Hippie values prevail in this whimsical satire directed at the military/industrial/academic complex, a debut novel that has become somewhat of a cult hit since it was self-published in 2001.
Tynee University—so named at the insistence of its blustering, egomaniacal president and CEO, Tibor Tynee—has a cozy relationship with big business; narrator Flake Fountain, a molecular geneticist, is especially successful at attracting grant money. The physically unappealing Flake (“chubby, bald, drooling”) is best friends with Blip Korterly and his wife, Dr. Sophia Carthorse. Sophia is still on the faculty, but Blip recently lost his job as a sociology professor. They are old-fashioned hippies, living with their daughter Dandelion in a geodesic dome; Flake finds their playfulness delightful. He has just been given a top-secret assignment by Tynee. The university, together with the military (represented by General Kiljoy), has developed the Pied Piper virus, which disables enemies’ symbolic capacity, rendering them unable to communicate. It’s a significant advance in humane warfare, but the military has yet to develop a vaccine; Flake will be paid $10 million to do just that. The virus has already been tested on humans, with prisoners as subjects; one of them is Blip, who had heard of the experiments and deliberately gotten himself arrested. However, he manages to escape, and joins a wild open-air party on campus, spreading the virus; this entails the termination of the project and a blockade of the city. Throughout the narrative, suspense takes a backseat to philosophizing and linguistic fireworks as Flake holds forth on such topics as love, language, evolution and free will. But not to worry. It turns out that the virus is not as sinister as expected, as evidenced by the happy, liberated populace dancing on the city’s perimeter. Flake concludes that we must love one another, live in the present and act like his neighbors, naked except for their rainbow cloaks.
Shades of Tom Robbins, but the author’s talent for wordplay is not quite enough to sustain a full-length novel.