A Penetrating look at Foreign Agent: A Novel by Matthew Rapaport

Essay by Wehttam Tropapar

Foreign Agent, a novel, is described by its author as “A surreal absurdist fantasy melding sex, espionage, and a man who cannot say no to a woman.” The purpose of this essay is to evaluate this claim. I will get to that in a moment, but first, by way of full disclosure, Mr. Rapaport and I are very close. I asked him once how Foreign Agent came about. This is what he told me.

“First there are elements of the novel that are true. I do have a blog in which I write a lot of philosophy, theology, cigar, and rum reviews, and also book reviews in the hard and soft sciences, philosophy, politics, geopolitics, and so on. Slavoj Zizek is, in fact, featured in a number of them. The blog has been active since 2014, but it has only a few dozen subscribers, and I rarely get comments on my articles (to which I do always reply), perhaps a dozen or a few more in all these years. I do not write about sex on the blog the subject seems, to me, not to fit it, but I have written a number of adult short stories and with a co-author, one other adult novel mentioned in Foreign Agent (chapter 18). Two other things are true. (1) I am good in bed, and (2) I have had a number of affairs with both married and unmarried women.

In the months leading up to the writing, I read (and reviewed for Amazon) two books, “The Perfect Weapon” by David Sanger (not added to my blog as there were no philosophical dangling questions), and “We have been Harmonized” by Kai Strittmatter. Ironically, neither book could be mentioned in Foreign Agent as both were published in 2018, after the time in which the book begins. The first is about cyber warfare of many varieties. China is not the focus of the book, but it is included as are the U.S., Russia, Iran, Israel, and North Korea.

The second book is all about China, in particular its development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other technology (from street cameras and facial recognition to apps on individual cell phones) to develop the ultimate surveillance state. An official is quoted saying “we can identify the location of anyone in China in thirty minutes.” This is not quite true yet, but it clearly is the goal, and China is well on its way to it. Moreover, the Chinese are not content to perfect this capability within China. It extends also to the Chinese diaspora around the world, and ultimately (in the ideal case) to everyone on the planet. 

In addition, I have, for years, puzzled over how I could use all of my reading to make some money. The blog has been useless for that purpose, and my books (four non-fiction and the pornographic novella) have sold perhaps a few dozen copies altogether since 2012 when the novella was my first (and not very professional) self-published book.  

Having read these books, one morning I was joking around with my girlfriend about how we could be monitored in our homes and on our streets by any device, no matter where manufactured, containing Chinese-made chips. That would be anything from televisions and phones to our Internet-connected appliances. My joke continued by saying that since we were already bugged and monitored, I should invoice the Chinese government. I finished the conversation by telling my girlfriend “the only fantasy in all of this is that the Chinese would pay me!” I headed into the bathroom for my morning shower. It was during that shower I had an epiphany! The key to the whole novel would be that the Chinese offered to pay me for blogging book reviews! With that insight, the whole story fell together in my mind. Finishing my shower, I sat down at my laptop to write, and eighteen days later had a complete draft of Foreign Agent!

I had the luxury of communicating with Mr. Rapaport and asking questions about my analysis. I will thread his answers throughout the document where necessary.

Foreign Agent is a multi-level fantasy. First, there is the story, the basic plot about what happens to the narrator who claims (the story is written entirely in first person and mostly past tense) to be Matthew Rapaport. The story begins in December of 2017 and runs to December 2019. It begins innocently and then moves through various twists to its ultimate conclusion. More on that below. 

Second, there is the element, geopolitical opinion, and politics that is the product of the original fantasy: that the Chinese (or anyone for that matter) would pay Mr. Rapaport for his opinion. Since this is what drives the plot, the process and product must be at least described and treated as though it was important. This material figures twice in the story, near the beginning and again later where Mr. Rapaport does not merely blog his opinions but expresses them directly to senior staff of the Chinese military. In both appearances, it is purely the skeleton on which the original story idea was hung.

