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DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

Jack Faust
Michael Swanwick
Avon Books/337 pp./$23.00
ISBN 0-380-97444-4
(Now available in trade paper from Avon ISBN 038079070X /$12.95)

Reviewed by Hank Wagner

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 is 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. Faust seeks to lift humanity out of the dark ages, but only hastens its descent. Swanwick seems to be reminding readers of the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for, because you may get it." Doing so, he provides a valuable, and extremely winning entertainment. -- Hank Wagner

Guest reviewer Hank Wagner, always a prolific reader, is also one of the most prolific reviewers in horror. He has been the chief reviewer for the Overlook Connection Catalog, has reviewed for the DarkEcho newsletter, Cemetery Dance, Horror, Nova Express, Wetbones, and for many other publications.

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