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Claude Lalumiere's Fantastic Fiction
Fluke; Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings

by Christopher Moore

(Morrow, $23.95, 321 pages, hardcover; published in June 2003.)

Satirist Christopher Moore's first six novels all involved cover scanthe fantastic -- whether demons, vampires, trickster gods, or young messiahs -- but for his seventh, recounting the escapades of whale researchers, he tries his hand at science fiction. As explained in the author's notes: "I have generally come down on the side of magic, simply because it involves less math, but with Fluke it was necessary to learn a little science."

Moore's novels are unfailingly entertaining, and Fluke; Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings is no exception. The dialogue is sharp and clever. The characters are vividly described and exuberantly quirky. The surprise-filled plot keeps the pages turning. Several scenes had me laughing out loud. And, most of all, Moore never makes readers feel that entertainment must be stupid. His novels, this one included, are incisively intelligent.

Marine biologist Nathan Quinn sees the words "BITE ME" written in giant letters on the flukes of a humpback whale, and from that unlikely occurrence unfurls a series of disastrous events that jeopardize his research -- unlocking the mysteries of the humpback whale's song -- and thrust him centre stage in a secret evolutionary conflict.

The whole adventure is told in Moore's customary sardonic tone, but there's a serious core to Fluke: whales are threatened by human activity, and Moore's passionate concern for the continued well-being of these animals adds a layer of urgency to this already thrilling novel.

At the heart of good science fiction, there's the concept of sense of wonder: stories filled with ideas that leave you gasping in awe. In Fluke, Moore comes up with a completely startling and mind-boggling set of ideas surrounding evolution and cetaceans. The implications provoke yet further speculations on the reader's part, and that's a sign of a truly effective speculative novel.

Originally published in
The Montreal Gazette, Saturday, 21 June 2003.

Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction is a series of
capsule reviews first published in the Saturday Books
section of The Montreal Gazette.

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