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Jack Faust Hardcover – September 1, 1997

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New Adult Fiction by Rainbow Rowell
Acclaimed author Rainbow Rowell's latest book, Landline, offers a poignant, humorous look at relationships and marriage. Learn more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 337 pages
  • Publisher: Avon Books (T); 1st edition (September 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380974444
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380974443
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 7 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #975,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

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.

From Library Journal

In this reworking of the Faust legend by a Nebula Award-winning author (for Stations of the Tide, LJ 2/15/91), the medieval and the modern intertwine, but the classic theme remains intact: Will complete knowledge bring about ennoblement or destruction? Swanwick's Faust is still set in the Old World Europe of Goethe and Marlowe, but this Faust is more interested in marketing his new inventions?such as rockets?than in alchemy. We follow Faust in his frustrated intellectual quest, especially as he burns his library, which, instead of revealing to him the knowledge he has so desperately sought, has rewarded him only with uncertainty. At war with God for concealing life's meaning from humankind, he turns to the only other source of help for him: Mephistopheles. Swanwick's literary power lies in his ability to blend seamlessly elements of fantasy with the most mundane concepts. His characterizations are carefully controlled. Readers will benefit by delving into the original Faust before tackling this grim tale.?Margaret A. Smith, Grace A. Dow Memorial Lib., Midland, Mich.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By "netchild" on July 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover
While Swanwick may not ever achieve the status of a Thomas Mann, he has penned a quite creative reworking of the traditional Faustian myth. Casting his vision on the template of science fiction, Swanwick adds interesting dimensions to the already complex Faustian characters. Mephistopheles appears as an alien force; as arrogant and manipulative an extraterrestrial as he ever was a demon. Margarete still appears as the innocent caught in the crossfire of evil and eviler. Wagner, the fanatic sycophant, who never realizes that not only is he a pawn, but he's a pawn that neither side cares enough to either advance or gambit. And Faust, the perpetual megalomaniac. His desire to master thoughts ends up making thoughts his master. He creates and creates but with no purpose except the creation, much like a pathogen. Ultimately the purpose, as in the traditional legend, serves those who gave him the tools to create.
And in all this richness, Swanwick adds. This is a message to the future, our future, which is nightmarishly similar to Faust's reality. Ushering in an UltraIndustrial revolution, Faust overwhelms too many with too much and as Mehpistopheles knows, the gifts that mechanization brings to fruition are never used for benefit. For example, one of the first films produced after the invention of film (in the book) is no less than a pornographic movie (the title being a colorful four letter word starting with "f"). And in this uncontrollable momentum, this Newtonian nightmare, no end is in sight. Indeed, no end is possible. Like a vehicle out of control people will die because of the chaos. Mephistopheles is counting on the entire world to die. And he is not disappointed.
Swanwicks reason for the reworking. Knowledge doesn't make us more certain of a future.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Henry W. Wagner VINE VOICE on October 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Medieval scholar Johannes Faust is frustrated, having gone as far as he can in his pursuit of knowledge. Enraged by his situation, he begins destroying his library, consigning dozens of precious tomes to the flames. He prays for release from his torment, pledging his soul in return for knowledge.

Enter Mephistopheles, a being from another dimension, who promises Faust the knowledge he longs for, requiring only that Faust must be attentive to his teachings, and that he accept the consequences of his newly gained intellectual wealth. Even after being told that his knowledge will bring mankind to ruin, Faust concludes Mephistopheles has to be wrong (how could knowledge be bad, after all?) and begs him for his insights.

The devil/alien grants Faust's wish and tragedy ensues. Faust's initial attempts to share his scientific advances with his fellow scholars are met with derision and scorn. It is only after he finds practical uses for them (like creating weapons of mass destruction) that people take notice. The increasingly misanthropic Faust ushers in the advances of the Industrial Age hundreds of years early, and, by book's end, seems destined to fulfill Mephistopheles dire predictions.

This dark, witty, sarcastic book was one of the best reads of 1997, a well written, engrossing alternate history/fantasy. While exploring his own themes, Swanwick also makes the point that Jack Dann made in his excellent novel The Memory Cathedral: that man, by nature, is a brutal creature, who, given a choice, will pervert the wonders of science. Unlike Dann's protagonist (Leonardo da Vinci), Swanwick's Faust is virtually blind to the mayhem he's created, and becomes the prime mover in humanity's inexorable march to extinction.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jason Black on September 16, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Few science fiction novels are set in pre-renaissance Europe. In fact, I can think of none besides "Jack Faust". I see this book largely as an allegory for the present day, in which we invent new technologies--often astonishingly powerful ones, with far reaching effects--faster than society can come up with new mores and social structures for dealing with them. As such, the author does a good job of presenting his warning to us by means of a fictional history whose events seem as obvious and unavoidable as tomorrow's dawn once they are set into motion. And yet he does so in a way that kept me turning pages one after the other.

As a whole, however, I found certain aspects of the book somewhat disturbing. More so because I cannot tell whether they come from the author himself or are natural artifacts of the story and the characters' evolutions. If you do purchase this book (and don't get me wrong; I'm not sorry I bought a copy), be prepared to confront some subtle mysogynies, racist attitudes, and the like. But as I say, I cannot tell whether these are the author's own beliefs or simply reflections of the times in which the novel is set.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By on January 10, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Maybe I came to this book with too many expectations -- Michael Swanwick is an author whose work I respect, and "Jack Faust" looked like an attempt to bring literary and moral values to the fantasy genre. The problem is that the story of Faust already has about as much moral and literary value as it is possible to have, thanks to Marlowe and Goethe. So what was Swanwick thinking?
The premise is eternally compelling, and Swanwick gives it a fun spin: what if Faust gains access to all the scientific knowledge in the universe, and is therefore able to compress every industrial and post-industrial revolution into a single generation, so that ultimately even atomic power will come to the 16th century. The joy of such alternate world stories is in the details: what are the political and social implications of the changes? What would the 16th century FEEL like with automobiles and mass production? Unfortunately, Swanwick is more concerned with keeping his plot moving, so the tale is a quick read but not a stimulating one. Swanwick shows us nothing we have not seen before, and by the second half of the book it is difficult to care about anything that is going on.
Even if you come to it with much lower expectations than I did, it would be hard to find "Jack Faust" any more than a mild entertainment disguised as an intellectual and literary exercise. For entertainment, read any of Swanwick's other works. For intellectual and literary exercise, try Pynchon's "Mason & Dixon". (Unlike Pynchon, Swanwick seems to have studied only the history of the era he chose to write about, not the literature. Despite the lugubriously descriptive writing in the first few pages, Swanwick's Wittenberg remains indistinct.
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