Cover image for Chi : a novel of virtual reality
Chi : a novel of virtual reality
Besher, Alexander.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [1999]

Physical Description:
304 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Sequel to: Mir.
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



It is the year 2038 and the world of cyberspace is being manipulated exclusively for personal gain. Wing Fat, the head of a Southeast Asian biotech drug cartel, is siphoning off vital chi essence from enslaved humans held on plantations in the former Golden Triangle. Bootleg chi products -- in increasingly high demand -- are flooding the world's most violent black markets, offering global consumers everything they have always craved; superenhanced intelligence, greater creativity, heightened sexual powers, multimedia implants, and even "short-term immortality." If you can afford it, you can have it. But even the 650-pound chi godfather Wing Fat, who is having an illicit affair with his sentient elevator, can't have everything. It is up to Frank and Trevor Gobi, the father-and-son team of virtual, reality investigators, to make sure of that. In Chi, the third novel of the critically acclaimed Rim series, Alexander Besher takes the reader on an incredible futuristic journey to a fascinating world only the deep recesses of Besher's mind can acutely portray. By following the adventures and exploits of Frank and Trevor Gobi, and their quest to undermine Wing Fat's powerful chi empire, the reader is introduced to the bizarre Southeast Asian world of biotech primates who are half-human and half-orangutan and the bloodthirsty pirates who risk life and limb to smuggle the mutants out of the wild so they can be assimilated into the human world. By uncovering a peculiar tragedy involving a pair of Romeo and Juliet-like primates, the Gobis are led deeper and deeper into the evil empire of Wing Fat until they finally come face to face with the terrifying, gripping truth. Suspenseful and dramatic at every twist and turn, Chi is the perfect final installment to the celebrated Rim series. Besher's first two books, Rim and Mir, were hailed as pioneers in the world of contemporary science fiction, and Chi is the logical culmination to those works. Wildly imaginative, wickedly funny, and devilishly suspenseful, Chi is a wonderfully crafted, page-turning futuristic thriller. A bold and daring novel, Chi ups the ante on Besher's unique brand of visionary mayhem and takes the reader on a fantastical ride to a world no one has ever seen before.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In 2038 there is a Southeast Asian black market trafficking in chi, the vital life force. Baboons captured in the wilds of the jungle are mutated and then given to childless couples in Thailand to raise as their own, which is not strange because people now communicate with fauna and flora, including potted philodendrons. Young world travelers attend raves on an island--and run into their parents. And there are kick-boxing bouts between mutated primates and water buffalos. Besher sets the third book of the Rim trilogy (after Rim [1994] and Mir [BKL My 15 98]) in the Pacific Rim's frenzied future, when it is dominated by corrupt gangsters, mad scientists, and tourists, and distinctions between life-forms as well as boundaries between real and virtual worlds are getting very blurry. The book is so loaded with ideas that it gets difficult to keep up with them. Still, Besher's mixture of Eastern mysticism and futuristic technology sometimes rings true, at other times seems a satirical spoof of today, and at still others is just baffling. --Benjamin Segedin

Publisher's Weekly Review

Besher's pop cult following should be delighted by this psychedelic merry-go-round of holistic mumbo jumbo and virtual reality treats. In 2038, humanity is still searching for the next big score; if not money, then chiÄthe primal life force. The wealthy have access to ways to harness and technologically enhance chi. In the fleshpots of Thailand, Butterfly, a transsexual hooker, is looking to steal chi technology from unsuspecting tourists. Instead, she meets a being so extraordinary, so bursting with supernatural chi, that it may redefine the boundaries of human potential. The story, like a Rube Goldberg device, then bounces into a series of highly entertaining but seemingly random events that ingeniously move the plot forward. Wing Fat, an obscenely obese Asian merchant who markets sex, drugs and decadence, tries to sell a piece of super-size chi. Two orangutans who have humanity thrust upon them through technology