Jack Faust

Jack Faust

by Michael Swanwick


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780380790708
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/01/1998
Pages: 337
Product dimensions: 5.33(w) x 8.06(h) x 0.95(d)

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Faust had no delusions of Heavenly aid. An involved and benevolent deity would have helped him long years ago when, young, he had yearned for knowledge as achingly as now and with far fewer stains on his soul. So. He must deal with realms or domains or powers that might be devils or spirits or creatures that were neither but something beyond his merely mortal comprehension.

Assuming such beings, they must necessarily be far beyond him, existing in realms unreachable by human effort. In his alchemical studies he had worked with athenors, alembics, and solutory furnaces, manipulating such mordants, caustics, and solvents as were employed in mining and in the dying of cloth. But he had also engaged in researches involving the exhausted bodies of prostitutes, both female and male, the sacrifice of animals, and the obscene deployment of stolen Communion wafers in black Masses and other unwholesome rituals. There were two traditions of alchemy, and he had sought out—and paid—exponents of each, not only metallurgists and assayes but wizards as well, mountebanks and teachers of the esoteric traditions, followes of Hermes Trismegistus and worshippers of Saint Wolf alike. And it was all flummery. He knew for a certainty that none of them were in contact with such allies as, he sought.

These allies, therefore, must locate Faust, for he could not contact them. Which meant that—denying the possibility of failure, for that was folly and despair—they must be already searching for him, for otherwise the contact could not be made. Therefore he possessed some thing or quality these beings or forces desired, be it worship or service or his very soul itself. There must be tenmillions of people in Europe alone. Beyond that? In Hind and Cathay and Araby, in Africa and the new Indies? Unimaginable numbers. What had he to offer that no one else in all these swarming legions had?

One thing only: that he was seeking them.

It took a rare man, a great man, to break free of the en crusted prejudices of his age, to cast his thoughts into the dark and silent regions where the minds of such allies awaited him. And awaited him anxiously. For surely a man such as himself was no unworthy prize.

If they were seeking one such as he, and their thoughts touched his in the dark, then he and they could strike a bar gain. He did not need the magical idiocy of diagrams or de vices, of nonsense syllables or implements with evil histories. There was no need even to leave the room. He could win all, achieve all, here and now. It required only an act of will. He had but to offer himself up.

A shiver—of anticipation or fear, he could not tell which—passed through Faust. The room felt unaccountably cold. Slowly, he spread his arms.

A book fell off the burning pile onto the hearthstone and, falling open, burst more furiously into flame. It threw up smoke like a black flare, but Faust did not stoop to retrieve it. He stood moving, wondering at his own abrupt and incomprehensible inability to act. He did not fear damnation. Nor did he give a fig for the common opinion of Mankind. There was nothing to stop him but fear alone—fear that his reason ing was wrong. Fear that the offering would prove him a failure.

For the briefest instant he stood irresolute.

"Here I am," Faust said convulsively. "I open myself to you." For his part, Faust knew, he would gladly worship demons, willingly give service to monsters unspeakable, if that were what they wanted. Eat filth, murder children—whatever they required, that would he do. Whatever the price, he would pay it.

The smoke swirled about him chokingly, dizzyingly. He could see nothing now, feel nothing. Afloat and lost in the grey smoke and ruin, Faust emptied his brain of all thought, all reasoning, all words, surrendering everything but ambition itself. He made himself first passive and then silent, ignoring the blacksmith-bellows pumping of his lungs, the tidal surge of blood in his veins, and finally the faint crackling that underlay thought itself, accelerating toward zero, until all that was left was unmediated will, and that will a hunger, an open mouth.

He stood reduced to his essence, an uncarved block of marble awaiting the carver's hand, a palimpsest scraped clean of old ink and ready for the quill, as eager for knowledge as tinder for the flame. The noise of the fire rose up in his ears in a babbling roar like a million voices all joined together into a white surf of sound, flooding his brain, drown ing the last semblance of reason. He fell into a perfect stillness.

Cycling ever quieter in perfect silence without expectations falling into a timeless state outside his control where human thought ceased and nothing existed nothing but the void and

From the heart of nothingness, a voice spoke: Faust.

Copyright ) 1997 by Michael Swanwick


There were three chief things I wanted to accomplish in Jack Faust. I wanted to write about damnation by science. I wanted to rescind the forgiveness Goethe extended Faust. And I wanted to give Margarete her own voice.

This last is essential. Goethe's Margarete is simply a marker of Faust's desire -- someone for him to suffer the anguishes of love and regret over. In my version, Margarete flirts with damnation, loses her soul, and ultimately regains it. Her redemption is the heart of the novel.

I've oversimplified furiously here -- no novel can be schematicized in a few hundred words -- but in essence, that's what I've tried to do. One thing I know, however: My Faust is far from being the last. Because it's also the nature of myth that it is a shape-changer and a shadow-shifter. As soon as you get it nailed down, it slips away again, to be something else for somebody new. And that's the way it ought to be.
—Michael Swanwick

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Jack Faust 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
rufty on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ranks as possibly my favorite book I have ever read, possibly than for no other reason than this is tackling my favourite thought experiment - if I could go back in time with what I know, how would I change the world.Except that's not really the thought experiment being tackled, but good enough. We see the story of a man who wants scientific knowledge and is offered it in abundance. He thinks it will improve mankind, those who offer it him do so because they are convinced it will destroy mankind.Not sufficient to tell just this story it does track his pursuit, capture and eventual fall of his sweetheart. Again asking the question that if something comes with too much ease is it worth having anymore?nothing i can say can do this book justice - if you like alternate timeline thought experiments then this is the book for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've never read Goethe's Faust, but I have read Marlowe's. This book was very strong and entertaining, and does not actually sit in the real 'history' of the world. It instead creates its own, based on human nature. The only true flaw in this book is Gretchen, who begins as true and virtuous. Then she completely changes, quite inexplicably. Mephistopheles is not traditional, yet is none the less a truly evil character. This book is very rewarding if you can overcome its problems.