The third is sex. This is an utterly imaginative fantasy that goes along with the Chinese paying Mr. Rapaport for his opinion, but Mr. Rapaport does not leave us merely with lurid descriptions (though there are those), the narration comprises a manual on the subject “how to pleasure women.” Like the geopolitical commentary, the sex manual appears in two manifestations, the descriptions of sex with different women who make different sexual demands, and the classes to male cadets Mr. Rapaport gives while he is in Beijing, one of the two reasons he is invited to that city. The book is written at men, a manual on how to pleasure women, but it should be read by women both to help them get off and teach them how to train their men!

Fourth, the book is a marketing device. Not only does Mr. Rapaport find a way to advertise another of his sex books, but in a final twist, we are told that the author who claims-to-be but is not Matthew Rapaport, himself a grandmaster of sex (at least with women), is only “almost” as good as the real Matthew Rapaport! The entire book is said (by fictional characters) to be a “homage to Matthew!” Is Foreign Agent an over-the-top expression of egotistical narcissism or merely a reflection of Mr. Rapaport’s sense of humor? I asked him about this and he replied: “If the book is popular, every sexually frustrated woman in one-hundred miles will be beating a path to my door!” 

This being the case, I asked why he did not include other links to himself, his blog, or his email, for example. He replied that he “did not want to make connecting [to him] that easy. My blog,” he wrote, “is linked to my Amazon author page, and simply googling my name will pull up enough to find me.”

Humor abounds in this book, much of it self-deprecating. Ultimately, the book is a shaggy dog story, a long tale leading to a trivial conclusion. What makes it fun is the absurdity of the story told, nevertheless, in deadpan straightness by Mr. Rapaport who has told me: “most novels, like life, are about something. Even a pot-boiler detective novel is about solving a [fictional] crime with the detective over-coming problems, personal or otherwise. My novel is more like a game or amusement park ride. A game (monopoly or chess for example) or ride is not about anything. The fun is in the playing or the experience, otherwise having no purpose.” To see what is going on in detail it would be best if I go into some detail.

Detail

Chapter one is the fictional narrator’s bildungsroman, an introduction to Matthew Rapaport’s history. From now on I will refer to him as “the author” (without the quotes) because the history given here is utterly false as it concerns the real Matthew Rapaport. Normally this is a tacky way to introduce the main character, even in the first person. Maybe especially in the first person. But from this point, the story’s plot finds its legs quickly and assumes the reader now knows why the author is the popular figure he is. Specifically, we know why women simply invite him to bed. Not because he is some magnificent-looking hunk of man, but because he has a reputation for being a good lover! 

Chapter two begins with a simple rainy day scene-setting and an accidental meeting with a woman (both bundled up in rain gear as they are outside) who surprises the author by addressing him as they pass one another. The author naturally responds, and in only a few lines of dialog, the woman, Jane, reveals that she knows quite a bit about him. On learning this, the author’s first reaction seems to be that she must be a Chinese spy. To his further surprise, she immediately confirms this, even revealing her rank in the Chinese army (the PLA or People’s Liberation Army). Notice there is no literary subtlety here, no played-out process of suspicion and subsequent discovery. The author needs Jane to be a Chinese spy to fulfill the first fantasy idea that triggered the book’s writing: that China would pay him for his opinion, so he simply establishes it in the most straightforward possible way. 

Introduced in chapter two is the need for the author to register as a foreign agent, a theme that runs only through the first few chapters, but lends the book its title. Several other things are revealed in chapter two in good literary style. The omniscience of Chinese intelligence is first suggested (Jane knows everything about the author), as is the rationale for the Chinese interest (mosaic intelligence) in the author. The spy hints that there is a bigger picture of which the author is only a part. 

At the end of chapter two, Jane invites the author to bed. Chapter three is the first sex scene.

The real action happens after sex, where Jane and the author solidify their agreement (he signs a contract). The chapter also introduces Chinese omnipotence. Jane’s people, it would appear, have control over the local lobby security camera system!

