As a long time reader of both science fiction and fantasy I often find myself weary of books that cross genres. Call me old fashion but I enjoy my aliens and spaceships safely in space and my orcs and swords safely in the woods. When it comes to crossovers or genre mashes I’ve been burned, books that either poorly mixes them or just end up ruining what’s best of both genres. One of the best crossovers has been the Split Infinity series by Peirs Anthony and in that book there was a fantasy world and a sci-fi world and our hero leaps between the two.
The lives of Tao by Wesley Chu is one of the few genre mash-up I truly like. The book is about Roen Tan, a out-of-shape IT technician stuck in a dead-end job in a rut of a life he hates, who gets possessed by a symbiotic based-alien named Tao. Tao is an anient alien life-form that crashed landed on Earth in the time of dinosaurs. They have existed that entire time by possessing one life-form to another, shaping humanity in a bid to get home. But as Roen finds out things are never that simple. The aliens have split into two factions who are at war and Roen’s just been drafted.
Roen becomes the mix between James Bond and Ezio Auditore da Firenze
The book is a mash-up of the spy and science fiction genres. On one hand we have aliens and war but on the other we have dead-drops, safe houses, passwords, and spy training. The sci-fi aspect reminds me of Doctor Who or Highlander: The Series. Both series go back to the past, one physically the other in flashback, and we witness major events with a sci-fi twist. Either the Doctor, or an alien, was involved in the Magna Carte or Duncan MacCleod good friend was actually Jackie Robinson. In The Lives of Tao we learn that Tao, and others of his kind, have shared bodies and influenced major political and historical figures like Gengis Khan, Voltaire, Churchhill, and even Shakespeare. The Lives of Tao takes a look at history in much of the same vain as Assassin’s Creed does: history with a creative twist. In short Roen Tam’s been drafted into the eternally-good-but-eternally-stuck-as-the-underdogs Assassins and the Templars are getting stronger by the minute.
The spy genre side of the book starts at basic training, putting our unlikely hero through the ringer and teaching him the ropes much like Collin Farrell in The Recruit. We seem him go from out of shape into a lean-mean fighting machine. We seem him progress through the unflattering world of boring mission to high security shoot out much like Piper Perabo in Covert Affairs. It ends up in an island shoot-out much like the Connery days of James Bond.
The Lives of Tao is one of those good books that pulls off the mash-up perfectly. We get the full sci-fi feeling combined with the spy genre without either side getting diluted or ignored. We get the full effect and in turn get a character we care about. Roen becomes the mix between James Bond and Ezio Auditore da Firenze (Assassin Creed 2, Brotherhood, Revelations).
We get the full sci-fi feeling combined with the spy genre without either side getting diluted or ignored.
The book isn’t perfect but the downfalls are minor at best. The first chapter throws in the final days of Tao’s previous host. This means, much like the opening scene of a bond film, you get thrown in the deep end. Sadly unlike a Bond film you don’t have the natural progression inwards. The first chapter is like been beaten with a sci-fi film when you missed that couple minutes of voice-over that explains everything. The first chapter is heavy with weird names like Prophus and Genjix and tossed before characters like Tao and Jeo without as little of an explanation. It makes the first chapter really hard to get through but after that its gravy and everything makes sense. While I fear that there are a great number of people who won’t make it past the first chapter those who do will be treated for a nice surprise.