An alternate-history reimagining of the Faust legend from the Nebula Award–winning author of Stations of the Tide
Taking as his canvas the classic tale of the temptation of Faust—made famous by such literary luminaries as Goethe, Marlowe, and Mann—author Michael Swanwick paints a fresh vision of the dangers posed by the pursuit of knowledge. Set in Old World Germany, this tale of science and damnation begins with the great scholar Dr. Johannes Faust burning his books, having concluded that all his knowledge is nothing compared to the vast sea of ignorance surrounding him. Out of his despair, he inadvertently summons the tempter spirit, Mephistopheles, who is the projection of a dying alien race determined to make the destruction of humankind its final deed. Their weapon is knowledge—of science and technology, the mechanics of flight, the nature of the atom, and the secrets of economics.
When, in an act of defiance, Faust nails the Periodic Table of the Elements to a church door in Wittenberg, he ushers in a golden age of prosperity for Germany that will make him the most powerful man in the world. But the love of the beautiful Margarete will be his downfall. What happens when the greed for knowledge and glory goes unchecked? Has a demon ever made a bad deal yet?
Nominated for the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, and the British Science Fiction Award, Jack Faust is a masterful retelling of legend by one of science fiction’s finest craftsmen.
Set in Wittenberg, Germany, on the eve of the 19th century, Swanwick's vivid, off-kilter retelling of an immortal tale opens with Faust burning his books in frustration at his own ignorance, trapped in a time and in a city where things were done "by magic." Faust accepts Mephistopheles's offer of infinite and absolute knowledge. The knowledge he is given, however, is far more technological and overtly dangerous than he imagined. Isolated because of his untimely ideas, Faust has no companion except Mephistopheles. He accepts the devil's offer to see women naked, falls in love at the sight of virginal young Margarete Reinhardt, and is willing to do anything to win her. Faust approaches Margarete's father with get-rich-quick schemes, and essentially becomes a businessman instead of a scholar, learning that the best way to sell inventions is by applying them to military ends. Thus, in the name of love, Faust sets the world into a downward spiral of greed and war. Among other things, Faust's fall from grace results in mass production, corporations, movies, chemical weaponry, bombs and airplanes. The real agent of the destruction here, however, is woman. Adopting a curiously harsh, antiquated view of the faithlessness and rapaciousness of the female sex , Swanwick portrays a Faust undone not by excess ambition, but by too much love. Intriguing and unsettling--the dialogue is 20th-century vernacular, as are many of the central issues, including abortion--this contemporary update of a classic story, by the end, becomes a comment on our culture's terror of those feelings and sensations not ruled by the intellect.