Xiyu (洗浴) is the Chinese word for bathhouse, a microcosm of Chinese society and the primary setting for Isham Cook’s latest adventures in China (familiar as the protagonist of his previous novel Lust and Philosophy). The problem this time, however, is that he doesn’t know how he got there. Abruptly and helplessly Isham is flung back and forth between China and the US at random points in the future, teleported by unknown forces.
China is rapidly growing wealthy with its economic might. The shabby “luxury” bathhouses of present-day Beijing are now genuine erotic utopias surpassing anything the ancient Romans ever dreamed up in their great baths. China is also rapidly taking over large parts of the world, including the USA, at first outsourcing the running of the country to Americans, later directly taking over operations, as it grows more powerful and the US more oppressed.
Meanwhile the nonsense decorative English that appears on t-shirts and other casual paraphernalia in China is discovered to contain the code Isham needs to break free of his enslavement in the fissure between time and space and return to the present. Cracking a code that defies any known logic requires not deciphering it but deriving an original theory to explain it. With a crash course on semiotics he begins to penetrate the code but not in time to avoid being hurled to the endgame, a future America of horror, now a slave colony, and with no way out.