The Lives of Tao centers on an alien named Tao and his new host. Tao, like all those of his race, lives as a symbiote with humans. Living from human life to human life, a bad situation kills the body of his longtime human teammate. In order to survive, Tao must find another host and bond with him, or her. Quickly. With his enemies closing in, he cannot chose a pre-ordained host, someone who knows of Tao’s race and what it means to bond with him. Instead, an out of shape and overweight slacker of an IT professional, Roen Tan, is his improbable and desperate choice.
The action sequences in The Lives of Tao, from start to finish, sing. The beats feel authentic and well scripted, especially when Roen is in no shape to deal with trained opponents. The author’s personal knowledge of martial arts (especially Tai Chi) comes in handy, but it is presented as anything but infodumping. The culminating conflict is well put together and is an excellent capstone to a series of lesser and smaller sequences scattered throughout the book.
The novel is infused with a geeky sense of humor that flows from its protagonist and enriches the book. It ranges from the banter between Tao and Roen, to much more physical comedy, especially in the fumbling attempts Roen makes at first at change and getting in shape. I laughed out loud at many points, and the overall light tone of the novel makes the reading flow quickly.
That light tone humor, though, is not a one trick pony. An opening sequence shows that the author is capable of writing scenes, action scenes, that are straight up the middle and are much more serious in tone and execution than many of the later ones. Also, the backstory that Tao relates to Roen in chunks at chapter breaks is thoughtful and reflective. Overall, the writing, for the most part, is extremely polished for a debut novel, a credit to author and editor. The text has been lavished with love and attention and it has a wonderful tone and voice.
The story that The Lives of Tao seemed to remind me of and invoke is the TV series Chuck, and I can’t believe that to be a coincidence. Slacker IT guy underperforming to his abilities and capabilities. He’s given a gift that he can’t get rid, and can’t help but heed the call to adventure, whether he likes it or not . Add in a friend to whom he can’t tell his secret, a hot agent of the opposite sex who trains and babysits him, add in montages of training and baby missions, and an overarching secret organization to fight. Sound familiar? In the end both Charles Bartowski and Roen Tan rise to the occasion. But its never easy for either of them to become a hero.
Angry Robot has had excellent success in picking debut novelists lately, and The Lives of Tao sits firmly on the positive side of that scorecard. It’s funny, entertaining, thought provoking, and reads quickly and well. The author, like his protagonist, clearly has talent and skills that are only now coming to our attention. I look forward to more stories of Roen and Tao, and what else the author has up his sleeve.