Category: The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
For the Campbell Award nominees I’ve been reading what was submitted for the Hugo packet; Wesley Chu in particular has published more than one novel in the eligibility period so reading everything by the voting deadline wasn’t quite practical. Chu’s entry in the packet is The Deaths of Tao, the second book in his Tao series, so I was jumping into the middle of the story here.
Helpfully, the book was written with enough incluing that I was able to get up to speed on the setting without too much difficulty. The basic premise is that there is an alien species called Quasings which can live inside human bodies. They exist separately from the minds of their hosts, and can communicate with them as a voice in their host’s head. The Quasings are ageless, and move to a new host when their current one dies, but can die themselves if they’re outside a host for too long. Quasings have been on earth since well before humanity evolved, and have in fact directed humanity’s development from the start. There are two factions within the Quasing: the Genjix, who want to exploit humanity for their own benefit, and the Prophus, who are trying to coexist with humanity on equal terms.
This unfortunately runs afoul of one of my literary pet peeves, previously encountered in “The Plural of Helen of Troy”: overuse of historical figures as characters. In this case, it seems that pretty much every influential human ever in time was host for a Quasing and a pawn in the ongoing Prophus/Genjix war. To me this has the effect of making history seem more boring rather than making this book more interesting; real history is filled with fascinating human stories and it feels like something is lost when all that is crossed out and replaced with “aliens did it”.
The good news is that the historical perspective isn’t that important to the story, and mostly appears as little bits of background information sprinkled through the book. The modern-day state of the alien war is much more important—this is really a spy thriller, moving from one mission, gunfight, or chase scene to the next. Its closest relative on the Hugo ballot in this regard is actually Skin Game, but I liked this better: the action scenes are less predictable, and the underlying conceit is pretty novel as well. The ending surprised me enough (in that it shook up the status quo in a way I didn’t expect) that it got me interested in what happens next, so I may check out the rest of this series at some point.
So he’s got me a little hooked, but it’s still squarely in the category of books I take running with me (in audio form): not too deep, something where I can zone out, come back a minute later, and not have missed anything. It’s a good popcorn thriller, but for the Campbell award I’d like to see that the author is capable of more. The concept is intriguing, though, and if Wesley Chu continues to generate ideas like this he could go a long way.