Brilliance by Marcus Sakey
Very rarely do I actually read a book cover to cover. Like sit down, ignore life completely, and not stand up until I go to turn to the next page and find there is none. But this book was one such book. I literally sat down with a cup of tea and didn’t get up until I was done, 328 pages later. I vaguely remember pushing little hands out of my line of sight as I continued reading, and perhaps even getting half distracted by a tickle fight. The last time I remember getting this into a book while reading it was when the last Harry Potter came out.
The word “brilliance” here serves multiple purposes. One, the title of the book. Two, the quality embodied by the main character (and his species). Three, a description of the work itself. Actually though, this book was brilliant, and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone and everyone.
I’ve always been a bit partial to dystopian novels, which I blame on George Orwell and the sophomore English curriculum that made me read said author. And I’ve always been partial to any book in which the main character is smart. Like really, really smart. This, I blame wholly on Matilda and her creator, Roald Dahl. So Marcus Sakey, by writing a dystopian novel in which the main character is undeniably brilliant, basically wrote a book with all of my favorite plot aspects. A science fiction novel with enough plausibility to be genuinely frightening. Significant descriptions of details, which I’ve always liked as someone who loves being able to really SEE what I’m reading in my mind’s eye. Fast paced action.
The best parts of this novel came from the modernity of it. Published in 2013, the book is set in 2013. There is really only one significant difference between the world of the novel and the world that we live in, but that difference makes all the difference. The population of “abnorms,” derogatorily called “twists,” are smarter than the rest of us. They exist within a range of levels, with the mere geniuses classified as level seven, the level ones of such incredible intelligence that they rank among Einstein, Shakespeare, and the like. They see through the normals, sensing patterns and writing inconceivably complex computer code, performing incredible feats of mathematics and memorization. Some of them, of course, are truly dangerous.
And the normals need to stop the war. Because though the norms outnumber the abnorms by a conservative 99 to 1, the abnorms’ incredible intelligence makes the end of the war in their favor inescapable.
But who really wants the war? Who is acting to start it and who is trying to stop it?
Beyond the sheer beauty of the plot, the undercurrents are what really drew me into this book. Like any good dystopian novel, Brilliance has enough similarities to the real world to make the mental leap from “What if?” to “What is?” an easy one. The similarities between the war against (Arab) terrorism the United States is fighting in real life and the war against (abnorm) terrorism the United States is fighting in the book were too many to be accidental. The questions I asked about the book: “Why is it only the US government that is worried about the abnorms?” “What can actually be done about the negative affects of the never-ending almost-war on the abnorms who are innocent?” “Who is actually benefiting from this war?” are questions I ask myself often about the real world. The parallels between the murky world of the abnorm’s self-sufficient society in middle-of-nowhere-Wyoming and the often murky details that once surrounded the Church of the Latter Day Saints in Utah are impossible to ignore. The similarities between the description of the abnorm compounds – where abnorm level 1 children are sent to be “taught” who they can trust – and the descriptions we’ve all heard and read of Guantanamo are frightening.
And, like any good novel, the details sucked me into the world, the suspense kept me going, and the twists were just unexpected enough that I didn’t know I knew they were coming until they were already there. I like a book that makes me think. That makes me wonder about the world, be that the fictional world or the real world. A book that forces me to reconsider something I always thought was true. And Brilliance definitely did that for me. So if you’re looking for a book to read, and you’re willing to start a book you won’t be able to put down, then Brilliance should probably be the next book you pick up. Happy reading!