Review: Dark Constellations by Pola Oloixarac at Strange Horizons

My review of Argentinian writer Pola Oloixarac's Dark Constellations (translated by Roy Kesey) appears today at Strange Horizons.  This a strange, challenging novella that pushes the boundaries of what we define as cyberpunk, and I found it difficult to sum up.  Also challenging: figuring out how to cope with the book's extravagantly bad sex scenes.  Most other reviews I've read have either delicately ignored Dark Constellations's descriptions of sex, which are as bizarre as they are unerotic, or treated them as a flaw in an otherwise fascinating work.  As I write in the review, I think Oloixarac is doing something deliberate with these passages, though this doesn't make them any easier to read.
In the world of Dark Constellations, sex has one purpose: the exchange of genetic information. A young Argentinian graduate student on a research trip to Brazil who falls into a passionate affair with a local engineer is described as having "encountered the source of DNA that she would strive to reproduce" (p. 26). But even more than individual reproduction, Dark Constellations treats sex, and genetic exchange, as a sort of species-wide endeavor, of which individual members are merely an unwitting vector. One is reminded of the classic James Tiptree Jr. story, "A Momentary Taste of Being" (1975), in which humanity turns out to be a galactic sex cell on the lookout for its mate, regardless of the feelings, or pesky consciousness, of any individual member of the species. But Oloixarac goes further than Tiptree when she posits genetic exchange not only between human populations, but between humans and animals, humans and plants, and even humans and machines.


Unknown said…
I run a small high school science fiction book club, and Dark Constellations is on this year's reading list. I chose it because we're focusing on international SF, and I wanted to include something both Latin American and vaguely political. Unfortunately, the journal article where I learned of it didn't mention, or at least I don't recall it mentioning, that sex plays a major role in the narrative. I hope this doesn't hamper a high school discussion of the novella, sex being an inherently taboo subject in that setting.

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