RogerBW's Blog

The Deaths of Tao, Wesley Chu 09 July 2015

2013 SF, by the only non-slate nominee for the Campbell this year. Unaging aliens and their human hosts struggle across the Earth.

This is the book that was in this year's Campbell packet, and it's book two of a trilogy. The first volume, The Lives of Tao, was in last year's packet, but after a somewhat negative review from a trusted source I didn't get round to reading it. I had however forgotten all of this, and came to this as a stand-alone work. And skimmed the last three-fifths of it.

It does an entirely adequate job, at least for the experienced SF reader, of getting one up to speed on what's going on. The aliens are the Quasing (from the planet Quasar, groan); there are two factions, the Prophus and the Genjix; the aliens can only leave a host when that host dies, but can't survive outside a host for more than a few seconds. They don't control their hosts directly, but can communicate with them (as "voices in the head"); it's not clear how they asserted their wishes in the millions of years when they were living in pre-sapient animals.

Yeah, millions of years. They were riding around in T.Rexes. And with that much time to think, I couldn't help feeling they really ought to be at least a little bit smarter than the way they act here. It's all informed attributes: we're told how amazingly clever they are, and they have lots of knowledge, but whenever they have to do something on-stage, they're stupid. In the factional struggle, the Genjix are the bad guys, and the Prophus are… well, also the bad guys, so much so that Chu starts dragging in various historical nasties like a desperate propagandist to try to keep the reader on-side: look, the Inquisition was their fault, they're casually killing people, they're worse than us honest. They do very basic political manoeuvres against each other, care terribly about minor slights, and catch humanity in the crossfire.

I got so hacked off with the aliens ("Tao" is the name of one of them), and with the humans who regard them as near-gods, that I wanted to see a human organisation devoted to taking the bastards down. Instead, the human hosts mostly mope about their failed marriage and go all gooey over their child.

What this book utterly fails to do is make me care. About anybody in it. Not the humans (rather a lot of whom seem to share names with the author's family), not the aliens, not the terminally cute child, not even the dog.

I was mildly amused to see the OTO lumped in with triads and yakuza as another example of a criminal conspiracy, but either Chu is trying to imply far more than he's saying or he really doesn't know what he's talking about.

The book could desperately have used the services of an editor: Angry Robot, I think distinctly less of you for letting it go out in this state. How could one stomach having published exchanges like this?

We have to leave soon if you want to catch that flight.

"I don't want to go."

There are many reasons why we do not want to fight. Your son is a reason why you do.

"You're right. If what we think is happening is true, then Cam won't have one."

Won't have one… what? Was the word "future" meant to be in there somewhere? Or this:

"Why couldn't we just modify the nuclear arsenal this world already possesses?"

"Current working models are inefficient, Father. There is too much collateral devastation and too little catalyst effect."

The planet is of little use to anyone if it is left inhabitable.

I think you meant "uninhabitable". Nobody even read this through, did they? Not that I can blame you for that. What finally prompted me to throw the idea of the book across the room (only the idea, as I was reading it on a Kobo, and I like my Kobo) was this:

"Why did you assign him to me then?" Jill said, exacerbated. "I don't need someone like him right now."

Exacerbate. Exasperate. The point of language is to communicate. The root of wisdom is to know what you do not know, and then to look it up.

Oh, and while there's something of a climax, there's nothing like a conclusion; the third volume is to be The Rebirths of Tao. I do not plan to read it. This is not award-worthy writing and I will vote No Award over it. Still, I suppose if rubbish like this can get published (and nominated for a significant award even over the slate) there's hope for all of us. I'd love to hear from someone who actually liked it, though, because I really can't see how anyone could either regard this as the work of a great writer or think it a suitable lure to get me to vote for him.

ObPedantry: yes, I am well aware that the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer is not a Hugo award.

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