Christopher Moore represents a dying breed of author: the kind who works up through the ranks slowly and steadily, improving with each book while building a cadre of dedicated fans. That paradigm works reasonably well for certain fortunate bands, but not so well for midlist authors, who frequently get booted by their publishers for not getting big enough fast enough. Of course, Moore's books are published in several countries, he got an early boost when Disney gave him a six-figure option fee for his debut novel (1991's Practical Demonkeeping), and he writes tabloid-friendly stories about giant psychic lizards, vampires, demons, and Jesus Christ's friend Biff, so even for an atypical midlist author, he's pretty atypical. But his gradual progression from random, goofy first-time novelist to seasoned, goofy, best-selling professional author has been a pleasure to follow. Moore's latest, Fluke, continues his run of increasingly focused, economic tall tales with the story of Clay Demodocus and Nathan Quinn, a pair of partnered Maui researchers investigating the songs of humpback whales, which vocalize at length for reasons still unknown to science. Helping (or possibly hindering) them are a pretty, flirtatious research assistant and an eternally stoned white Rastafarian wannabe. Hindering (and eventually helping) them are Hawaii's other cetacean-scientists-in-residence, including Quinn's lesbian ex-wife and her stridently feminist partner, and researchers in the service of secret navy projects, exploitative commercial ventures, and consciously skewed data. Thanks to the financial backing of an unnerving dowager who insists the whales have been phoning her to order pastrami sandwiches, Clay and Nathan have a relatively free hand at their work, until their lab is vandalized, one of their boats is scuttled, and Clay has an accident at sea. It's initially unclear whether any of this is related to Nathan's sighting of a humpback with the words "BITE ME" clearly visible on its tail markings, but in true Moore fashion, Fluke unfolds in increasingly bizarre ways, leaving the science behind in favor of offbeat fantasy. Like Moore's previous book, Lamb: The Gospel According To Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, Fluke has some concrete basis in scholarly tradition, but it heads over the top early and often. As usual, Moore draws his characters in broad strokes, if at all; each of his major players has approximately one personality trait and a quirk or two, and they're mostly puppets in service to a loopy plot that delights in excess and unexpected directions. This makes for a shallow but brisk book that reads like a straight-faced joke drawn out to ridiculous fish-story proportions. Still the thinking man's Dave Barry or the impatient man's Tom Robbins, Moore takes cheap laughs where he can get them, but over the last decade, he's learned how to merge them into speculative romps that skip merrily in and out of the realm of possibility without pausing to notice which side of the line they're on.