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.