see their lives torn asunder. There's a love story related to Paul Sykes, a freelance journalist, through his contact with Rodney the Philodendron, an exceptional plant with recall of the green communications network; Rodney is tapped into by an "algorithm for converting chlorophyll into an organic search engine." These incidents, and many others, lead to an event of cosmic import on an island off the Thai mainland, where the nature of reality may be changed forever by the power of chi. Though Besher's (Rim; Mir) parts may be greater than the whole, and his vision more scintillating than deep, the ride he provides is wildly inventive, provocative and exhilarating as he struggles to make inner space, cyberspace and green space meld into one fluid world. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Virtual reality invading the everyday world as a series of mass hallucinations brings together a group of individuals connected by their relationship to a charismatic and chameleonlike young man who holds the key to the transformation of the world. Set in the Pacific Rim, where Eastern philosophy and cutting-edge technology intersect in startling and sometimes violent patterns, Besher's conclusion to his Rim trilogy offers a fast-moving blend of offbeat humor and dystopian vision. A good choice for most sf collections. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One The Katoey Butterfly Kho Samui, the Gulf of Thailand, April 12, 2038, 10:30 P.M. Butterfly, the transsexual katoey, knew the routine and sniffed the air outside the door of her bungalow. It was heavy with the smell of orchids and jasmine and of sweaty farangs, those foreigners reeking of coconut oil from their day at the beach. Most of the farangs who lived in the row of cheap bungalows (100 baht a night, $4) were still asleep since the afternoon siesta, although the katoey couldn't imagine how they coped with the heat and the mosquitoes in their airless one-mat cells. Zonked out on Mekong whiskey probably, or on Sangthip, the local Thai rum, or passed out from the ganja that they smoked in prodigious amounts, and that Butterfly sold them in little Thai medicine Ziploc bags at an inflated price. Butterfly heard one of them moaning in the hut next to hers, as if he were waking from a bad dream. Waking up, now that was a bad dream....She frowned. She didn't want any part of their bad dreams. Someone else's bad dream could rub off on you if you weren't careful. Butterfly shivered as the bad feeling came upon her. Sang hoon jai. A sudden premonition that something terrible was about to happen. Bullshit, it would pass. She spat on the ground. She couldn't afford to let a farang's nightmare bring her down. Not tonight when so much was at stake. Soon she'd be out of here, maybe she'd open up her own bar in the Patpong. She could lose herself easily in Bangkok. That was a million miles away, up north. Katoeys -- "she-boys" -- had more respect there. Here, they had to peddle their asses at the Coffee Boys Club, or someplace worse. She'd done that herself before she latched on to something better. Like this job, for instance. It involved some risk, but the payoff was ten times what you got for strutting your silicone tits on stage in drag or lip-synching your asshole off to some ditzy Broadway show tune. Butterfly sniffed again. The revelers would soon be on their way. They would be coming along at any moment. There. They were coming now. She could see them heading across the bridge. It was time for Butterfly to get to work. A katoey's work was never done, especially when there was so much stuff to harvest. She had her quota to fill. Kroon, her boss, who owned the Rasta Palace, was the local police chief, among other things. If she fucked up, worst case, he'd have her beaten up and deported to Laos. Worse than the worst case, she didn't want to think about. Look what happened to Pung. What had happened to Pung? Another tragic katoey tale. Rumor was she wanted to sample the goods herself. She rigged up her own lab, dug up the buried treasure (knowing Pung, she probably stashed it behind her bungalow in the brush just off the path), and was either caught in the act by Kroon or by one of his goons, or short-circuited herself in the process. Fucking idiot. Transferring chi from a chi- implant wasn't exactly like giving yourself a self-service brain-scan, which is what Pung allegedly did just to get up to snuff with the latest in medical technology. She'd gone to see some quack medic in Chaweng, who specialized in treating farangs (concussions from traffic accidents, diving mishaps, sexual diseases, that sort