Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Closing Thoughts: Fluke, or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings

Pages: 321.
Pages read to date: 680

Fluke was recommended to me by a friend who stated that Christopher Moore has one of the most creative imaginations she's ever seen. I concur that this book is an incredibly creative story, a type of science fiction that starts with science rather than just saying, "They're in space. And there's robots." (None of this story takes place in space, that's just an example of some of the sort of thing that gets classified as science fiction, but it seems to me if there's no science anywhere in the story it may fit better into fantasy, robots or no. But I digress. I may write more on this later) The book dealt extensively with the ocean and with marine life, and as a young man who spent a lot of his early life wanting to be a marine biologist, I found it awakened some of that 12-year-old manatee nerd that's still deep down in there somewhere.

I liked this book; I actually found the first few chapters fairly annoying, but I was thoroughly entertained most of the way through. It was not a great book, but it was a very strong story that pitted likable (or at least like-to-readable) characters in some pretty fantastic circumstances while doing an admirable job of making most of it make sense and not be a bunch of random crap for the sake of writing an off-beat novel. I say "admirable" because I don't think it really succeeded all the time in explaining itself; a few concepts could have used a bit more time to help us see how a certain character makes the jump from Assumption A to Action B, and there are times when the humorously-disturbing background stories don't seem to necessarily correlate to the trait or event they are supposed to be laying the foundation for, but overall there is an awful lot to like in this book, if you can manage past the profuse obscene language at times and the vast quantity of fairly graphic sexual humor.

I guess I would classify this one as "somewhat recommended, with reservations," because the language and sexual content are pretty prevalent. It's what my friend Dave would call a "palate-cleanser." Nothing terribly great nor profound, but a good entertaining storybook.

Best awkward funeral scene I've ever read. Choice.

I hadn't really expected the environmentalist/evolutionary angle the story takes, but then again I should have since it was dealing with whale biologists. I know these are both turn-offs for some folks, but neither bothered me, because they were part of the story, and they weren't brow-beating agendas, and besides, the environmental angle was about not killing whales, and really, who can disagree with that?

Some more spoilerish thoughts after the synopsis:

This story is about marine biologist Nate Quinn, a thrice-divorced humpback whale behaviorologist (not a real word, but a great way to describe what exactly he does). Nate is stationed in Maui, poor guy, where he and his research partner Clay Demodocus have spent the past twenty-five years studying humpback whale songs. Clay's life ambition is not just to understand the how of the song, but the why. Also on the research team: perky, attractive young research assistant Amy, a New Jersey native an faux Rastafarian if-you-can-light-it-you-can-smoke-it surfer named Kona, and the Old Broad, the crazy old lady who lives at the top of the volcano and pays for everything. One day, while Nate and Amy are out snapping pictures of humpback whale tail flukes, Nate sees something rather curious: the words "Bite Me" arranged in dark splotches on the underside of an animal's tail. Nate rushes back to the lab with the photos and hands them off to be developed, but when the film comes back, the Bite Me shot is missing. Furthermore, the lab has been trashed, and things only go downhill from there. A series of sabotages and a bizarre phone message from the Old Broad ("The whale called, he said you need to go out tomorrow and to bring a pastrami and rye with mayo") lead Nate, Clay, and Amy to believe that someone out there has it out for them. Suspicions run high, especially toward rival researchers and secret military operations, but Nate never guessed that the whales themselves were out to get him--that is, until a krill-eating humpback opens its mouth wide and...GULP! Jonah-time.

And then, things get weird.


All right, spoilers ahoy! I will admit that, each time there was a major twist in the plot, my immediate reaction was one of disappointment. When Nate first encounters the whaley boys inside the humpback that swallows him, I remember feeling let down. "Oh, it's just aliens," or something like that. Turned out, I was very wrong, and I actually really thought the truth behind the ships and the whaley boys and the Goo were really creative and good story elements. When Amy dropped the "I am Amelia Earhart" bombshell, I almost closed the book. (That was the only point where I thought, "Okay, now you're just throwing in twists for the heck of it") However, Moore had brought me back from the initial "alien disappointment," so I stuck with it, and it ended up being all right, too.

I will say that I thought the revelation of the Colonel was very good.

What most disappointed me was, once the Colonel got Nate in on his grand plan to kill the Goo, it felt like the story stopped working together as a cohesive unit. Nothing that happened seemed to be terribly related to anything else that was happening. It kept taking you in one direction only to half-heartedly abandon that pursuit and rejoin some other line of thought, already in progress. That's not to say that last hundred pages or so were bad, they just weren't nearly as strong as the rest of the narrative, and I didn't feel they lived up to the standards, either in storytelling or in quality of writing, that the first 2/3 of the book had me expecting. And I was very disappointed in the ending: Amy tells Nate that their happy ending is not possible, and because of the circumstances Moore has crafted, she's right, and Nate knows it, so he leaves her in the Goo. Three chapters later, he comes back for her, and she goes with him, saying they'll still have to come back and visit sometime. Happily ever after. Whaaaaa?? We just established that this wouldn't work! And it fits so perfectly well with the rest of the story! Why did we...how can they...jiggitywha..?

Well, I guess the author just wanted to have a happy ending. And really, who am I to deprive him of that?

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