I nearly didn’t pick this one off the shelves on the grounds that it looked a tad weird – and recently I’ve read some pseudo-philosophical science fiction that had me wanting to batter my head against a brick wall… But when I saw it was an Angry Robot offering, I grabbed it – and I’m very glad I did.
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 having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…
And that’s the blurb. I really enjoyed this one. As well as providing plenty of thrills and spills, Roen’s painful conversion to a fit, muscle-bound action man is just that – painful. And that’s fine with me. We all know just how hard it is to lose weight and get fit – if it was easy we’d all be doing it at the drop of a hat, so I do get a bit fed up when fictional characters run around a track a couple of times, with a personal trainer yelling in their ear and in the following chapter they’re now sleekly fit and raring to go. Chu really puts Roen through the wringer – and like watching many painful conversions, it includes plenty of funny moments along the way.
Roen is a great character – I liked his panic during his first firefight, his fear before assignments and that he grumbles constantly when he’s bored and cold and feels very intimidated by all the black-clad agents around him. He is far more the sort of hero I can understand and empathise with… I also liked the fact that he is tongue-tied and clumsy around his female trainer – and that Tao has to train him word for word when he wants to ask a particular girl out. The relationship between Tao and Roen steadily grows throughout the book and I every much enjoyed the bumps along the way.
As well as Tao and Roen’s narrative, we also have an insight into the opposition in the form of Chivya, who loathes Tao and is driven by his own ambition to get a seat on the Genjix Council and a desire to defeat the Prophus. The world is chillingly depicted, with the aliens battling for supremacy, and in addition to being responsible for our development, they have also been the cause of most of the major wars that have blighted our history. It’s a neat twist, with many world leaders inhabited by a Quasing. It’s been done before, of course – but I enjoyed this particular version. Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable tale with plenty of action, some humour and an entertaining premise keeping it all rolling forward at a good clip. I look forward to reading the sequel, The Deaths of Tao and have definitely marked Wesley Chu as One to Watch with this impressive debut novel.