of thing), and he'd given her a quick lesson in siphoning chi. They all did that to a certain extent. It was a sideline of the local tourist industry, ripping off the bootleg chi that the farangs paid so dearly to have implanted in the fancy clinics on the mainland. A chi- implant in Surathani, across the Gulf of Thailand, cost 125,000 baht ! Five thousand U.S. dollars! You could live for a year on that -- and support your family, too, in the provinces. Or go into business for yourself by opening up a katoey bar in the Patpong or in Soi Cowboy or at the Na Na Plaza.... Butterfly felt her pulse quicken. All that was so much closer now, within reach, actually attainable. If she played her cards right. For the farangs, the chi- implant offered the promise of eternal youth, and all the delights that go with it. Sex, drugs, endless vitality, and no possibility of overdoing it. A no burn-out guarantee. They could afford short-time immortality at that price. So what did it matter if some poor Thai, nose pressed against the window of their exclusive club, took a little hit from them now and then? If they borrowed some of that charmed life and recycled it back into the indigenous population? Just a little bit of it... Of course, Kroon took it a step further. That's why Kroon was Kroon. The Boss Bitch. Nobody messed with him. Not the local authorities, not the generals, not the politicians (all of whom got their cut -- Kroon saw to that) -- and certainly not anyone who happened to work for Kroon at the Rasta Palace. Like Pung, for instance. Pung who was gone forever. Or like Butterfly. Butterfly, who was ready to spread her brightly colored spandex wings and to fly away -- far, far away -- to some place where the jungle would leave her in peace. Butterfly stepped into the shadows outside her bungalow. One open plastic suitcase, clothes strewn over the mat, a kerosene lamp, and a calendar were her sole possessions. She walked swiftly through the palm grove, past the heaps of decaying garbage, nauseatingly sweet in the humid night air, and put on a happy smiley face. Another rasta temple had once been erected in this clearing, but it had burned down long ago leaving only the charred fresco of Bob Marley's face on the solitary wall left standing, and the charred stumps of bar stools. She paused for a moment to straighten the straps of her blue halter top and to coax her breasts to form the right indentation in the spandex bra to entice the farangs with her cleavage. Then she moved briskly down the path to where the action was. The boom-boom-boom of the Rasta Palace reverberated across the lagoon in the tropical night. The reeds in the lagoon rustled in the breeze and the army of croaking frogs grew silent, blinking away the night forces with horny-skinned disdain. A bit earlier that evening, before the reggae music began blaring from the mega-speakers built into the giant Polynesian tiki sculptures that stood guard outside the club, the frogs had been engaged in a chorus with the kerbau, the water buffalo that was tethered to the banyan tree. It had been a manic, frenzied foreplay of sound -- the throaty razzing of the frogs and the ecstatic, receptive lowing of the kerbau. It would have turned anyone "on." Now the real music of the night was beginning another round of orgasm that the animals had no role in. They could only absorb the vibrations through the swampy backwash of water. The long rickety wooden bridge that led from the village to the disco-island swayed and creaked under the weight of the arriving mopeds. Those who traveled on foot paused in single file to let the putt-putt ing mopeds pass. Then they resumed their procession of bare feet, rubber flip-flops and four-step drive Teva sandals as they headed in the direction of the enormous palm-thatched Thai pavilion that was wreathed with fairy-tale strings of light. The farangs were single men mostly: young, middle-aged, and old, from Europe, America, Australia, New Zealand, and from the richer regions of Asia, with enough baht in their pockets to promise them a good time on the other side of the bridge. Some of them brought their girls with them, young Thai joy-girls hired for the short-time, whatever that short-time was, a night, a week, two weeks, as long as their lust and their baht held out. Or they brought them with them from the "other side" -- from Surathani, Phuket, Krabi, the Phi Phi Islands, or even Bangkok. The girls were pretty, winsome, and delicate, some as young as fourteen, most of them in their early twenties, with long black hair, sea shell-shaped brown eyes; dressed in tank tops, sarongs, and