In Chapter four the author begins the assignment for which he is being paid. He talks about it in some detail because he wants to show he took his work seriously and that it was serious work in the sense that it consumed time and attention. Chinese omnipotence is signaled again here, as he is paid as soon as he delivers his first assignment. He never gave Jane his bank account number (omniscience), but the money just appears in his account (omnipotence)! No timecards, no two-week (or longer) delay, not even a receipt to be signed (the Russians make their spies sign receipts for cash)! More fantasy! Not only are the Chinese paying him, but they are also the best employers he has ever had!

In chapter five, now six months later, he again meets Jane. Again she invites him to bed. This becomes the only sex scene in the book with the same woman, alone, twice. The author here wants to illustrate that even the same woman can want different things at different times, all part of the sex-manual layer.

After sex, however, Jane makes a new business proposal. She wants him to begin writing in response to secret emails that require the author to install Chinese software on his laptop. This is the twist into what might be espionage. The author is not to be privy to any military secrets or other information of political or technological value, but for whatever reason, the content of this new material (he is to continue also with the old) is to be kept secret. The author is explicitly aware of the potential problem. Not the material he is to write, but the presence of Chinese military software. Would his foreign agent status (for in the intervening time he applied and received it) protect him? He has to sign more papers.

As chapter six begins the author installs the Chinese software, and soon receives his first secret email. It turns out to be a trivial commentary on an essay by Slavoj Zizek, a presently popular philosopher. The author wonders why this should be so special, but as with chapter four, he shows us that he takes the project seriously with his own commentary on the Zizek article in response to the email. Now as it happens this particular Zizek article is about sex in a psychological, social, and political context. The author chose this essay to write about because its subject comes back into play later on in the story.  More months go by. The author continues with his normal work for China, and then receives another special email, a short novel. Just as he begins to look at it, two FBI agents show up at his door. He deletes the mail. 

Every novel should have an antagonist. Then again there are no rules in novel writing (see “How to Read Novels Like a Professor” by Thomas Foster). These two FBI agents introduce a little uncertainty, suggesting that the author is indeed involved in espionage. They threaten to return, possibly arrest him, but events take over, and except for two later mentions, the FBI agents are only a shadow adversary. They never interfere with anything that happens subsequently. They do inform the author that Jane is really Hui Jinping, and has escaped to China. Mr. Rapaport told me that he intended, originally, to make further use of the FBI, but this proved unnecessary to the rest of the story. He left them in, however, to get a little tension into the story, and highlight the contrast between the dour-American lack of humor and the humor of the Chinese (coincidentally, just like his). 

In chapter seven the secret story comes back. Like the earlier geopolitical material, the author gives us the plot of this novel within a novel, a silly and poorly written story about humans on another planet who encounter aliens. It turns out the aliens are sexually compatible with humans (though cannot reproduce with them) and as it happens so much better in bed than humans (both sexes) that their presence disrupts the previously thriving human society. The author wonders (as do the readers) why this sort of nonsense is worth secret emails, FBI intrusion, and more money than the original work. But the author here cleverly foreshadows the plot of the rest of the book. We also see the literary reason for all the geopolitics of previous chapters. The seriousness with which he responds to this silly story would make no sense without illustrating the author’s seriousness about the job generally. 

More time goes by. More regular work, no further secret emails. The author is confused, a bit insecure. Then, on another walk in his neighborhood, now almost a year after meeting Jane, he meets Joan, a little older than Jane, a major in the PLA, possibly Jane’s commanding officer. Nothing of substance is discussed between them, but she does invite him to bed. 

Chapter eight begins with another sex scene, but this one is different. Not just sex, but an experiment on Joan’s part, and then discovery on the author’s part that suggests the stupid sci-fi novella, but Joan refuses to explain herself. Joan has no new business to discuss. Perhaps Joan’s only aim in making contact with the author was sex?

