FLUKE, OR I KNOW WHY THE WINGED WHALE SINGS

Author: Dan Simmons

William Morrow / 336 pages / June 2003

ISBN: 006055679X

Expectations can be a dangerous thing. When I received a copy of Fluke I was reminded of the superb and subversive fiction of James Morrow, so I decide to read and review it. Now, maybe that’s the wrong way to set out on a read, but, let’s be honest: don’t many of us pick our books this way?

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The first third of the book has everything — cynicism, dry wit, outrageous situations, and colourful characters. Marine behavioral biologist (a career you might want to steer your children away from) Nate Quinn wants to answer one question: why do whales sing? He’s in the right place to research ‘til he drops in a compound in Maui. He has an extremely motley crew backing him up, an eccentric patron, a reborn whitebread Rastaferian, a tempting research assistant, and the rest. His rival may have more money and flash, but they are really the same animal/different plumage.

Part One starts off with a hook that reels the reader in quickly with comically gloomy characters, inside jokes, and sly humour. When Quinn first catches a glimpse of the mysterious, uncouth message on the whale’s tail, or fluke, the big, bold “Bite Me” seems perfectly justified, considering who is chasing the big creatures all over the sea. Not to mention their various motives…

As Part Two begins though, the action takes a turn toward the farcical and, sadly, the unfunny. The more Quinn learns of the true nature of the situation, the more the “clever-meter” nosedives. What he discovers does not live up to the intelligent and sometimes hilarious action Moore so carefully crafted. Suspending disbelief is not the problem — sci-fi readers are old pros at that game — what sinks Fluke is the steady decline into the wasted effort of maintaining the books momentum.

Was there ever any connection to Jim Morrow’s brilliant work? No. Not in quality, entertainment, or depth. If comparison seems an unfair method to judge a novel, don’t worry — any thought of a kinship between Morrow and Moore is instantly dismissed. Part One is well done and worthy of a read, but the two authors have only their propensity to dig uncomfortably deep into religion in common. There the resemblance ends.

But, if it’s unfair to compare two authors, it is expected that some dissection of a novel will follow. Fluke simply builds promise in its first section that the other two-thirds of the book cannot deliver on. If the key to creating anything is to maintain the quality, if not exceed it, of that first glimpse.

Moore at his best is an author to reckon with, with legions of fans awaiting the latest word from his pen. For me, I will look forward to his next work to surpass the tantalising flashes of Fluke.