Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Alien In My Head

Today is a good day.  Work was surprisingly reasonable (no literal last minute calls), partner was awesome, met Hubbin on the way into the house in a serendipitous bout of timing and to top it all off I FINALLY get some fall weather in the form of a lightning storm of epic proportions.  All of this makes it feel like the perfect time to ramble about an amazing book I just finished, The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu.  What is so amazing about this book (other then it's yellow cover)?  I will tell you, but first, as always SPOILERS AHEAD!
Tao is an alien, and he resides inside the heads of various humans.  He and the rest of his race crash landed on Earth a zillion years ago and have spent the intervening years trying to find a way home.  This was made difficult by the fact that the aliens (or Quasing as their race is called) can only survive on Earth by hitching a ride in a living creature.  Our alien friends jump from one evolutionary step to the next until they get a hold of a couple of homo sapiens.  They find that these creatures can be led and guided to start producing innovations and inventions that lead the Quasing closer to finding a way home.  The aliens also note that violence and war tend to breed the best technological leaps and therefore lead their humans into the bloodiest of situations.  At some point a group of Quasing realize that they are essentially killing off their human hosts and try to find a more peaceful solution, even if it means a longer time to get home, if they ever do.  This group is known as the Prophus.  The rest of the Quasing decide that they are getting home no matter what the cost an form the Genjix.  The two groups wage a war using their vast knowledge and human hosts to try and promote their way.  This all leads to the Prophus Quasing Tao on a mission with his human host Edward.  Tao and Edward have shared a long and mutually beneficial relationship which is sadly cut short when Edward is killed.  When a Quasing host is killed, the alien is released (in fact the death of a host is the only way to leave a host...) and for lack of better host (usually a human host that is in the know has trained for years to become a host for a Quasing and is on hand when the old host dies) merges with a Chicago man by the name of Roen Tam, an out of shape, unmotivated tech worker who live with his roommate a newly graduated doctor.  Roen wakes up to a voice in his head and off we go as Roen learns to accept that Tao is real, not some psychotic hallucination and the history of both his own human race and Taos.  We then spend the next couple of chapters as they span months of Tao training Roen both physically and mentally to carry out the missions that are vital to the Prophus success.  Along the way Roen makes several new friends, some with Quasing of their own, like the attractive and lethal Sonya who carries Baji, a Prophus Quasing inherited from her mother.  Others are normal humans who have been recruited to the cause.  Much mayhem and madness ensues and Roen decides that he no longer wants to participate in the war, he is sick of the violence and the killing and the disregard of human well-being.  Tao gives him plenty of time to come around on his own, as he cannot directly control his host without an insane amount of effort and even then not for long.  Meanwhile Roen begins (with Tao's help) courting an old co-worker by the name of Jill, enjoying his stab at normalcy.  Roen eventually rejoins the fight and more madness and mayhem are read about resulting in the kidnapping of Sonya and Jill.  Roen leads a team with the duel purpose of rescuing the girls and halting some nefarious plan of the Genjix.  Sadly, despite their best efforts Sonya is killed and Bali takes up residence in Jill.  The battle is won, but the war still rages on and the surviving peeps go on to continue the fight.
Whew that was really long, but the book was very complex in a very readable way and the synopsis does it very little justice.  So just what was it that made me love this book?  I think I like how realistic the whole thing was, yes we are talking about symbiotic, near immortal aliens...but it all made so much sense.  I'm gonna focus mostly on Tao and Roen.  Roen is a slightly overweight, junk food snarfing, slogging to work, living a dull life, scared of moving on, jaded guy.  We see this guy all the time, a guy who could be smarter, fitter, happier...but for some reason does not put in the effort.  This is a character the vast majority of us can relate to, which makes it easier to accept the bizarre alien in his head.  The juxtaposition of the two characters is what makes this book so very readable.  They get to know each other over a span of time, they take an even longer time to learn to trust one another, and it is very clear that while Tao is the brains of the operation, he does not control Roen.  All the choices that are made, are made by the man.  The alien has its influence, but human nature tends to take over in the end.  This idea appeals to me on many levels.  The first one is that this is not an easy cop out plot device, an alien does not come and make Roen magically awesome.  Roen has to work and work hard AND he has to choose to do so...given having an alien constantly goading you in your head in a way that is inescapable is a great motivator, still Roen makes the choice.  This is very apparent when Roen decides to step back and Tao holds his peace and allows Roen to come to his own conclusions.  In the matter of his personal life, Tao helps, but again lets Roen choose his own path with Jill.  Tao says he finds it important to let his humans have their own lives as that is what the Prophus are fighting for in the first place.  The interactions between Tao and Roan are awesome, they mostly consist of a very dry and sarcastic Tao goading his host into doing something and Roen snarkily coming right back at him.  The rate and speed at which Roen learns his various skills is fairly reasonable pace for a human...even with an alien backer and I love that his missions start out boring, easy and almost insulting and then progress.  I also really loved the flashback story telling that Tao does at the beginning of each chapter giving us a history without an info dump. Overall I think my favorite part is the plausibleness of Roen, and the other humans reactions in general.  So many times in a book I will think "what the heck, I would flip if that happened to me!" but the character reacts in a wholly unrealistic yet essential to the plot manner, pissing me off.  In this book Roen is allowed to have natural human emotions and reactions to the crazyness going on around him, making him not only readable, but relatable.   There is so much entertainment, action, spying, aliens, sci-fi, Chicago, Tai-Chi, awesomeness all written in a style that keeps you coming back for more.  I give this book 9 out of 10 code writers and recommend it to anybody who wants to read a well-thought out, entertaining, thought provoking, multi-genre tale of super cool.   Happy Reading Everybody!

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