Jack Faust

Posted by : atcampbell | On : April 20, 1999

Jack Faust by Michael Swanwick

Eight people attended the discussion of Jack Faust, and one person submitted comments by e-mail. One of ArmadilloCon’s co-chairs and her daughter dropped in briefly at the beginning to consult on fannish matters.

Jack Faust is a science-fictional retelling of the Faust legend, previously recorded by Marlowe and Goethe. It involves a 16th Century scholar who makes a deal with Mephistopheles in exchange for knowledge. He uses this knowledge from a wide variety of fields (physics, math, engineering, economics, business, etc.) to gain wealth and power.

Unfortunately for our discussion, the only person who found much to like about this book was the one who’d e-mailed in comments. He liked the portrayal of human greed and ambition, which was softened by biting satirical humor. He also felt that applying 20th Century science to the Faust legend was a thought-provoking exploration of the implications of dangerous knowledge.

The rest of us found this book disappointing. We felt that it contains a lot of skillful writing, but it does not improve over Marlowe or Goethe. All the scientific advances have little impact on the course of European society, which we found to be lazy world building. We wanted this book to be as good as Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court or deCamp’s Lest Darkness Fall, but it fell far short. One person summarized the book as a “heartless literary exercise.”

We appreciated Swanwick tackling such an ambitious project. We hope that his next book is a greater success.

–A. T. Campbell, III