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Author Topic: Book Review: Jack Faust, by Michael Swanwick  (Read 1034 times)
Baron Ugenberg
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« on: August 14, 2007, 08:39:07 pm »

I came across this novel in the bibliography of the GURPS Steampunk source book, and was able to track it down on Amazon.  While it isn't as overtly Victorian-flavored as most steampunk, it does a pretty good job of dealing with one of the central conflicts of the genre, namely the relationship between technology and morality, through a rather inspired retelling of the Faust legend.

The story itself starts in 16th-century Wittenburg, where renouned scholar Johannes Faust is torching his library.  Angered at the lack of truth he finds in his books, he calls on the forces beyond to help him.  In the nature of tehse stories, he soon gets a reply, in this case from a composite extra-dimensional being Faust dubs "Mephistopheles."  After proving to Faust's satisfaction that there is no God, Mephistopheles offers Faust the gift of knowledge in hopes that Faust will use it to destroy humanity.  Faust, naturally confident about the essential goodness of man, accepts, and the story proceeds from there.

The bulk of the book is a description of the next few decades of Faust's life, as he uses his knowledge to kick-start an industrial revolution in the Renaissance.  There isn't much in-depth world-building in this novel, but Swanwick does provide a few interesting snapshots.  My particular favorite takes place in the middle of the book, where the battles of the Spanish Armada have become a duel between Spanish ironclads and the English fleet of missile cruisers.  Through it all, Faust's sense of morality slowly decays, with Mephistopheles happily feeding his every desire.  It may not be the best steampunk novel ever written, but it's well worth a look.

It's available from Amazon.com here.
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