From Penney (Behind the Gates with the 1%, 2012, etc.) comes a novel about a new psychedelic movement, its charming leader and the variety of people caught up in the details.
Bruno Panoka has come a long way from being an evangelical preacher. “Whereas the documentaries of Bruno Panoka as a child prodigy televangelist…regularly opened with singing, clapping, and raising hands to the Lord,” the narrator says, “here he was kicking things off with a mesmerizing Chakra chant.” Panoka’s latest message is one of spiritual exploration with the aid of psychoactive mushrooms. With his Gaia/Universe organization, Panoka pledges to spread his beliefs. He proclaims on television that “because Sacred Mushrooms are at this time illegal and a tool of Empire’s thought control, it would be self-defeating…to actively promote or engage in the physical ingestion of Sacred Mushrooms.” However, he says, “If we can’t use Sacred Mushrooms, we can indeed talk about the ingestion of Sacred Mushrooms and the opening and freeing of minds—and indeed we will.” Utilizing financial resources and leagues of followers, Panoka is perceived as a threat by mainstream America. Organizing quickly, the opposition strikes with considerable force by protesting and hacking into the Gaia/Universe system. How a man as self-assured as Panoka will respond is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, ex-convict Harry Wimple follows Panoka’s progress from his dilapidated north Phoenix apartment. Having fallen in love with a beautiful acupuncturist, Wimple is doing better than usual, though still not great. The acupuncturist has a boyfriend with whom she seems unlikely to part. When Panoka ends up looking for help from Wimple, he will be faced with a decision that could land him back in jail for the rest of his life. Mixed with characters of different stripes, the book focuses not just on major movers and shakers but on the people they affect. Panoka’s organization doesn’t function on his word alone; it requires administrators, devotees and, eventually, security. Throughout the drama, these and others play their parts; some change to provide novel perspectives, while others remain stereotypes. Whiskey-drinking Walter Dellenbach the Fifth belongs to the latter category, providing little insight into the type of man who wishes to crush Panoka, declaring merely that “We cannot render up control of the species to the rabble.” Slowed initially by Panoka’s penchant for wordy speeches, the action builds in later chapters as readers discover what happens when worlds of disparate philosophies collide.
An exploration of radical movements and the people involved in them, with both action and insight in digestible doses.