When out-of-shape IT technician Roen Tan 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 training to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

Ever daydreamed of quitting your dead-end job? Of becoming a secret agent? James Bond even? I know I have. That daydream/nightmare becomes a reality for Roen Tan, an overweight computer geek who has only jogged once in his life, and that wasn’t by choice.

We join both Roen and Tao as their fates merge when they are forced, by unhappy circumstance, to co-exist. In the same head. What follows is an at times hilarious, sad and philosophical thriller that has such an excellent pace to it that I read it in less than a day.

Tao is a Quasing, part of an alien race that crash landed on our planet millions and millions of years ago, only to find that our atmosphere is toxic to them, forcing them to become, effectively, parasites living in other creature’s consciousness. Their goal is to try and help civilization and technology advance, in order to try and get home. It’s just there are differing views on how this is best achieved.

The secret history we get glimpses of is fascinating and really well thought out. Historical leaders and influential figures (Steve Jobs is one of them!) are exposed as being hosts for Quasing, with their methods and actions explained in such a way as to make complete sense.

The relationship between Roen and Tao is brilliant. I laughed out loud several times at their verbal sparring and felt a genuine bond grow between them. Roen’s training, in terms of both his physical and mental readiness, was really well handled and we see trust grow and be broken, renewed and cemented. We endure hardships with them and see them learning more and more about each other. This was really the highlight of the book for me. I can’t wait to read more about them.

The action sequences are kick-ass. Chu has a martial arts background and uses this to really good effect. To his credit, it didn’t read like an instruction manual for martial arts, but it felt authentic and, at times, painful! Roen gets beaten up. A lot.

The only thing that was slightly off for me is that Roen became a little too good, too quick. He went from someone who struggled for so long, was rightly extremely nervous on his first armed mission to him suddenly leading a squad of soldiers a little too easily. Chu redeemed this by making him lead them badly, but still. And that’s a very small complaint.

A sci-fi thriller this may be, but it has a lot of emotional depth to it. Death is a constant theme throughout and it was handled in a sensitive and realistic way. Roen struggles at times with his new reality and rather than make this a momentary weakness or something easily overcome, Chu takes the proper amount of time and thought over the problem. I loved to see that vulnerability and the strength it took to overcome.

So please, do go and read this book. I’m certain you’ll tear through it and love it as much as I did. I, for one, can’t wait to see what is to come.

We’ll be reading The Lives of Tao for our August 2013 Sci-fi Book Club. Come and join us here!


By Alex Shepherd

Alex can be found in the rolling hills of Oxfordshire, splitting his time unevenly between fighting crime and raising two little boys (which is surprisingly similar). When he does find a spare moment he crams it full of fantasy or basketball, and due to rapidly ageing knees it's mostly fantasy these days. He's trying to learn the writing craft through sheer bloody mindedness and dreams of the day he has to do nothing else. If you're so inclined you can watch him stalk writers on Twitter - @shep5377

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