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 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. – excerpted blurb from Angry Robot website –
Wesley Chu’s The Lives of Tao (available through Angry Robot, as well as other outlets) was one of the 2013 reads that I enjoyed a lot. Chu’s writing is energetic and the storytelling is very well-paced. There’s something to be said too about how Chu keeps the tone of the novel lively and fresh. It never drags and one can’t help rooting for both Tao and Roen. I bought my copy of The Lives of Tao because I was intrigued by the premise and I came away quite happily surprised. It’s a very well-written first novel and it comes as no surprise to see Wesley Chu shortlisted for the 2014 John W. Campbell Award for best new writer.
With apologies for the delayed publication, I present this interview with Wesley Chu.
I found the premise behind Lives of Tao to be quite intriguing (which is why I bought the book). Would you like to share a little bit of the inspiration behind it? What was the seed for this novel and what process did it take for that seed to grow into the book it is today?
I originally started writing The Lives of Tao to explore explaining history from the viewpoint of the man behind the curtains. What if the events that unfolded in our past happened for reasons other than what we thought they were? There are so many events that happened that didn’t make a lot of sense and I wanted to use these events to tell a new story.
However, that plot idea took a bit of a back seat when I put Roen and Tao together. Couple that with a few world building rules about how they were forced to interact—the Quasing cannot control the host and the Quasing cannot leave the host until the host’s death— and the story took on a life of its own. It became a late coming-of-age and buddy flick, except with guns, Kung Fu, and aliens.
Would you like to tell us how you came to genre? What was your first exposure to it and what made you decide that you wanted to write Science Fiction?
My first exposure to SFF was Lawrence Watt-Evans’s The Misenchanted Sword and Piers Anthony’s A Spell for Chameleon. I had just moved to the US a few years earlier and English professor father wanted me to read more.
Of course he dragged me to the classics section of the bookstore. I’m sure he had hoped I’d pick up Beowulf or Utopia or A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream, or something else along that line. Instead, I made a beeline toward all the books with the pretty pictures of dragons, manticores and all that good stuff. The rest is history.
As for ending up writing the genre, it’s all about writing what you want to read. Ninety percent of the books on my shelf are fantasy and science fiction, so it’s naturally what I gravitated toward when I decided to write my first book.
What are some of the challenges that you faced in the writing of your first novel? How did you overcome these challenges?
Oh man, there are a lot of challenges to writing a novel. To be honest, my first attempt at a novel is a fantasy book called Woes, Toads, and Crossroads, and it sucks. It’s also the most important book I’ll probably ever write. I made every mistake possible with that book and eventually trunked it. However, I took my lump, learned my lessons, and mourned for a week about it over a case of two buck chuck (really cheap ass wine). Then I put it aside and wrote The Lives of Tao.
So what are the challenges? Every writer starts out writing crap. Well, most of us do I think; I can’t speak for everyone. There are geniuses out there that are just that brilliant. I hate them all. Okay, I actually know a few of them and they’re pretty cool people.
However, writing a novel is full of trial and error, and dozens of dead ends. You’re going to make mistakes, and you’re going to want to give up. At the end of the day, just realize that being bad at writing is one of the steps up the ladder of eventually being good at it. By the way, it doesn’t get better. I’m on my fourth book now and still struggle with many of the same issues I had with when I was working on my first book. I just hope I’m better now at identifying and fixing them.
I found it interesting that soon after Tao leaves Edward, he actually sees a young woman who would be an excellent host for his self. That chance escapes him though and he ultimately finds a male host. I’m quite curious about this choice as it makes me wonder how the story would have read if you’d opted to embody Tao in a female host.
Tao’s had female hosts before and to be honest, at least in that particular situation, I’m pretty sure he would have been much better off if he had reached that potential female host. Let’s face it; Roen was pretty much a putz and a complete fixer upper when the readers first met him. Tao had his work cut out for him.
What if I had used a female host instead? I explore that a bit in the next book, The Deaths of Tao. Overall though, I don’t think Tao would have treated her much different than how he treated Roen. After all, the Quasing don’t care about the sex of the host as long as they can get the job done.
Did you consider making Tao embody as a woman or was it just something needed for the scene? What was the underlying decision in making Tao continue to inhabit a male host body?
(Not criticizing the choice, I’m just curious about this as I am also continually curious as to why Dr. Who is constantly male.)
No worries. I totally wanted Tilda Swanson to be the next Doctor Who. I think that would have been awesome. I think a male pov was who I always had envisioned when it came to the story. To be honest, I saw a lot of me in Roen when I first fleshed out his character and naturally wrote it out that way.
In the sequel, the story is told in three povs, one with a female host operating in the political arena for the Prophus. I explore not only her struggles in juggling being a political operative, but also of being a mother with an estranged husband. Personally, I think she’s awesome and her estranged husband is a fool, but hundreds of years old alien wars do put unique stresses on relationships.
A sequel to Lives of Tao is coming out soon. Would you like to tell us about it?
The Deaths of Tao (October 29th, 2013) is dropping in a few weeks. In the sequel, it’s been a few years since the events following Lives. Things haven’t gone well for Roen or the Prophus. The Genjix are consolidating their power over the world’s governments and his life is falling apart.
There are a few new players and this time, the reader is introduced to Enzo, a character that is part of the Genjix’s super soldier program called the Hatchery. He’s better than you, and he’s going to make sure you know it. The stakes are ramped up and the war between the Prophus and the Genjix takes a serious turn for the all-hell-is-about-to-break-loose. Basically, in The Deaths of Tao, the training wheels are now off.
What else is in the works? What else can we expect from you in the future?
I just recently signed a deal with Tor Books, so I’m working on a book called Time Salvager, which hopefully should hit shelves in 2015. It’s about a man named James who travels back in time to scavenge for resources from a more prosperous past. There are strict rules with salvaging from history; first among them is that only dead end time lines—events that do not affect the present—can be salvaged in order for the time line to not affect the present.
Where can we find you on the internet?
**Since this interview, the second book in The Lives of Tao series has come out. Click on the images.
**Photograph of Wesley Chu was provided by and used with permission of Wesley Chu