Tuesday, January 11, 2005

BOOKS: I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings

Fluke by Christopher Moore (#4)
The right whale is one of the few animals in the world that uses a washout strategy for mating. That is, the females mate with several males, but the one who can wash out the others' seed most efficiently will pass his genes along to the next generation. Consequently, the guy with the largest tackle often wins, and male right whales have the biggest tackle in the world, with testes that weigh up to a ton and ten-foot penises that are not only long but prehensile, able to reach around a female from the side and introduce themselves on the sly.
Because I'm actually twelve years old, it's this kind of trivia that made me rather like Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings. Unfortunately, it's supposed to be a comic novel, not a science text, and while as a science text it had its engaging aspects, as a comic novel, it was kind of meh.

Moore has been compared to Douglas Adams, and I can kind of see the basis for comparison. In this novel, he coins the rather clever term "action nerd" to describe the marine biologists who are the main characters, and I'd say that Adams's characters are -- as Adams himself was -- kind of action nerds. Heck, I'm kind of an action nerd myself, so I can relate. But clever wordplay aside, this novel, while more than competently executed, just didn't deliver. And it didn't do itself any favours by constantly reminding me of Adams and coming up short in the constant comparison game my brain kept playing.

I first heard about Moore from the good readers over at Chicklit last spring, and since he seemed to be fairly highly regarded, I went out and got my hands on Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. (One thing you can say for Moore: he has a gift for coming up with catchy titles. Some of his others are Island of the Sequined Love Nun, Practical Demonkeeping, and The Stupidest Angel.)
I liked Biff somewhat better than Fluke, but still I felt like I was missing the joke.

Is it me? Someone prove me wrong. There are precious few truly funny writers out there. I'm reluctant to write someone off if there's even the remotest chance he or she could provide me with a laugh.


Anonymous said...

I actually just finished Lamb, and I'm of the same opinion. I bought it largely on the strength of the reviews and its clever title, but I quickly got tired of it. The narrative voice was extremely irritating - smart-alecky comments all the time, constantly having the other characters set him up for sitcom-worthy zingers. If you haven't read Terry Pratchett, you should check him out - he compares much more favorably to Douglas Adams.

Anonymous said...

I personally loved Lamb, found it funny and surprisingly poignant as well. As for other Moore books, I was not impressed with Bloodsucking Fiends (it was especially disappointing coming after Lamb, which might be a bit unfair, considering BF was Moore's first novel, and well, yes it was). I've also read The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, which was better than BF but not as enjoyable as Lamb. I do agree however that Moore seems to have a certain knack for titles whose content rarely measures up.

Alyssa said...

I read Practical Demonkeeping (because hello - that's an awesome title to read on public transportation) and I read the vampire one. I liked the Demon book better than the vampires. I thought the ideas were creative but the funny - he just doesn't bring the funny for me.

Now for funny - I like Laurie Notaro, but she doesn't write about vampires or demons or anything like that. But she does write about her ass, so there's that.

Justin Cognito said...

I found "Fluke" kind of, meh, myself. It had some great science stuff going for it, but I didn't laugh out loud as much as I did when I read "Lamb".

"The Stupidest Angel" sounds promising, though. You should try it. And I also second the upthread recommendation about trying Terry Pratchett. "Good Omens" would be a good place to start.

Anonymous said...

I loved Lamb, as did the several people I recommended it to - but now that I think about it, those people were my parents and my friend Allie, who are all semi-religious, as in, down with the Golden Rule but not always much else the Church (whichever church) comes up with. Lamb is the kind of book that speaks to that mindset. I have read several of Moore's other books, but they fell a bit short in the exact way you described, explaining why Fluke is sitting on my shelf waiting to be read. A great author to try, if you haven't already, is Matt Ruff. That guy can write, in the way you get the feeling Moore wants to. He wrote an Adams-ish Sci Fi (Sewer, Gas, and Electric), a fairy tale (Fool on a Hill), and a book about multiple personalities (Set this House in Order), and rocked at all of them.

- JG

Tammy said...

Matt Ruff, Laurie Notaro, Terry Pratchett... check, check and check. I haven't read any of these writers (though I've been meaning to get my hands on *Good Omens* for a while now), so I really appreciate the recommendations.

I'm so glad to hear that people agree with me about Moore. I want to like him -- I really do -- but as someone here aptly put it, he just doesn't bring the funny for me.