Sunday, June 11, 2017

Review of "Brilliance" by Marcus Sakey

Beginning in the 1980s, a small percentage of humans with unusual abilities began to be born. These people - called brilliants or abnorms - cause fear in average people, who are concerned about what the brilliants might do. An abnorm called Erik Epstein, for example, uses his stock market savviness to amass a fortune of 300 billion dollars. This causes stock exchanges to close, creating havoc among investors and businesses. One abnorm is a human lie detector, another moves so surreptitiously that she seems to appear out of thin air. Regular people are afraid that brilliants might band together to take over the country.

To subdue people's anxiety, the United States government develops new programs to deal with abnorms. Gifted children, for example, are separated from their families and sent to special Academies - where they're given new names and brainwashed into distrusting their own kind. And Congress is trying to pass a law that requires all abnorms to have a 'chip' inserted close to the carotid artery - so they can be tracked at all times. (Shades of Nazi Germany!)

Some brilliants - who abhor these policies - become terrorists. The most ruthless terrorist is John Smith, who supervises the slaughter of 73 patrons (including children) in an upscale Washington, DC restaurant and perpetrates deadly bombings.

To combat the abnorm terrorists, the government creates an agency called the Department of Analysis and Response (DAR) - whose mission is to hunt down and kill dangerous brilliants. One of the leading DAR agents is himself an abnorm - named Nick Cooper - whose ability to read body language lets him know exactly what a person is about to do. This gives Nick a big advantage in hostile situations, and he has tracked down and assassinated many abnorm criminals and extremists.

Nick is also a divorced father with two children that he dearly loves. Ironically, Nick just discovered that his four-year-old daughter is a high-level abnorm whose abilities have attracted attention. Thus, the little girl is about to be tested by authorities, and will undoubtedly be sent to an Academy. Nick and his ex-wife - who have an amicable relationship - don't want this to happen.

After another massive bombing - which kills over a thousand people - Nick makes a hush-hush deal with his supervisor, Drew Peters. Peters will announce that Nick is responsible for the bombing, and Nick will go on the run. DAR agents won't be in on the deception, and will attempt to hunt Nick down. As a result, Nick will acquire street cred that helps him infiltrate Smith's inner circle and (hopefully) kill the terrorist. In return for Smith's demise, Nick's young daughter won't be tested and won't go to an Academy.

In his undercover role Nick teams up with a beautiful 'fellow extremist' named Shannon Azzi, which leads to some interesting developments and a few surprising twists. That's about all I can say without giving too much away.

The premise of the story - that authorities want to control (or eliminate) 'exceptional' people - is interesting, but not especially original. The same kind of theme is seen in X-men, Heroes, and numerous superhero tales. Still, the abnorms in 'Brilliance' are unique because their abilities are generally associated with mental superiority rather than the ability to fly, become invisible, shoot lightning out of their fingers, etc.

There's a nice mix of characters in the story, including different kinds of brilliants, various DAR executives, Nick's DAR partner, the principal of an Academy, Nick's ex-wife, and more. Some characters are good guys, some not.....and it's not always obvious who's who. In fact Nick comes off as quite a hypocrite, wanting his daughter to be treated differently than other abnorms.

I enjoyed the book, which held my interest and led to a compelling climax. Recommended for science fiction fans.

Rating: 3 stars

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