Jack Faust is a breathtaking and masterful new spin on Goethe’s story of a scholar who sells his soul to the Devil for the gift of unlimited knowledge.
But unlike the classic Mephistopheles, the seductive demon who approaches Swanwick’s Johannes Faust is not the devil as we know him, but rather a representative of a mysterious race that seeks nothing less than the extermination of the hated human animal. And the wisdom this creature offers the disenchanted thinker goes far beyond anything known or imagined in Goethe’s day: the secrets of flight and the cosmos, the principles of economics and engineering, the mysteries of medicine and the atom.
And so begins Faust’s transition from madman to savior—from Johannes to Jack—as he accelerates human progress at blinding speed, setting the mighty gears and pistons of industry in motion to first remake Germany, and then all Europe, in his own image. Ushering in a New Age of Mechanization hundreds of years before its rightful time, he is alternately adored and despised for his accomplishments, as he attempts to elevate humankind from the muck of ignorance, superstition and disease.
Yet it is love that damns Jack Faust and, ultimately, humanity as well. For Mephistopheles has revealed to him the beauty and purity of innocence in the person of Margarete Reinhardt, the daughter of a struggling businessman. To win her heart, Faust will give Margarete power and influence in an age when women are powerless—and fame in a time when notoriety can be fatal—and, in the process, blind his beloved, and himself, to the horrors Faust’s “progress” has wrought. For brutality and greed will always pervert love and genius in a degenerate world—a world which now, thanks to Jack Faust, is rapidly sliding into chaos…or something far worse.
Michael Swanwick (Stations of the Tide and The Iron Dragon’s Daughter) has long been too innovative for his own good, and Jack Faust continues that tradition. This story has elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror, comedy, literature, and probably a few other genres, which means it’s likely too confusing to get the attention it deserves. But don’t let that stop you from reading this wonderful take-off on the famous story of Dr. Faust, who in this tale conjures up the Devil after a fit of book-burning. The Devil, it seems, can offer Faust the knowledge he seeks in the form of hard science (flight, electricity, etc.). But Faust is blind to the fact that this gift from Mephistopheles will lead not only to his destruction but that of humanity as well. Which, of course, is just what the Devil wants.