In traditional Chinese philosophy, the Tao is the intuitive knowing of “life” that cannot be grasped full-heartedly as just a concept but is known nonetheless through actual living experience of one’s everyday being.*
That’s not the Tao I’m talking about. Not really.
The Tao I’m referring to is an alien being, part of a race of aliens who came to Earth back in the late Mesozoic Era, about 65 million years ago. One of the central characters of a set of books written by rising star Wesley Chu (The Lives of Tao, The Deaths of Tao, and The Rebirths of Tao), Tao is a Quasing, beings from a far distant world who exist, well, not as energy, but in an incorporeal state, at least as how we understand and perceive it.
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Quasings did not come to Earth by choice. Caught in a meteor shower that damaged their ship’s “cocoon” to the point where regeneration was impossible, their only option was to try landing on the closest inhabitable planet, which just happened to be ours. However, the atmosphere on Earth was not kind – it petrified the ship’s outer membrane causing it to break into several pieces, killing most of the Quasing and scattering the others across the planet. According to Tao himself, “The devastation (of the crash) was massive and caused severe climate changes” to the environment.
In other words, the disintegration of the Quasing ship brought about the extinction of the dinosaurs. And that was just the beginning of their affect on Earth.
The surviving Quasing discovered that they could exist by inhabiting the bodies of the indigenous life forms they came across, in a endosymbiont relationship. When one host died, the Quasing inhabiting it would move to another host. As long as a Quasing could find an organic host to inhabit (regardless of intelligence), he or she could live indefinitely; to have a host die without another host being available would kill the Quasing as well, sending its essence to what they call the Eternal Sea.
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As the eons passed, the Quasing survived by this transference, ever dreaming of returning home. As life on Earth became more complex and intelligent, the Quasing began to influence their hosts more aggressively, pushing evolution to a point where couched technology could be harnessed to find their way back to their own kind (although Quasing cannot force a host to do anything; their “voice in my head” influence is one of cooperation – and manipulation – rather than coercion).
After mankind evolved, the Quasing discovered that great conflict often spurred great innovation, and this realization caused a cataclysmic divide in the alien ranks. Two opposing factions arose: the Genjix, a warlike, aggressive and finely focused group, who believe that humans are expendable in the face of achieving their goals, and the Prophus, a more balanced group who feel that it is not their place to put Quasing life above human life, either directly or indirectly, by inciting unwarranted conflict regardless of the advantageous innovations it may spur.
The glorious thing about how author Wesley Chu shares all this information is that he doesn’t hit the reader over the head with it. Although we learn quickly about the Quasing, it unfolds naturally, with the bulk of the information coming when Tao, a somewhat maverick – and somewhat crotchety – Quasing is forced into a sudden merging with Roen Tan, an unmotivated, underachieving, out of shape yet good natured slob who is in an IT job he loathes but is unwilling to make any significant changes to better himself. Once the relationship between Roen and Tao has been established, we learn more about the workings of the Quasing not only through the action of the stories, but also through little vignettes at the start of each chapter, never more than a paragraph, that not only fill in some historical information about the Quasing and their thought processes, but also their hopes and yearnings, both as groups and as individuals. It almost feels like we are reading Tao’s diary, but one which he expects to be read.
Wesley Chu is a master at this kind of easy-going, intrinsic worldbuilding. In both the Tao series of books, and in his “Time” series (2015’s Time Salvager and 2016’s Time Siege, with more to come; Time Salvager has been optioned to Paramount Pictures with Michael Bay signed on to direct), he crafts stories that are really “out there”, but in such an accessible way, using easily recognizable – and likeable, often laugh-out-loud funny (yet wonderfully flawed) – characters, that we accept them unconditionally, and enjoy where they take us without question. He doesn’t over-analyze or waste time on minutia, concentrating instead on the effects of his worlds rather than the explanation behind them. But they are strong enough and consistent enough – tight enough in their presentation – that we flow right into the storytelling rather than nit picking over how his worlds might not stand up to scrutiny. Why worry about scrutinizing something that’s so much fun?
Mr. Chu has another book releasing tomorrow, The Rise of Io, set in the same world as his Tao series but totally separate. New York Times bestselling author Peter V. Brett says of the new book, “Wesley Chu keeps leveling up. Storytelling that seems so effortless you never see the punches coming.” And Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award winning author Kenneth Liu states, “I’m in awe of this book.” My copy (autographed!) should be coming any day now, and I can’t wait to read it.
If you haven’t experienced any of Wesley Chu’s Tao novels yet, I highly recommend you find a copy of The Lives of Tao and get acquainted with Tao, Roen, and all the other wonderful characters in this world-that-just-might-be. Then be prepared to be thoroughly entertained.
You can thank me later.
~ Sharon Browning
* At least according to Wikipedia.