Having been introduced to the Quasing series by The Rise of Io, it’s time to go back to where it all began and tackle this series chronologically. Let’s relive The Lives of Tao, by Wesley Chu.
When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it. He wasn’t. He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes. Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…
I like to read book series in order. It makes more sense to start on book 1 than on book 5, right? That’s why I was frustrated to learn that I inadvertently read the fifth book of the Quasing series, The Rise of Io, first. In retrospect, though, perhaps that was actually a good thing. Because if I’d started with The Lives of Tao, I’m not sure I’d have developed an interest in the series. The fact is, The Rise of Io is a far superior book.
One of the main problems is the main character, Roen. Whereas Ella Patel was instantly likeable – savvy, independent, strong-willed – Roen is a whiner, a complainer, a wimp. I know the story is supposed to be about Tao whipping him into shape; but up until that actually happens, he’s real unpleasant to hang around with. I mean, Ella did have her faults, but at least she was an interesting character to read about: always up and about, getting into mischief. Roen is just a sad-sack. Furthermore, unlike Io, who was extremely unaccomplished for an ancient alien life-form, Tao is a great and wise empire builder, one of the most respected and accomplished of the Quasing. Meaning, whereas Ella and Io formed a balanced duo with each having their faults, Tao completely overshadows Roen. You know that Mitchell & Webb short about the superhero team Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit, one of whom can summon a horde of invincible celestial super-beings at will and the other of whom is somewhat skillful at bike-riding? It’s kind of like that.
The plot also feels much slower-paced. Whereas Ella is thrust straight into the thick of things by inadvertently getting involved in a plot involving a defector betraying the Prophus to the Genjix right away, nothing much is going on when Roen joins with Tao. Ella gets caught up in action above her level right from the beginning because she’s stuck in the midst of the turmoil without time for a slow and gentle adjustment period; Roen has plenty of time for a slow and gentle adjustment period. Slow, gentle, and boring. Thrill at the pulse-pounding stakeout scenes where Roen sits in a van for two days watching a mailbox! It should be noted that The Lives of Tao also features the plot point of a Prophus defecting to the Genjix; but it completely fails at building up suspense and tension the way The Rise of Io does. That’s because in The Rise of Io, while it’s established early on that there is a mole, the identity of the traitor is kept a mystery and only revealed halfway through the book as a big twist. In The Lives of Tao, the identity of the traitor is revealed in the very first chapter. There’s no surprise reveal; he just openly becomes another one of the bad guys.
Actually, this isn’t really a problem I had with the book, but let’s just take a moment here to talk about how both of the Quasing books I’ve read so far involve a Prophus defecting to the Genjix. I find it kind of funny that while the Prophus are the group who like humanity and want to preserve us and the Genjix are the group which is okay with eliminating humanity to achieve their goals, for some reason the Genjix treat their human agents better than the Prophus do. In The Rise of Io, Ella complains about how small of a stipend the Prophus were paying her, and now this one opens with Marc betraying the Prophus for the Genjix because they offered him much better compensation. One of Roen’s few complaints which is actually valid is that the Prophus force him to quit his job and then expect him to live on a stipend which is even less than he would get by filing for unemployment. I would excuse it by saying that the Prophus are a smaller group with less resources, except the book makes a point of including a scene where the Prophus talk about how their cash flow is doing great due to lucrative investments in the cosmetics industry. I guess it’s supposed to be a thing where Genjix agents are greedy sellouts whereas Prophus agents are in the fight because their cause is just rather than because they’ll be rewarded, but… this attitude might have something to do with why people are always defecting from the Prophus to the Genjix and never the other way around, is all I’m saying.
Anyway, book does eventually get good once stuff starts going down at the Decennial conference and Roen has to deal with some actually substantive matters rather than just running away from Genjix or doing boring stakeouts; but that’s three-quarters of the way through the book. It shouldn’t take that long for something interesting to happen.
Luckily, I do have assurance from The Rise of Io that this story is actually going somewhere, so I’ll be sticking with the Quasing series. Score one for anachronic order.
Final Rating: 3/5