The Lives of Tao

Roen Tan is a truly ordinary guy. He’s got a software-coding job he tolerates, his roommate is smarter and better-looking than he is, he visits the bars on weekend, could use a gym membership, and can’t bring himself to asking out that cute co-worker for a drink.

Until one fateful day when Tao, an alien stuck on Earth for thousands of years, is forced to find a host body ASAP–he cannot survive long in Earth’s toxic environment–and Roen is it. This event changes Roen’s life completely as he is thrown into a war between aliens, with his own life in the crosshairs. He must train while his identity is still unknown, or else risk dying and sending Tao on to another host.

THE LIVES OF TAO follows Roen’s training and brings us up to speed on the Quasling’s secret war among the humans. While humans were barely a thought, the Quaslings were stranded on Earth and were key in human development; sometime during the Middle Ages, they broke into factions, their differing philosophies of human development the reason. You can blame WWI and WWII on their struggle, and even events such as a the Spanish Inquisition. You’d think that beings who have lived for thousands of years would know better.

Personally I think this is more a guy book. I’m sure there are some women who’ll enjoy it, but I found THE LIVES OF TAO goofy, campy, and boring. Chu tries to make Tao sound wise, but it doesn’t come across naturally–like a high school kid trying to sound wise without having really lived it.

The prose was pretty utilitarian. There was enough description to get by, but the emotions felt tacked on, as though his editor told him to add some in before the final draft, or else Roen would have felt like a robot (he still kind of did). Roen has conversations with Tao in his head, but I couldn’t always tell the difference between this and what he does say out loud, so that was awkward and confusing. It’s easy to compare Chu with other Campbell Award nominees, such as Max Gladstone, and look at a couple pages of only the prose–it’s easy to see that Chu has a long way to go before his prose loses its awkward choppiness.

Roen himself wasn’t a very exciting guy. Not that he had to be exciting, but he didn’t have much more than a standard personality. I guess that was the point, kind of like the T.V. show Chuck, how the regular guy ends up becoming an agent. But TAO falls flat. Does he have any hobbies? Interests? The secondary characters fare even worse, with Roen’s roommate a mere caricature, his girlfriend woefully undeveloped, and even Tao the wise one himself felt bland.

The story is ok, even a little fun what-if. And I understand the point of the story as Roen deals with his new-found knowledge as well as the new military life that doesn’t suit him at all. But it was so boring. I just didn’t care about Roen doing another tai chi training, or splurging on pizza because of a rough workout, or his crush on trainer Sonya (the host of another alien). It all felt like a meandering lead-up to what should have felt like an exciting, explosive ending, except that his description of action is a perfunctory and bland recount of what fist went where.

My biggest gripe is what the entire story ends up revolving around: Tao forces himself on Roen, who ends up having to train and completely turn his life around for some alien with unknown purpose. How’s Roen supposed to know Tao is actually the good guy? Roen ends up becoming a solider in a war he didn’t sign up for and for which he’s woefully inadequate, no matter how much training he gets. Just doesn’t seem like something a nice alien would do to some poor shmuck.

Read THE LIVES OF TAO and vote for it if it’s better than the other stuff on the Campbell Award Nominations list, but I doubt it is.

Recommended Age: 14+ pretty safe stuff for your teenage boys
Language: Not much
Violence: A fair amount, but not gruesome
Sex: Vague references

Find this book here:

THE LIVES OF TAO

find the cost of your paper

Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

The post A Plague of Giants appeared first on Elitist Book Reviews.

The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.

27