Chapter nine sets up the rest of the book. Only two days later the author meets Joan again. There is no sex this time, but an invitation to travel to Beijing and share opinions with PLA senior staff directly. In addition, Joan tells him he is to teach a class to junior officers, the subject being “how to pleasure women”. This is yet another twist in the basic “Chinese will pay me” fantasy, but this chapter’s purpose seems to be the beginning of the fantasy’s hyper accentuation.

The chapter covers the author’s travels to Beijing. The trip’s first leg, a U.S. domestic carrier, is “a cattle car”. The next leg, a fourteen-hour flight to Hong Kong is in utter luxury! The author is treated to a pod with its own bed and mini-bar. He is served magnificent meals prepared by master chefs actually onboard the plane! He is served by two people, a young man, and a young woman. There is no sex here, in fact, the author sleeps through most of the trip thanks to a pill he is given by the young woman. More Chinese omnipotence here. The cabin crew was instructed to make sure he sleeps! The author does not imply that he is the only person on board (the cabin crew is away presumably dealing with other passengers), but he doesn’t mention the other passengers. The author here elevates the “someone will pay me” fantasy to ridiculous levels, as he is treated to something like the most expensive commercial flights on the planet.

From Hong Kong to Beijing is also all first class, but as the trip is shorter (only three hours), it is not elaborate like the prior flight. The author uses this flight to make an observation about the Chinese “one-child” policy and cultural deference to male children (the cabin crew is all young men). The plane lands in Beijing late at night and the author meets up with both Jane, Joan, and a male officer, Bojing, who is their driver. He learns Joan’s real name “Lia Zhang” and that Hui is now a major, and Lia a lieutenant colonel.

The author is whisked off not to a hotel, but to Chinese military headquarters somewhere outside of Beijing where he is briefly introduced to some high-ranking officers, though on this occasion they are not in uniform. The reason for his need to sleep on the plane, their late hours, is explained (Joan/Lia had mentioned it without elaboration). He will work with this group through the middle of the night each night he is there, and sleep through the day! This device turns out brilliantly. By having to sleep through daylight hours, the author saved himself any need to describe the sights of Beijing! Another of the author’s devices begins here.  Besides Hui and Lia, the officers in the room are a woman, general Singh, and four men, all colonels. Although the men happen to outrank Hui and Lia, the woman, the general, outranks them all. 

Where will the author sleep? Some military barracks? No! Following his first brief meeting with the PLA, he is taken to the most expensive hotel in all of Beijing where he has a suite replete with a built-in steam room in the bathroom (yes, this is a foreshadow)! The “pay me” fantasy reaching yet more ridiculous heights. Hui and Lia do accompany him to his room and give him a quick tour, but there is no sex. The women leave. The whole point of this chapter seems to be to hyper accentuate the absurdity of the fantasy. Mr. Rapaport tells me that as he ended one chapter he really only knew the beginning of the next. The story was self-evolving as he wrote it, absurdity piled on absurdity!

Chapter ten begins the author’s work in China. Having slept through the morning and afternoon, eaten, explored the hotel, he is whisked to HQ by Bojing. The women are not present. Interestingly, Bojing is the only male character of substance in the whole book. The author and Bojing have conversations on rides to and from HQ (they are alone in the car until chapter fourteen). More than a driver, Bojing is also the Author’s escort around the corridors of the headquarters.

Again in the conference room, there are three women and three men. This time (and from now on) all in uniform. General Singh who he has met introduces General Yuan (female), the other woman, a senior colonel, and the three men, all colonels. Again the women outrank the men. Having made introductions general Singh leaves, the interview begins. The author uses this literary space to expand upon his geopolitical and socio-cultural opinions (ironically like Zizek). Interestingly, while general Yuan becomes a character with a small subsequent role, the other woman in the room, the senior colonel, never plays a part. I asked Mr. Rapaport about this, and he told me that as the story developed, there wasn’t really room for her.  

