Argentinian literary star Pola Oloixarac’s new novel races from the world of 19th-century science to an ultra-surveilled near future, exploring humanity’s quest for knowledge and control, and leaping forward to the next steps in human evolution.
... what the late Michael Crichton might have written if he had grown up in Argentina and fancied himself a high postmodernist ... a bland novel stuck between genres and ideas, switching between timelines ... It should be fascinating, and at times it is; it is beautifully written, the language limpid and poetic when it needs to be, sparse and rugged when the scene calls for it. But Dark Constellations is ultimately a mess of references, of tried stories, and old tropes pining in their mashedness for pastiche, but never coalescing into anything as artful and intoxicating as the mystery plant at the novel's heart ... two and a half novellas, only one of them remotely intriguing, thrown together in an e-doc and emailed directly to the printer ... the characters are lifeless and drab ... the worst of slipstream and of attempted postmodern experimentality at a time when attempts to be the Pynchon or Nabokov of the '60s are, frankly, boring. The novel does nothing—says nothing unsaid by every movie, TV show, comic book, Twitter thread, and TED Talk since the Patriot Act—and will be a critical hit all the same.
... often lovely and entrancing ... For being a modestly sized novel, Dark Constellations is practically galactic in the stretch of its narrative ambitions ... small observations are balanced with enormous, paradigm-defining assessments of capitalism, liberalism, technology, medical advancement; Oloixarac lays out bold but lovingly textured descriptions and diagnoses of all these things, and they nearly always sound provocative and artful ... The silly repellency of her sexual descriptions almost acts as a comic foil to the elegant profundity of her conceptual themes, but they still feel a bit like record scratches that pull the mood up short. Luckily, she’s crafted a weird and absorbing cyberpunk tale that can sustain such odd interludes. It ends a bit too abruptly, but the 'what if' tone of the conclusion is thought-provoking in its own right. Dark Constellations should find her a new audience of readers hungry for strange and all-too-plausible tales of our modern, algorithm-driven lives, but it reaffirms a stereotype about brilliant philosophical writers: They often stumble over the dirty stuff.
... bracingly inventive and occasionally bewildering ... This esoteric, centuries-spanning approach brings to mind David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Darren Aronofsky’s 2006 film The Fountain, though Oloixarac’s novel is far stranger and more challenging than both. If anything, the book’s blend of futurism and natural science feels most kin to the freaky ecological sci-fi novels of Jeff VanderMeer ... The narrative can be inscrutable, especially in its hallucinatory closing stretch, which consists of a lengthy monologue delivered in a jungle palace by a six-foot-tall rat.