Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Parable for Our Times

Brilliance is a captivating and thought-provoking thriller that serves at one level as a parable about the course of events in the United States in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

The premise of the plot is that beginning roughly in 1980, once percent of the babies born in the world were "Brilliants," highly-gifted geniuses with intellectual and other powers that dwarfed those of "Normals." The pattern was first recognized by a study in 1986, and since then, the world has watched with awe the accomplishments of the Brilliants. The most highly gifted among them--the Tier Ones--had incredible abilities. One of them, Erik Epstein, single-handedly proved to be so adept at anticipating the stock market that the government was force to close down the New York Stock Exchange after Epstein compiled a fortune of $300 billion, destroying the investments of countless others.

Inevitably many Normals feared that they were rapidly being shunted into obsolescence and that soon they would be irrelevant, perhaps even turned into the slaves of the Brilliants. Consequently some began to demand that the government should take steps to prevent the potential damage that the Brilliants might pose to the society and to the larger population.

Accordingly, the American government created a new agency, the Department of Analysis and Response (the DAR), to gauge the potential threat posed by the Brilliants and to react to it. The Brilliants insisted that they were American citizens and that the government had no right to curtail their freedoms simply because some Normals felt threatened by their gifts. Many Normals supported those arguments and the vast majority of Brilliants remained solid citizens, simply trying to live their lives without threatening anyone.

As the Brilliants began to dominate more and more aspects of the society though, even including the NFL, those who feared them grew louder and the government began limiting the freedom of the Brilliants. The Brilliants lobbied and marched for the maintenance of their rights, but a handful of them were ready to take more violent action in support of their rights.

For a number of years, the DAR limped along, underfunded and unable to get much traction in its campaign against the Brilliants. There were threats of a congressional investigation into the actions of the DAR, but then a Brilliant terrorist named John Smith led a brazen attack against a Washington, D.C. restaurant, assassinating a U.S. Senator and mercilessly gunning down 73 other men, women and children.

Surveillance video of the attack went viral, and the American public, stirred by the media, demanded revenge. Overnight, the DAR's budget was ramped up and its powers were greatly expanded, even to the point of giving some of its agents a license to kill. All children were now to be tested at the age of eight, and those testing as Tier One Brilliants would be removed from their families and sent to special "academies" in an effort to shape their gifts in a way that would not threaten the Normals.

Inevitably, many Brilliants felt threatened by these actions and acted to protect their rights as American citizens. A special unit of the DAR, the Equitable Response Unit, was commissioned to hunt down those perceived to be the greatest threats and who were branded as terrorists. Whether these "terrorists" were captured dead or alive seemed to be of little consequence.

One such agent is Nick Cooper. He's an ex-soldier, divorced with two small children. Cooper is himself a Brilliant, with a special talent for tracking down terrorists. He is appalled by their actions and, even though he supports traditional rights and liberties for the Brilliants, he believes that the extremists among them must be eliminated. The Holy Grail for Cooper and the rest of the Equitable Response Unit would be to kill John Smith, the mastermind of the attack in Washington.

After another terrorist attack, Cooper gets his chance to go after Smith. But at the same time, he discovers, much to his dismay, that his four-year-old daughter is almost certainly a Tier One Brilliant. This means that she will be taken from the family and sent to an academy--a thought that devastates Cooper who has seen the work of these academies up close and despises them.

Nick Cooper is now a man at war with himself, at once determined to kill the elusive John Smith while at the same time protecting his family. The result is a wild ride that leads to a shocking climax. Marcus Sakey has written a brilliant thriller both because it tells a terrifically engrossing story, and also because it raises some very troubling questions about the way in which a democratic society reacts to a perceived threat. The book should appeal to large numbers of readers.

No comments:

Post a Comment