by Wesley Chu
Last month, I started listening to a podcast, Writing Excuses, which was recommended by a writing colleague at the Tokyo Writers Workshop, Karen McGee. An excellent writer of mystery, crime, and short fiction. She recommended a couple of episodes to help a fellow TWW-er. I piled on. A couple other TWW-ers were already listening, and even went on a writing retreat with the podcast authors. The podcast and the website is run by a half dozen established writers, each with their own genres (Wesley Chu, Piper J. Drake, Mary Robinette Kowal, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells).
The podcast is short, to the point, entertaining, and often interesting and informative. I thought I’d try reading one of their books. I read their bios, checked out the books on Amazon, and decided on Wesley Chu. There are a couple of reasons. I have a soft spot for Taiwan, where the author was born. I lived in Taichung for a year and a summer (back before the Berlin Wall crumbled – gack), which I remember extremely fondly, even the three days that I didn’t have enough money even to buy a bowl of noodles.
The description of Mr. Chu’s debut novel also spoke to me, “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… 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…”
I should also explain that I am a big fan of the 1987 hit scifi film, The Hidden, staring Kyle MacLachlan (of Twin Peaks fame) and Claudia Christian (arguably the greatest scifi actress of the 80’s and 90’s). Here is the description of the movie in IMDB, “An alien parasite with the ability to possess human bodies goes on a violent crime spree in L.A. A human cop, detective Tom Beck, and an alien cop posing as a young FBI agent Lloyd Gallagher both pursue the parasite who frequently changes his human hosts.”
OK, they are not carbon copies, but you can see where I am going here. I knew what I was getting into, and… I got what I was looking for.
The start of The Lives of Tao grabbed my interest. I liked the voice of Tao; kind of a wise-ass speaking in the head of his human host. There was mystery; the Genjix had turned one of the Prophus to their side and were about to complete some important tool/weapon that will tip the balance of power. Tao needs to change hosts, and lands in a grossly overweight computer geek. OK, a Matrix-ey betrayal mixed with James Bond meets The Biggest Loser. I’m game.
I was happy reading till about 2/3 of the way through the novel. That was when it lost its way. Admittedly, I wasn’t looking for Hemingway. But I did want the plot to be more consistent. There were enough holes in the plot, and crowbars to throw characters together, that I wasn’t having as much fun as I had hoped. The last 1/3 wasn’t a slog, it just wasn’t well plotted. And considering that it is a pretty straightforward story, it should have been easy enough.
Still, I continue to listen to the podcast, and I will probably read another of Mr. Chu’s books. I doubt I will read the next in this series, but I’ll give him a try.