First line: "(Excerpted from the New York Times, The Opinion Pages, December 12, 1986) Lately much has been made of Dr. Eugene Bryce and his study of the so-called "brilliants," that percentage of children born since 1980 with exceptional abilities."
Take a dash of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, mix a pinch of Huxley's Brave New World and mix thoroughly with Marcus Sakey's distinct voice, view and style and you'll come out with the hauntingly wonderful beginning of a trilogy.
Sakey blurs the genre lines of science fiction and crime fiction in the story of Nick Cooper, an agent with the Department of Analysis and Response (DAR). The government agency was created as a reaction to the proliferation of children born with "exceptional abilities," a.k.a. "brilliants," a.k.a. "abnorms," a.k.a. "twists." One such individual shut down the entire stock exchange because of his ability with numbers and data. But all brilliants don't have the same talents or the same level of talents.
Nick Cooper is an oddity in the DAR. He is a level one brilliant. He's gifted with pattern identification, and his job is to investigate other brilliants, prevent them from wreaking havoc on the world. Number one on the DAR's most wanted list is John Smith, a vigilante brilliant responsible for numerous violent attacks and many deaths. Smith repeatedly slips through Cooper's hands, so when a bomb explodes in the newly opened Stock Exchange, killing over 1100 people and terrifying the country, Cooper sees this as his opportunity to go rogue and infiltrate Smith's organization.
As Cooper learns more and more about the world of the brilliants--a world he's been on the outside of despite his own classification--and as he moves closer to John Smith, the ideals he's held so highly all of his life begin to lose their strength. Differentiating between the good guys and the bad guys is becoming impossible and Cooper knows he can never return to the life he once knew. His only option is to go forward and forge a new path, but first he has to fight for his life.
If you listen to parents of young children, they all want their children to be exceptional. "Mikey is so smart, he can..." "The other day Jane did....she's going to be famous some day, I just know it." Marcus Sakey has taken that parental dream and run with it, much the way Aldous Huxley did in his utopian Brave New World. What if these children were all brilliant. Would everything be wonderful? What if we're being too short-sighted and overlooking terrible things that could result?
Present social issues also poke their heads up symbolically throughout Brilliance, and Sakey forces his readers to take note of their own behaviors as they compare with what's going on in the novel:
"It wouldn't be long before it got out that the bombing was John Smith's work. And in America's overwrought state, most people wouldn't make the distinction between abnorms and abnorm terrorists."
While Brilliance is a brave new world for Sakey, it also retains many elements of his trademark style. The imagery in his writing is vivid, tattooing scenes and characters into readers' minds:
"Cooper walked, slow and steady, four-four time in a world gone off measure."
"We're lifeguards at the gene pool."
His humor seeps in at surprisingly wonderful times:
'The view from on high is divine, my son.' Behind the voice came the buzz of rotors. At the elevation the airship was flying, it was nothing but a darker gray spot against a bright gray sky. 'God is good.'
Cooper smiled and pressed the transmit button. 'Peace be with you.'
'And also with you. But woe betide the sorry shitbird who tries to run, lest we hurl a thunderbolt.'
And most of all, Sakey continues to write engaging stories. Brilliance is timeless and may very well be the next American classic. It is ambitious, intense and thought-provoking. Weighing in at almost 500 pages, it flew by and I wasn't ready for it to end. The saving grace came in the last line (don't worry, it isn't a spoiler): "END OF BOOK ONE." So I'll end with, "OMG I can't wait for Book Two!"
Brilliance is available from Thomas & Mercer in paperback (ISBN: 9781611099690) and fittingly enough from Brilliance Audio as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 9781480504639), narrated by Luke Daniels.