz my Algebra and Computer Math teacher in high school so many years ago told me, there are always variables you must take into account. Exactly what kind of Apocalypse is it? If it’s Zombies, than perhaps a big super store with lots of potential shoppers isn’t smart. Is it a 24 hours store, or more limited hours? Here, you must factor in when exactly the apocalypse took place. Oh, the variables. I probably live in the worst state for hoarding and scavenging, Pennsylvania. You can’t find important things like alcohol or fire arms at grocery stores. Of course, neither can the small band of cannibalistic brigands that are using the K-Mart as a lure to sucker in human protein bars. And don’t forget muties, or insane asylum escapees that are going to turn the store into a death maze Thunderdome. Perhaps, with muties and robots and zombies and carnivorous walking Triffids, it’s better to stay away from large stores and concentrate on Wawa’s and Hallmark stores. Because, variables and muties and MATH! Supplies-muties/proximity to insane asylum*availability of firearms and Yuengling Lager(Hours of Operation) = I hate shopping…. shit, I forgot the milk.

It seemed like a normal day for New York City reporter Emily Baxter until the strange red rain began to fall unleashing death to the millions of inhabitants of the great city. Yet, Emily is unaffected, perhaps the last living person in a dead city. Yet, she’s not alone. Something strange is happening, and Emily must flee the city to meet up with perhaps the last remnants of humanity in the coldest reaches of the planet. I had high hopes for Extinction Point. It started off brilliantly with a creep red rain that enveloped the city, killing indiscriminately in grizzly fashion. It was just unique enough and just weird enough to catch my attention early, despite a bit of flatness to the main character early on. So, yes, I had high hopes, and while Extinction Point didn’t exactly deliver on these hopes, it at least did enough to keep me interested. I really loved the concept, and slowly the character began to grow on me. Jones does a good job creating a realistic response to an over the top scenario. It took me a while to really connect with Emily. I think part of this was due to her reporter persona. The early parts of the novel I felt like she was more of an observer than a participant in the events, and not until it actually truly affected her, did she begin to humanize in my eyes. Jones creates some real fascinating, and strange events. While Extinction point definitely pays tribute to the bigger classics of the genre like The Stand and The Road, I felt more of a Purple Cloud meets The War Against the Chtorr feel, which was actually quite refreshing. My major issue with the novel was the pacing. Extinction Point feels more like a bit too long first chapter to a much bigger novel, than a complete tale of its own. I just wanted Emily to get moving, to take the big leap forward into her journey, but instead she moves in dribs and drabs, slowly and laboriously putting together her supplies, documenting each step in detail. Now, I love a good apocalyptic scavenger hunt, but sometimes I felt like screaming "Get moving! We don’t need to know exactly which bike fits your needs best, and every single part you will need to keep it in tip top shape, just RIDE THE DAMN THING OUT OF THE DEAD CITY!” Now, while she’s doing all this, she’s witnessing some really creepy things going on, that you would think would light fire under her ass, but it’s almost like she slows down even more. While it makes sense in the plot, it was often frustrating for the listener. Luckily, when she finally does get moving, things pick up. The last hour of the audio was full of awesome and lots of fun and made me forget about all my frustrations and just want Book 2 NOW! So, Extinction Point Starts with a bang and ends with a roar, but gets slightly bogged down in the middle. It’s a unique and often creepy apocalyptic tale full of human carnage, strange beasties and that disconcerting last person in the world eeriness. While I may have wished for just a bit more forward progression in the tale, Paul Antony Jones does a good job wetting my appetite for what comes next in Emily’s apocalyptic adventure. 

Emily Beresford was the perfect choice to narrate this tale. She has a unique voice in the industry, a sort of authentic realness where she never sounds like an actor portraying a role, but a person within a story.  She did an excellent job capturing the shock and emotional turmoil of the main character. I really like how she’s willing to add in more affectations, whether a sigh or a raised voice, or emotional outburst to bring out the humanity of the character. She manages to keep the pace going pretty smooth, despite some pacing issues in the writing. She takes what could be a monotonous, almost grocery list style detailed depiction of events, and gives it a rhythmic flow that fits well into the observational style of the story. There are some moments where the story lulls, but Beresford does a good job keeping us in it, so when the crazy goodness does come, we’re not asleep at the wheel. Extinction Point is a solid apocalyptic audiobook that has the potential to become the start of a darn good series.

Note: Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.