What if Faust in the 16th century had been offered the knowledge available in the 20th? Well, Swanwick (The Iron Dragon's Daughter, 1994, etc.) strives to outdo a couple of literary giants (Marlowe, Goethe) with this recasting of the familiar story. At the start of the 16th century, scholar Johannes Faust of Wittenberg burns his library in despair at the stupid lies the books contain. But then he strikes a bargain with Mephistopheles, a devil from another, higher-energy universe: In exchange for knowledge--which, Faust maintains, humanity will use to ennoble and perfect itself--Faust agrees that he will listen only to whatever Mephistopheles has to say (the devil's intention, plainly stated, is for humanity to exterminate itself). Faust's initial attempts to disseminate his new knowledge are rejected. Then, in Nuremberg, he determines to win the heart of the lovely and intelligent Margarete Reinhardt, while his moneymaking inventions are enthusiastically taken up by Margarete's industrialist father. Under Faust's guidance, an industrial revolution explodes across Germany--but, rejected again, Faust must flee to London, leaving Margarete to manage the business. Among other developments, the ironclad Spanish Armada sets sail, pitting German cannons against English rockets. Faust continues to drive science and technology forward, manipulating and betraying poor Margarete as mercilessly as he does everybody else. A vivid and energetic reworking, set forth with all Swanwick's considerable skill. And yet the reader is constrained to ask, so what?