After three hours (now midnight) they break for lunch. Again the fantasy twist. In the middle of the night, there is a fabulous buffet in the next room, the most delicious Chinese food the author has ever tasted. The conversation is lively. One of the colonels (male) asks about the author’s other purpose in Beijing and jokes that there is little to say on the subject of pleasuring women. The author then delivers a quote from one of his former lovers. Mr. Rapaport has sworn to me that this is a genuine quote from a real woman he knew in the Biblical sense. In response, general Yuan says something to the colonels in Chinese. They are horrified. Something else is said. The colonels relax. The author of course does not understand any of this.

Following lunch, Bojing is again present to escort the author to the bathroom, and then to his next assignment. Here he meets again general Singh who is at first alone with him in an empty classroom. She shows the author how to work the electronic whiteboard, and activates the class which happens to be holographic avatars! Chinese technology puts an entirely virtual class in front of the author. General Singh addresses the class, tells them no subject related to sex is off the table, hands the class to the author, and leaves.

The next four hours are spent with the class lecturing and answering questions. The author uses personal stories (the real Mr. Rapaport has told me the “Larry story” is absolutely true, except that Larry was not the man’s real name, and he did not work for Mr. Rapaport but was a colleague, another software engineer). Here, besides the sex described in scenes with various women, is the other half of the sex manual. After four hours, the author is escorted by general Singh back to Bojing for the ride back to the hotel where he sleeps. Bojing tells the author what it was General Yuan said to the male officers that terrified them. Both the author and Bojing laugh heartily about it.

Chapter eleven begins with the author waking up on day three now (counting the first night’s brief meeting) in Beijing. It is early-mid-afternoon. He goes down to the gym for some exercise. Upon returning to his room, he is about to shower when of all people general Singh knocks on his door. Under her winter coat (it is December in Beijing after all) she is dressed to the nines! The author explains that he must shower, and she unhesitatingly tells him she would love to try the steam room/shower. Not only does she strip in the suite’s bedroom and jump into the bathroom, but she (of course) also invites the author to join her.

Sex comes next, but not before a little kink, and as it turns out another sexual twist, though nothing resembling the alien story. After sex, General Singh must make a few calls to delay tonight’s meeting and Bojing’s pick-up time. 

In chapter twelve, Bojing tells the author that the general has never called him directly with an order before. The author responds only that “I am not at liberty to discuss this!” More geopolitics, General Singh makes a double entendre worthy of James Bond (in fact stolen from Goldfinger), and there is the next class. This is a long chapter mostly involved with the fluff of the geopolitics and sex manual. Back at the hotel, the author goes to sleep.

In Chapter thirteen it is the early afternoon of day four when the author wakes. He goes for a workout and swim where he meets the very pretty, and young, Yueliang. They chat, they meet in a hotel restaurant for lunch. Yueliang suggests dinner later, but the author explains he must work at night. She changes the suggestion to breakfast the next morning when the author returns to the hotel. At headquarters, more geopolitics, more sex class. Back at the hotel, the author breakfasts with Yueliang and of course has sex with her. Yueliang has a birthmark on her inner thigh, a crescent moon (Yueliang’s name means moon). Sex with Yueliang is not ordinary sex. There is something strange, alien, about her tongue. The reader is again reminded of the alien story! Having had this strange experience, once again the author sleeps through the day. 

Chapter fourteen now awake again, to Bojing, to HQ, more questions, but a different group of officers, chaired by Senior General Gao (a woman who again outranks all the men in the room). Different questions too, this time sex culture in America. After the geopolitics, but before the class begins, a trip to the bathroom goes awry. Bojing is detained, the author opens a door to a room where couples are having sex. He recognizes Yueliang, this time sees the alien quality of her tongue, and her partner, a man with a six-inch tongue! The door closes, the author finds his way to the bathroom where Bojing catches up with him. The author is clearly in a little shock. He tries to conduct the class but has a hard time focusing and is interrupted early by General Singh who takes him back to Bojing. Hui and Lia, along with General Gao are also present. Everyone leaves except Bojing, the author, and Hui. They get into the car. Hui induces the author to drink something. He falls asleep in her affectionate embrace!  

