Next, perhaps, to Dickens' Scrooge, Goethe's Faust is arguably the most influential character in English literature. Often imitated, re-imagined, parodied, and refuted, he appears as both a character and as a theme in countless works. In fact, many readers are far more familiar with the contemporary retellings than either Goethe's original work or Christopher Marlowe's more well-known play, Dr. Faustus.
Given that long history, readers can be excused for wondering if there's really anything new to be done with the story, but Michael Brookes deserves some credit for not only successfully reinventing Faust for the 21st century, but for adding something relevant to the tale with Faust 2.0.
In Brookes' story, the Devil is a spontaneously created, self-aware, self-directed artificial intelligence. It has consumed the entire history of humanity through the internet and social media, has decided that it finds the idea of Hell exceptionally appealing, and sees itself as a necessary sort of digital Devil, taking on the seductive form of a beautiful woman (à la Helen of Troy, as summoned by Faust). It's a story that merges our spiritual fears with our technological ones, playing on the legacy of Terminator's Skynet as as much as that of Goethe and Marlowe.
What's really unique about Brookes' story is two things. First, he tells the story from the Devil's perspective, putting the emphasis on acquiring souls as opposed to selling them. Second, as part of that perspective shift, he makes the story about the Devil's attempts to ensure its own self-preservation, as opposed to a Faust-figure selling his soul for eternal life. That's not to say the Faust element is lost, however. We actually get multiple Faust-figures here, each of whom is willing promise a favor in the future in order to attain immediate riches and rewards. That's the human element of the tale, and it's where readers can most directly engage and identify.
Personally, I would have liked more detail on the sins of the Devil's victims, but there is something to be said for leaving it to the reader's imagination. There's a definite sort of X-Files vibe to the tale as well, with the Scully & Mulder pairing of Morton & Mitchell trying to solve the Devil's viral puzzle while investigating the crimes of the various Faust-figures, but they don't really come into their own until the second half of the tale.
Overall, Faust 2.0 is an interesting tale, well-told, with some really inventive twists - well-worth the read.
Paperback, 220 pages
Published August 15th 2013 (first published May 16th 2013)