An astonishingly ambitious first novel from Mexican writer and former scientist Rebolledo, winner of the Mobil Corporation's 15th annual Pegasus Prize for Literature. It's the story, set in 18th-century Europe (mainly Paris) and Mexicoand, in part, in the futureof the varied education enjoyed and suffered by Fausto Rasero, an intellectually curious young Spaniard, mysteriously bald since birth, whose innate sophistication and unconventional magnetism bring him into intriguingly close contact with many of the great figures of the Enlightenment. Fausto is befriended by Diderot but modestly declines to write an introduction for the EncyclopÇdie. He becomes an intimate of Voltaire's. He hears the moppet prodigy Mozart play. A climax of sorts is reached when Fausto debates political theory with Robespierre, Rousseau, and Danton, among others, just before the Revolution drives him out of Paris. Other climaxes occur during Fausto's lovemaking, in whichin an amusing lift from Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbowhis orgasms (with Madame de Pompadour, among many, many others) trigger visions of violence and carnage that we recognize as genocidal refinements achieved by modern warfarers, and from which Fausto concludes: ``Human inventiveness is inexhaustible. We can do anything we want to.'' That seems to be the aesthetic that powers Rasero, an imposing omnium-gatherum that vibrates with energy and purpose despite its longueurs. They are unfortunately many: a plethora of just barely dramatized theoretical chemistry and Newtonian physics, for example, and a gratingly redundant succession of sex scenes all but indistinguishable one from the other. Nonetheless, the novel teems with witty conversation and vigorous incident and is further buoyed by such pleasures as Rebolledo's ingenious characterization of Voltaire as a mysterious hybrid compounded of paranoia, moral courage, hypochondria, and indomitable vitality. An exhilarating, frustrating mixture of originality and regurgitated arcana. It's filled with quaint and curious lore, steam-powered conveyances, and state-of-the-art engines of destruction, but it smells of the lamp.