A 19th-century naturalist describes a mysterious substance while, closer to the present day, a hacker comes of age and a government tracks its citizens.

“We have to understand these things as dark constellations,” says Max, a character in Oloixarac’s (Savage Theories, 2017) luminous new novel. The Incas, he goes on, “organized the sky in terms of the dark regions between stars, the interior shapes with bright parameters.” In this dense, dizzying book, the Argentine “Ministry of Genetics” tracks the “life trajectories” of its citizens by curating digital as well as biometric data—fingerprints, face scans. Max heads a project to help sift that data. He recruits Cassio, an old acquaintance from their rogue hacker days. Cassio is the closest thing to a main character we have. Oloixarac’s novel proceeds along three tracks; this one is the last and the most legible. Another traces Cassio’s growth from a nerdy, overweight kid to a brilliant student and phenomenal hacker. Yet another track begins in 1882, with a naturalist named Niklas Bruun, who’s conducting research on a hallucinogenic substance that appears to break down the barriers between one species and another. There isn’t exactly a plot here. Oloixarac is interested in big data, and consciousness, and the internet, and a government’s control over its citizenry. In Bruun’s sections, the prose is lushly sinuous: “The meadows dissolved at the banks of iridescent streams, and trees stood out like castles, lowering their branches only to raise them again, lines of dense liquid vegetal matter uniting the earth and sky.” When it’s Cassio’s turn, the prose lurches toward something more cerebral, even cynical (“As far as Lara was concerned, sex with Cassio would be a completely benign experience”). Oloixarac is a massive, mysterious talent; her latest novel is an oblique puzzle whose pieces never quite fit into place.

This genre-defying novel blends science fiction with cyberpunk with naturalism to end up with something utterly original.

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