Earlier this year, we shared the news that Legendary Pictures had acquired the rights to Brilliance, the new novel from accomplished crime novelist Marcus Sakey. The book takes place in an alternate reality where 1% of the population is genetically gifted and it deals with the dramatic impact that these so-called "Brilliants" have on the world.
Recently, Screen Rant had the opportunity to not only read Brilliance, but talk to the author about the novel and the upcoming film adaptation. Spoiler alert: it's really good, and it should make for one hell of a movie.
SR: What inspired you to write a more science fiction-focused novel, as opposed to some of the work you've done previously?
MS: Sometimes you get an idea that just grips you by the throat and you feel like you have to write it. And when I say sometimes, I mean exceedingly rarely. A lot more rarely than I would like. With this one, when the idea of the abnorms hit me, that was really the nexus of it. The idea of these people with savant gifts, but without the disabilities and disadvantages. And, more importantly, what it meant for the whole world.
One of the natural correlations people drew when the book was announced, and especially when the film rights were sold, was that , "Hey, this is like X-Men." Having read the book, I don't think that's necessarily an accurate analogy, but does any of that comic book mythology or things you read growing up inspire the writing of the book?
I'm a fan of the whole canon of science fiction, although I'm not a comic book expert by any means. For me, it's been weird seeing all the comparisons to 'X-Men,' because on one level it's very flattering. On the other hand, I don't really think the comparison is all that apt. The idea of stories about supermen among us, frankly doesn't begin with 'X-Men.' 'X-Men' belongs in that category along with a bunch of other things.
To me, while 'X-Men' is great, I don't think they're all that similar. What I was more interested in was this sort of social novel aspect. What happens to the world? How does the world react? How does our easy xenophobia play out when it's our sons and daughters? And really just pushing the impact of the gifts through a real world filter.
I really enjoyed the very beginning of the book, when you're establishing the world and why abnorms became a problem. The idea that somebody could single-handedly disrupt the global economy because of his ability to recognize patterns in the stock market is cool to read because it feels believable. Someone who can tank the stock market and become a multi-billionaire in the process? That's actually a little frightening.
Thanks. That was really important to me. The idea that these gifts all be something that is conceivable. A lot of them are even modeled loosely off of things that savants have been able to do in the past. But, real-life savants are usually burdened by terrible disadvantages. That was really the fun, asking what if this happened and was commonplace? And most of it isn't all that useful, but for some of these people, it could change the whole world.
An interesting theme of the book is, "How do we react to people like that?" You know, what does somebody with those gifts represent to us? Are they something we should aspire to be like? Or do we fear them or try and control them? I think the scenes you wrote involving the government and how they seek to stifle Brilliants was very compelling because it taps into a natural fear or distrust of the government that is very resonant right now.
And such casual distrust. We just sort of all assume that they don't have our best interests at heart. I don't think most of us assume that they're actively willing to kill us, like the way some of the things happen in this book. But it's amazing how jaded we all are in that we're kind of okay with it, because we don't know what to do about it.
I'm not an activist, who's waving a flag and has an idea what to do about it. I'm just commenting on it. That's the way we handle things and I intentionally put in a lot of parallels to modern politics and extremism in all forms. Exploring those ideas to me is one of the great strengths of science fiction. It gives you a world where you can look at your own, but a little more safely because it just sort of looks like yours.
You've had multiple novels optioned as movies. What has that process been like for you, and what has it been like so far working with Legendary on developing Brilliance?
With 'Brilliance' especially, it's really been amazing. You want to pick good production partners. People who believe and want the same thing as you do. Then you let them do their job. It's been such a great experience so far to be with Legendary because, from the very beginning, they have been clearly passionate about the book and the story I told. Everything they've said and done so far has really demonstrated that what they want to do is tell the story, just in a different medium, which is crazy exciting for an author.
Selling this book was a really surreal day. The book went to auction, there were a number of studios involved. My agent called every 30 minutes with some new piece of information or some new offer on the table. Legendary was the first and the most passionate and the most dedicated. And they followed through on it: the book is being adapted by David Koepp, who is one of the highest grossing screenwriters of all time.
Yeah, when I read that David Koepp was adapting, it was like, "Wow."
Legendary was very frank in the fact that it was an enormous coup to get him. It's not like he's a guy where you just pay his rate. He picks and chooses, and that they believed in the book enough to do that..."Wow, David Koepp" was pretty much my reaction as well.
I highly recommend checking out Brilliance. It's a great book that's impossible to put down. We'll have more information on the film adaptation as it goes into production.
If you're still on the fence about reading the book, here's a synopsis:
THEY ARE THE ONE PERCENT
In Wyoming, a little girl reads people's darkest secrets by the way they fold their arms.
In New York, a man sensing patterns in the stock market racks up $300 billion.
In Chicago, a woman can go invisible by being where no one is looking.
They're called "brilliants," and since 1980, one percent of people have been born this way. Nick Cooper is among them; a federal agent, Cooper has gifts rendering him exceptional at hunting terrorists. His latest target may be the most dangerous man alive, a brilliant drenched in blood and intent on provoking civil war. But to catch him, Cooper will have to violate everything he believes in—and betray his own kind.
Brilliance is available in bookstores and on Amazon.com now.