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What If The X-Men Were Real? Q&A With Marcus Sakey, Author Of 'Brilliance'
Interview of me

What if the X-Men were real? And what if they weren't mutants in spandex, but people like you and me and Bob in accounting, just endowed with superhuman talents for things like pattern recognition, programming and strategy?

That's the premise of Marcus Sakey's new novel, Brilliance — yes, "brilliants" are among us, and their outsize abilities have knocked our society off balance. One brilliant money whiz has broken the stock market. Others have jumped medical research forward by decades in just a few years. And in a topical twist, a government agency — the euphemistically named Department of Analysis and Response — hunts down troublesome brilliants with all the resources of an overgrown surveillance state.

I chatted with Sakey via email, and he told me that he's fascinated by savants, people who can reproduce complex drawings after just a single glance, or pick up an instrument and master it in moments. "Of course, in real life, most of them have terrible challenges," Sakey writes. "But I got to thinking: what if it was just an attribute, like hair color or height? And what if it became commonplace, say 1 percent of everyone born since 1980?"

Brilliants are, essentially, superheroes. And in the comics, we mostly accept that superheroes are there to help us, and while there are supervillains, you can usually count on the Avengers to ward them off. Or the X-Men, or Batman — and so on. But it seems like your book inverts the traditional superhero narrative (or if you want to get really nerdy about it, there are some echoes of the Marvel Comics "Civil War" storyline, which involves a Superhuman Registration Act).

"Oh, I want to get really nerdy about it. I'm a card-carrying nerd, a gamer and sci-fi geek.

"One of the rules I made for myself early on, though, was that while the brilliants have amazing abilities, they are all rooted in things the human mind is actually capable of. So no flying, or laser-beam eyes. But if your brain is able to read the patterns of body language and the vectors of people's movement, you could essentially move invisibly just by being where no one is looking.

"The other factor that was important to me is the fact that unlike most superheroes, this isn't a small band working together. It's millions of people worldwide, people who don't otherwise share attributes or beliefs. Not only that, but they are born randomly, which means that you can't distance yourself. You might feel one way about the brilliants most of your life — and then discover your daughter is one.

"Complicating things further, the brilliants aren't just considered better. They are. They're objectively superior to the rest of us. Which is a scary concept to normal people.

"Of course, we outnumber them 99 to one ..."

Read the rest at npr.org.

Petra Mayer