Blending outrÇ-dimensional, drooly-tentacled, Lovecraftian slipslop weirdness with Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, Laidlaw (Kalifornia, 1993, etc.) lays out a work far more fine- grained than Heinlein's and nearly as compelling as Lovecraft's. San Francisco hack writer Derek Crowe stumbles onto a gold mine when his latest book attracts the interest of Eli Mooney, an elderly wheelchair-bound astral voyager who invites him home. Mooney's the real thing, a seeming crackpot whose phantasmal travels have made him the channel for invading forces shaped like mandalas--``elaborate wheels with wavering arms and spiral centers.'' Aside from three arcane histories that the mandalas have dictated to him, he also owns the skin of a dead Cambodian imprinted with 37 mandalas that focus the invaders' powers. Mooney begins dictating to Crowe, then dies, and so Crowe romps off with the skin and earlier dictation. Published, the evil mandalas make Crowe a famed New Ager, although his The Mandala Rites perverts Mooney's hard-earned fatalism with fluffy New Age optimism. Himself still not believing in Mooney, Crowe writhes ``in the hair shirt of his occult hypocrisy, writing books for the praise of people he considers imbeciles.'' On a book-signing trip in North Carolina, Crowe hypnotizes Lenore, a hippie math genius, and accidentally channels in the 37th mandala, an astral jellyfish that sticks to her head. Lenore and her housemate Michael follow Crowe to San Francisco, where Club Mandala becomes the host center for the mandala invasion that Crowe doesn't believe in. While painting himself into a corner plotwise, Laidlaw strives to resolve Crowe's dilemma at the same keenly drawn level on which it is presented. Stick-fast storytelling and brilliant discursive detail about occultism. Deserves high marks indeed--and those mandalas cry out for celluloid computerization.