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Fluke, Or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings

Christopher Moore

Wm Morrow / HarperCollins

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-380-97841-5

Publication Date: 06-03-2003

336 Pages; $23.95

Date Reviewed: 06-03-03

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2003



Science Fiction, General Fiction


Veteran readers of science fiction, horror and fantasy are hard to surprise. I read plentifully and primarily in - and in-between -- these genres, so when a novel manages to drop my jaw, I take notice. Before I'd even finished reading Christopher Moore's 'Fluke', I was busy searching up and ordering the every novel he'd written since the first novel of his I'd read, 'Practical Demonkeeping', and kicking myself for not having done so as the novels came out. 'Fluke' starts out nicely, with Moore's humorous patter keeping things lively and interesting. Quirky characters quip constantly, making the novel an easy-to-read delight. But when Moore kicks in his plots and premises, when he builds up his clever ideas, he will manage to take even veteran fans of weird fiction places they've never suspected would exist.

Weird fiction is usually defined as weird by the events that transpire, not the characters. For Moore, the characters are the beginning focal point. Nate Quinn is a marine biologist studying whale songs off the island of Maui. It's a pretty idyllic and unchallenging life; he records, he studies, he dives, he bums about with his friends and collaborators, Clay Demodocus (the underwater photographer), Amy (his research assistant) and Kona, the stoner Jersey boy who affects a thick pseudo-Rasta accent. All Moore needs to entertain the reader is these four tossing quips back and forth with the practiced ease of professional football players passing the pigskin. Moore has an easygoing prose style, full of smirking jokes and double-entendres that are high on entertainment value and slip into the brain with the stealth of a single malt scotch. These characters are a blast to be around.

If that were all Moore was up to, I'd be happy; it's a fun read that shows off a lot of skillful puns and a playful sense of humor. But as Moore plunges into the heart of his book, everyone, from the most jaded reader of far-out science fiction to the utterly unprepared fan of humorous piffle will experience an electric shock of surprise. Yes, there is a whale with the words 'Bite me' engraved on its tailfin. But how that happened - though it's thoughtlessly, heartlessly and unprofessionally spoiled at - is a matter of the highest and most unfettered imagination.

As I mentioned above, I'd only read Moore's first novel, which had some clever but decidedly lightweight supernatural plotting. That's not prep for the thoroughly mind-boggling journey upon which he sends Nate and his crew. Moore has created some extremely intriguing science-fictional conceits in 'Fluke', and he still manages to keep the chuckles coming. Moore cranks up the adventurous side of his narrative, but he also posits some thoughts on whale communications that are so believable, his afterward, wherein he explains what's real and what's, as he terms it, "magic" is required, riveting reading. He goes about five steps beyond what any reader has a right to expect, and he does it in the same enjoyable style as the rest of the narrative.

Once Moore gets where he's going, he's not done with the surprises. When you think you've seen it all, he ratchets up the weird yet again. This is a man who has been beneficently off his meds for along time. 'Fluke' is good enough to keep you thinking after you're done reading. It's even good enough so that when Moore launches into what he himself calls "the 'We're glad you enjoyed this story about the rainforest with all its cute little animals and charming native people, BECAUSE IT WILL ALL BE A CHARRED DESERT NEXT WEEK!'" portion of the book, you're inclined to listen. If you haven't read all his other books, you might very well be taken by this well-imagined work, enough so that you, like me, will be busy buying up the rest of his stuff before you've even finished this one. For all the high weirdness that one finds within, the reader is not inclined to believe that 'Fluke' is itself a fluke. It's just too good.