tight white shorts that revealed their chocolate brown thighs. Those that rode behind their farang lovers on the mopeds had their arms clasped around their waists, perched like birds on the back of a speeding cage. They unselfconsciously lifted the plumage of their tails, displaying their coconut-shaped buttocks on the sweaty seats of the Hondas and Kawasaki motorbikes. Butterfly was waiting for them at the end of the bridge, by the stalls that served up skewers of satay and barbecued shrimp, next to the outdoor VDO cinema playing the current garbled film that only the most dazed farangs and their girls would watch, just to catch a breather or to dry off their sweat from the action on the floor. Butterfly was already on the job, mingling with the farangs, clocking their chi. She had her chi- meter hidden inside the macrame purse that she wore tied around her thin neck. The scanned results were transmitted to Kroon's operatives in the back room of the club, where they were analyzed for fair black market value and rated according to the daily printout of high-priority items sought for export. There were so many different kinds of chi life-force energy for sale. Different qualities, different bandwidths, different hues and shades of human desire, human potential, brainpower, sex appeal, and sentient Web sites tattooed on the body. Each site had its own special price, quality of work, and designated life-span. Each type of chi, therefore, had its prospective buyer somewhere on the black market, be it in Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, or in Brussels, London, New York, or Moscow. Kroon's network was vast. He was connected with every major syndicate and chi broker around the world. It was a multitrillion-dollar industry. Occasionally, a farang would walk into the Rasta Palace and the chi reading would go off the wall. There would be something special about the implant, perhaps something proprietary, something that could lead to something else that would provide the real payoff. Perhaps it might be the secret account number of an arms dealer in an offshore bank in the Grand Turks or the Caymans. Or the formula for some new biosoft pharmaceutical that could be sold to a rival company, or even part of an algorithm that when combined with some other little thing -- an enzyme, a string of DNA -- could fuel a massive new industry or send the price of shares skyrocketing. That farang would never walk out again. Kroon's girls, or boys, would go to work on him. Eventually, he'd be lured upstairs to one of the short-time "guest suites" that Kroon maintained for that purpose. D.O.O. -- "dead on orgasm," is how Kroon put it. Kroon would allow them that much, before dispatching them. He had designed the device himself, perversely calling it the "death oyster." The designated joy-girl or -boy would insert the oval-shaped cylinder into their orifice. Sexual friction -- and the lunging of the penis -- would release the poison needle into the head of the penis. It was the look of horror -- more than pain, it was the look of horror on the farang's face, of that final, fateful realization -- that appealed so much to Kroon. Kroon was an old katoey himself. Sixty years old, but with the body of a twenty-year-old, a platinum-blond Thai girl with a body to kill for, or one that would kill for him. Sometimes, just to stay in practice, he would entice the farang upstairs himself. Other times, he would watch the show through the two-way mirror, and videotape the snuff scene. That was another sideline of Kroon's. He had a list of wealthy private collectors all around the world, each of whom paid handsomely for such death-soaps. The dead farang's body would quickly be iced, and the chi- implant would be removed and air-couriered that night to a transshipment point on the mainland for international delivery the next day. Butterfly noticed the farang right away, even before Tan, Kroon's Number One chi- reader, was able to analyze the data and come up with the correct diagnostics. She just had that feeling about him the moment she set eyes on him. Butterfly went by her sixth- or was it her seventh-sense? The same sense that made her a hustler -- not a very successful one, admittedly, but just enough to make her a survivor -- had once run deep and proud in her family tree. Generations ago, one of her ancestors was a village medicine man, a maw pii, who did his work among the hill tribes of the Lao. He was a bone-spirit specialist, who could set the dead free from their bones (or else they lingered on the earth-plane, making trouble for themselves and for their relations; hungry ghosts