At the opening of chapter fifteen the story has been through three shifts: the first work, the second more secret work, the trip, and the first three days in Beijing, and now what? The author wakes up dreaming of James Bond. He is in some other hotel room with Hui and Lia, later a third woman joins them. He learns that he has been out for four days, factions in Chinese intelligence want him dead. His friends managed to smuggle him out of China. To where? As it happens to Bangkok. 

The author is told that he is a prisoner in this hotel. He is shorn of computer and phone, told that his life in America has been erased, though his money has been transferred entirely to Thai banks. He has no way to check on his prior American identity. He is now Francis Nash, a British citizen.  He is informed that if he stays put and learns Thai (the third woman’s role is to teach him. Of course she is physically appealing to the author) he will be given greater freedom. We never learn why this very strange and specific requirement is the case, but the utility of it emerges later in the story.

At this point, any normal American protagonist would reject what he has been told and risk life and limb to restore his American identity. Chapter sixteen opens with the author’s decision. He will hang around, learn Thai, and see what happens next. Besides his language teacher (they have sex eventually of course) he meets two other women, Buppha and Charanya who come to clean his room every day. Why this much cleaning should be needed I do not know. Nor does the author, and he asks about it. But these women ultimately answer to the Chinese, so every-day (for a while) it is. Of course, he has sex with them also, the first time, both together! It is here, that one of them, Charanya, slyly suggests the author write a book! He begins to consider it.

By chapter seventeen, the author has had sex with his language teacher (Anchali) twice and is having an ongoing affair with Buppha and Charanya. Most of this sex is not described. Eventually, Hui and Lia show up, have sex with him (a second menage a trois!) and they inform the author that he has successfully learned Thai and is now free to move about all of Thailand should he so desire. A few items are cleared up, in particular, the reason for the blow job by Yueliang in Chapter 13, specifically why he was chosen as the test subject (hint: see chapter eight)! After sex Hui and Lia leave him. He begins to think about the book he will write. A way to reveal what he has seen without blowing everybody’s cover. 

Chapter eighteen, the author tells us, must be the last. Here he reviews the scheme he came up with to write the book without a computer, but first, he denies that he is or ever was Matthew Rapaport.  What is going on here? Obviously, Matthew Rapaport exists, while the author’s American identity was destroyed in Chapter 15. Having obtained a computer (which he cannot use to write his book, see below) in Thailand, he does some searching and discovers that, indeed, every trace of his original identity has been erased. He cannot write the book as the British Francis Nash, he would be exposing himself, Hui, and Lia. 

He now has a computer, and a real phone, but he knows they are bugged and cannot use them for the book. Before the work ensues, he makes arrangements with Anchali, Buppha, and Charanya (he takes them out to an elaborate dinner away from the hotel) to continue housework, and language tutoring, this time Mandarin, allowing him to continue having sex with the three women. As for writing the book, the rest of the chapter describes the process, including the involvement of another American, Harry, who has lived in Bangkok since the 1970s and is part of its criminal underworld. It is Harry who suggests Matthew Rapaport, an American author who has a blog, and has written some books and stories including pornographic ones. In short, they find a man like the author and conspire (without his even knowing) to hack his amazon account and publish the book under his name. Of course it makes sense that all references to the author throughout the book must be changed to Matthew Rapaport, and even the author’s denial that he is Matthew Rapaport at the end makes sense in a sort of perverse way. 

Many differences and similarities between Francis Nash and the real Matthew Rapaport are highlighted. Both, for example, published an erotic book on Amazon. The book Nash, before he was Nash, published is gone, obliterated along with his original identity. Matthew Rapaport’s book is explicitly cited! Matthew has studied marketing 101! This is the set-up to the twist in chapters nineteen and twenty. A foreshadowing – not all is as it seems. You would think this would be the twist itself, but no. Like a good Beethoven symphony, Matthew has a grander ending in mind.

