Recently published in English, translated by Roy Kesey, Pola Oloixarac’s new book Dark Constellations gives a fresh new look at a genre that’s frequently either wrapped up in outer space travel or other beloved tropes. This novel skillfully marries cyberpunk themes and classic magical realist style in a seamless, natural flow. One part weird fiction, one part Latin American tradition, and one part computer singularity, Dark Constellations shows the moment before a future where banks break down and machines begin to act like organisms. However, it’s true explorations lie in the questions it asks about the order and chaos of the universe caused by humanity.
Dark Constellations tracks a natural inclination to order, found in the jungles of Argentina and Brazil. In particular, it follows the careers of nineteenth century biologist, Niklas, and modern day computer engineers Cassio, Max, and Piera. These characters intertwining paths and lives suck readers into careers pulled by mysterious callings that even the character don’t seem to understand. It’s actually quite mesmerizing to watch these characters within the human ecosystem, but exactly a part of it. Each seems to understand the world around him, but fails to really attach to it. The dreamy escapism provides an outlet, especially for Cassio, who also has an awesome penchant for T-shirts featuring a range of subjects from the Dead Kennedys to Ninja Turtles. Cassio goes from a lonely nerd, good at math and tempted by the endless puzzles of academia, to an ambitious corporate programmer, to a futurist revolutionary. While this arc lacks a lot of action sequences, Cassio’s battle with loneliness and his own chaotic tendencies ultimately reveals genuine desire to connect with all humanity in the revolution that his computer virus starts at the end of the book.
Because it deals with inner conflict of a computer programmer, sometimes the pace seems sluggish. Additionally, the story jumps from Cassio – the main character – to other characters with similar beliefs at other periods in time and it can be hard to see the connections at first. Eventually, the plot takes us right to the brink of a global revolution, but some of the dreamlike interludes along the way can seem superfluous. While not a long book, Dark Constellations invites its readers to spend a great deal of time questioning the mass data-gathering and social formation of Cassio’s – and our – modern world.
The term “novel of ideas” usually refers to phone book size narratives that span family sagas, and while it technically covers a long piece of time, Dark Constellations, definitely focuses more on the ideas than the characters. A book that asks questions about why we structure civilization the way that we do may not exactly sound like a beach read, but it’s worth the time to read it once, if only to revisit its’ contradictions time and time again. Bizarrely experimental and futuristic, Dark Constellations proves to be a must read for speculative fans who love variation in form as well as character.
Want more? Pola Oloixarac is active on Twitter at @poliamida and be sure to check out translator Roy Kesey’s new projects here.
Three out of five stars
Page count: 202
Favorite quote: “What matters is the internal face of the nebula, the dark constellation. We are the ones who decided which things are stars.”