Monday, March 07, 2011

Use the force, Fluke

My merry romp through Christopher Moore (er, I mean Moore's work) continues unabated. My most recent entry: Fluke. I was going to say that it's the first of Moore's works that I've read to be set outside of Northern California, but then I realized that England is also outside Northern California, so never mind.

Fluke is... a weird book. A really, really weird book. Even for Moore (again, based on what I've read from him before). The first 50 or so pages left me utterly unprepared for where the book ended up, and I'd be shocked if any other readers could predict where things end up.

Obviously, all this implies abundant spoilers, so I'll try to treat the little that I can before dropping into that tag.

The book remains very funny, of course. Some of the humor is implicit within Moore's writing style and authorial asides; some of it is explicit within the characters' speech; and some is metaphysical at the overall shape of the plot. There were a few times when Moore seemed to be trying just a little too hard... I generally love his absurd metaphors, but a few of these just didn't parse. Still, overall it was really funny.

From a technical standpoint, I think this was the worst-edited of Moore's books that I've read so far. It wasn't awful (not "Crossroads of Twilight" awful), but I was kind of surprised by how many technical errors ended up in here. Nothing totally horrible, but several instances of dropped closing quotation marks, missing words, and other ephemera. (I read the hardcover; I suppose, and hope, that these might have gotten cleaned up in the paperback.)

Uh... I guess that's about all I can say without dropping into


The Hawaii setting was really pleasant. I've never been, and the book furthers my vague desire to one day go there.

The science stuff was pretty interesting. At the end of the book Moore has a note that summarizes what parts he made up and which were genuine. Almost everything I know about humpback whales and their songs comes from Star Trek IV, so it was pretty cool to learn more about what scientists currently think about this. I also thought a lot about Moby Dick, especially in the discussions of different types of whales and their hunting. (And also of last week's episode of Archer, which features a hilarious exchange between Archer and Lana that includes the phrase "Clean-burning whale oil.")

The background characters were fun, too. It's kind of surprising that there aren't more books about scientists, and it was a lot of fun to get all that drama (backstabbing, poaching, public relations, public embarrassment, fights over funding, maintaining reputations, etc.) in a small, well-understandable community. Moore says that he made all of that stuff up, but as someone who has worked in a variety of corporate environments, it feels awfully believable to me.

The primary characters: good, but weird. Really weird. Nate and Clay are very likeable, and also a bit two-dimenstional for the role they have to play. Kona is just far out there; he may be the funniest character altogether, but almost all of his laughs are too easy (white guy smoking ganja and talking about Bob Marley). Amy is way too much of everything: way too perky, way too pretty, way too affectionate. I had a really hard time early in the book understanding why Amy was not only putting up with these people, but actually flirting with them. That kinda became less of an issue later on, but only by exchanging a small bit of oddness with a huge wormhole of strangeness.


Man... where to begin? Whale ships? Pirates? Kinda-aliens-but-actually-alternately-evolved-oh-wait-they-did-not-really-evolve-but-were-created-but-it-is-still-science creatures? The Goo?

I was flummoxed from the moment Nate got swallowed, and I still don't know what to make of it. It reads like a shaggy dog story. The distinct feeling I got throughout the last 2/3 of the book was that Moore was just making it up as he went along, pulling the craziest thing that he could think of out of his rear. That's cool, I'm all for inventive and wild storytelling, but... man, I don't know. I guess it felt like he wrote the whole book as a sort of creative-thinking exercise, and then didn't go back and re-write with the ending in mind. There are a lot of weird little digressions that go nowhere, plot points that seem important but end up meaningless, general narratorical meandering. And, again, I'm not necessarily opposed to any of that, but I guess that this felt sloppy in a way I'm unaccustomed to.

That said, the core idea of the Goo was really interesting. I immediately connected it with Robert Anton Wilson's idea of the Leviathan, from the eponymous third book of the Illuminatus! trilogy. Both area incredibly ancient sea-based life forms that represent a different evolutionary path that began back in the primordial ooze.

I also found myself thinking of Guu, from Jungle wa Hale Itsumo nochi Guu. Both Guus are incredibly powerful, sneaky, capable of swallowing things up and creating other things. Other than that, um, little resemblance, so forget I said anything.


Altogether, I have to concede that Fluke is probably my least favorite so far of Moore's books. That doesn't mean that it's bad, far from it, but it hasn't blown me away like his others.

Part of this might just be that I'm spoiled, coming off the hilarious, tightly-plotted, and resonant Bloodsucking Fiends. I would ordinarily suggest taking a little break before diving back in, except that I've already started in on You Suck. Which, so far, is awesome, so I'm hoping that Fluke was, well, a fluke.

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