were angry ghosts). Sometimes even, for a price, the maw pii would bring them back to life again through a mixture of herbs and some artful astral counseling. Butterfly felt her great-great-grandfather awaken inside her, as he spread through her fibers, pausing to adjust to the katoey foliage of her skin. No, Butterfly didn't need a hand-held chi- reader to know that this man was somehow different. Somehow he was not even a man, on some level. He did not belong. Not in the same way that a katoey does not belong to either sex, but on some more tangible, palpable level. Beyond katoey -- beyond this body, but still in the same form... In any case, he was smiling at her as if he knew what she was doing! He was blond, this farang, and tanned and well built, and young. He looked like he did not belong at the Rasta Palace. It was not his quest for pleasure that was stalking her or anyone else in this godforsaken hellhole. Not joy-boy, not joy-girl. Not any of that. Not for him. Butterfly restrained a shiver of belated recognition. Not for it? The real it? His eyes were green, somewhat incandescent, tinged with a cloud of luminosity almost like algae, with a glint to them of the forest and the sea. He was dressed in a simple white cotton Thai shirt and loose-fitting cotton pants. His feet were sunburned, and golden hair sparkled on his muscular forearms. His hands and fingers were well proportioned, square yet tapered. He stood before her and spoke to her in Thai, which was unusual enough for farangs who had not yet lost themselves enough to find roots in this land of smiles. "Brother sister," the man addressed her in a quiet voice that seemed louder to Butterfly's ears than the blaring of the reggae music from the speakers on the tiki totems. "You were thinking that perhaps this was the night you would steal the chi you needed to get away from here and to start a new life." Butterfly gasped. She had stolen one of Kroon's death-oysters and was wearing it now inside her. The lubrication trickled down her backhole. How could he possibly know that!? Butterfly stared at him, the sorrow in her own eyes washed by the tide of some strange new feeling. A feeling that her life as she knew it was about to end, but that it would be just as easily replaced by something else, some new wonder that did not require her to ration her happiness or to dwell on the undwellable pain of living. Was this what her earlier premonition of sang hoon jai was about? Something terrible, something beautiful was about to impose itself on her life. The blond farang sounded almost shy now, as if he were about to propose something that he could not find the words to express. "I was passing through here, on the way to someplace else," he explained. "But I felt you. I felt you calling. That's why I had to come." His chin jutted to a dimpled exclamation point. "I had to come here." He gave her another look, and it flooded her with courage, the often misleading courage to hope again. He spoke to her again softly, kindly. "You wanted to steal, perhaps even to kill for it. I am here to give it to you. It is yours already. You possess it even now. It is in your eyes. Can't you see the difference? The rest -- all this" -- he opened his hands around him -- "is false. It is not real. Not the real chi..." The katoey saw. More important, she understood. Then she said to the man quickly, bluntly. "You must leave here right away. If I must, I will find you. If that is the way. But you must go. Now." She glanced behind her at the entrance to the Rasta Palace. The farangs and their Thai joy-toys were jostling up the stairs, drawn to the beat, drawn to the blazing torches that burned inside where the towering plaster-of-paris idol of Bob Marley stood with his hands raised up to the cavernous rafters of the dance club. "It's hot-hot-hot, feeling hot-hot-hot." The snake-dance was already jumping to the sounds of the band on stage. Kroon's men had not yet appeared, but Butterfly was sure that they would at any moment. When she turned around, the stranger was gone. She thought she saw him crossing the long bridge across the lagoon. But in the melee of motor bikes and the rumbling of the songthaews -- the canopied mini-truck taxis with their hard-seat benches that were unloading their drunken passengers at the entrance to the Rasta Palace -- the moment's confusion drowned Butterfly's senses. Then she saw Kroon and his two sidekicks, Doom and Krik, with their writhing blue Chinese dragons tattooed down their arms. They came for her, and Kroon slapped her hard in the face. Copyright © 1999 Alexander Besher. All rights reserved.