Jack Faust by
pbk out June 98
The legend of Faust has been told and retold so many times over the centuries that "Faustian bargain" has become part of the language. Given that the likes of Marlowe and
Goethe have had their shots at the tale, it takes a certain amount of chutzpa to retell the story of Faust himself in a new way. Michael Swanwick certainly demonstrates that chutzpa, but also the talent to bring it off in JACK FAUST, a (perhaps) science fictional variation on the classic fantasy
In JACK FAUST, Swanwick offers the possibility that Mephistopheles is not the devil, as such, but the personification of an alien intelligence determined to see humanity destroy itself through the gift of premature
knowledge. This aspect of the story is very understated, so Mephistopheles might just as well be the devil, at least in terms of the temptations and rewards he offers to Faust, the hapless scholar. The knowledge provided to Faust is essentially scientific, enabling society to leap ahead technologically such that the fifteenth century looks rather
more like the nineteenth and twentieth, much to the chagrin of just about everyone. The knowledge given to Faust leads not only to social collapse, as pollution and weapons of mass destruction tear the world to pieces, but to personal catastrophe as well, as Faust loses everything he knows and
loves. As, of course, he must.
Although "steampunk" novels by the likes of Gibson, Powers and Jeter are typically set in the nineteenth century, JACK FAUST, with its industrial-age-before-it's-time conceits,
has that steampunk flavour, much like Paul McAuley's passingly similar PASQUALE'S ANGEL. Swanwick paints a very convincing
picture of the era, both pre- and post-Faustian influence, and has a smooth and absorbing prose style. The book is witty and
engaging -- Mephistopheles is, not surprisingly, the most enjoyable character -- though the wheels do come off just a
bit at the end, as events spiral toward their inevitable and expected conclusion. Nevertheless, JACK FAUST is a worthy
addition to the Faustian canon and a recommended read.
- one of the greatest talents the horror industry has produced for some time… (Black Tears))