In addition to the book writing, chapter eighteen alludes to sex with the three Thai women, Hui and Lia, and also the three generals (Singh [again], Yuan, and Gao). None of this sex is described explicitly but summarized in quips. Having finished the book the chapter ends in December 2019 two years after the book begins (December 2017) with the author looking forward to 2020 (a sardonic reference to the pandemic about to hit the world). 

Yet this is not the end of the book. Chapter nineteen is an epilog written by none other than (he claims) the real Matthew Rapaport who was, apparently aware of this book project in 2017 sometime after he suggested it to Jane and Joan. In this chapter, Matthew goes so far as to suggest that the book is entirely fiction (yet serving Chinese interests), except for his knowing Hui and Lia as Jane and Joan! Matthew explicitly denies that he ever knew about Chinese genetic experiments, or what was going on in China, but he did invent an original story about that very subject and shared it with Hui and Lia (Jane and Joan to him), including the idea of revealing it to the world in an erotic novel so that, when the “real thing” (Chinese genetic manipulation of sexual powers) was noticed, no one would take it seriously!

The one thing Matthew claims (by implication) is true, is his affair (nineteen years of it) with Jane and Joan! Concerning this, his last word is “…they always invited me to have sex with them. Why should I complain?” This is the book’s key line. It is the line that ties the character of Francis Nash (or whomever he was) to Matthew Rapaport. 

Mr. Rapaport is not content to end here; he gives the final word (chapter twenty) to his main characters Hui and Lia (now promoted to lieutenant colonel and colonel respectively). If Matthew’s epilog seemed to cast doubt on the whole story, the two women affirm the whole book (or do they? A short quip at the end sows confusion). They readily admit that Matthew did invent a plot very similar to what was going on already in China, but that he did not know of this work. However, they claim the novel-idea, in particular an erotic novel, along with the recruitment of someone like Francis Nash to carry it out, was Matthew’s “seminal contribution” (perhaps the novel’s best pun) to the whole project! 

What is going on here? The Chinese are not interested in helping Americans have better sex lives (though some will undoubtedly benefit), but rather to sow confusion and suspicion further setting Americans at one another’s throats. Matthew was joking when he suggested that revealing [what he took to be fictional] the plot to divide Americans by providing better sex than Americans themselves can manage via an erotic novel no one would take seriously would exacerbate the acrimony between sexes, and give the Chinese leverage to deny the story (just a silly novel) at the same time! 

So why didn’t Hui and Lia just write the novel themselves? Matthew suggests just this (remember to him Hui and Lia [Jane and Joan] are real) in his epilog, but in this last word, the two women insist that the novel was written by the man they dubbed Francis Nash who actually witnessed that about which he reported! It is these two endings, both epilogs, that render the whole novel a shaggy dog story. In fairness to Matthew, he has told me that his favorite science fiction author of all time is Phillip K. Dick, and Dick’s novels always end with a twist that takes the reality conveyed in the bulk of the novel and turns it around on itself, suggesting it is the fantasy all along. In “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldridge” 1965, there is a double twist leaving the reader unsure of just which reality or fantasy he inhabits at the end of the story. This was (I am told) the purpose of this novel’s double epilog.  Of course, Phillip K. Dick was a writer several cuts above Matthew. Matthew would be the first to agree.

Finally, a last line about the last line. I do not want to spoil the ending, but in the book’s literal last line, Lia (now a full colonel) makes an announcement that is completely ridiculous. Conceiving a genetically manipulated baby just doesn’t happen that way, and Matthew (the real author) knows this perfectly well – he was a biologist before he became a philosopher and geopolitical pundit. This declaration is the final absurdist capstone to the novel, demonstrating that no amount of reality is spared for the sake of the joke!  

The novel is fully wrapped up here, no sequel is foreshadowed. Matthew, however, has told me that there is a second novel in progress in which all of the characters return. It turns out, Francis Nash (still writing as first person narrator) and the others, all have roles to play in an alien invasion of Earth! I cannot wait!

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