Sunday, July 06, 2003

I've babbled a bit lately about Christopher Moore's new book, Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings. I finished it Friday night, as there just seemed to be something about July 4 that lent itself to reading a zany novel about a cetacean biologist investigating an odd mystery.

The mystery? Biologist Nathan Quinn is out on his boat one day, recording whale songs and trying to control his unclean thoughts regarding his very cute new research assistant, Amy, when a nearby feeding whale lifts its tail, and on the underside of the great animal's flukes is written, "BITE ME". Of course, Nathan chalks this up to hallucination, until his rich benefactor informs him that the whale has called her on the phone and asked Nate to being it a pastrami and Swiss on rye.

Much zaniness ensues, involving Nathan's now-lesbian ex-wife, his partner who goes to great lengths to avoid dealing with emotions, a constantly-stoned Rastafarian wanna-be whose Jamaican accent constantly slips, a number of competitor scientists including one very bizarre fellow who studies whales and hates the water, and the requisite top-secret military project.

Fluke has all of the earmarks of Christopher Moore's fiction. Most of his characters are people you'd love to hang out with, and the dialogue is, as always, wonderfully crisp. (Certain passages made me wonder if Moore could take over The West Wing next year, now that Aaron Sorkin is gone. But then, I don't think Moore would do well with network TV constraints.) He keeps the jokes coming, one after the other; and one of the unique charms in Moore's work is that he doesn't provide elaborate set-ups for jokes. Most of his best ones take you completely by surprise, just rising up out of the depths of his plot and characters. You're just reading along, and then you encounter something that has your beverage splattering all over the place.

What separates Fluke from Moore's previous novels is that where he used the supernatural extensively in all of those books, here he is writing pretty-much straight science fiction. There's a lot more depth of research here, and this story feels a lot more…plausible than Moore's earlier efforts. That gives Fluke a uinque flavor amongst Christopher Moore's corpus. Not a better flavor, nor even a worse one, mind you; but it's refreshing because it shows a side of Moore as a writer that makes me think it'll be a long time before Moore loses his freshness.

Fluke may be the second-best novel about a whale ever written. (Ten points from Gryffindor if you can't name the first.) But it's definitely the best whale story since Star Trek IV, and it's way better than Orca. (Has anyone out there seen that movie? The Jaws rip-off with Richard Harris? Anyone?)

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