Brilliance (Brilliance Saga #1) by Marcus Sakey is a new dystopian novel, recently reviewed by Esther J. Cepeda with approbation, and I wonder why.
This story is straight dystopian science fiction about a minority of people born with extraordinary gifts such as the ability to read body language the way you and I read billboards, or the ability to sense patterns in financial markets. As you might imagine, these “brilliants” are feared and loathed by the “normals,” and there may be a government conspiracy underway to contain them and neutralize their special powers.
What makes it all the more puzzling is that she offers her thoughts under a peculiar headline, probably not authored by her, stating, These reads do diversity right. I am not sure what is being endorsed here; but something is clearly being endorsed, and I’m not sure Ms. Cepeda would care for the underlying message.
I was hooked by the description of Alex Vasquez, a young genius with “a face you wouldn’t notice and a mind that could see the logic of computer programs unfolding in three dimensions, who didn’t so much write code as transcribe it. Who had waltzed through MIT’s graduate program at age 15. Vasquez had a talent of wondrous power, the kind they used to say happened only once a generation.”…It’s not often you see female, Hispanic characters like this in fiction. Thank you, Mr. Sakey.
I am not exactly sure that more strong female Hispanic characters need to be sold by the American Book Industry this Christmas. Of course – stories, give us stories. Characters should live and be considered and grow in the crafted world of fiction – but we do not need to receive less value in more packages, and staleness is not a virtue.
The premise of Brilliance does not appear frankly racist. The problem of “race” itself is a mess – it deserves some sort of start-over in our society’s attempts to tackle it. Now, “race” is a badly misunderstood and skewed muddle that cannot be reliably stated or understood. In our fifty years of clumsy attempts, we have only made the problem worse.
In the founding premise of this dystopian book, there are special people – special members born to the Elect, those from birth possessing the rare attribute of Brilliance. They are only a vanishingly small percentage of the population, a percent or so. These Brilliant have skills that one might think that society might value them and their skills, reaping their shared benefit. Instead, the Mediocre, the average Joe – likely from the wrathful envy jealousy that earned Cain his marks, these “different” are seen as witchy and mystical. They are disdained, rejected and perhaps chased down by a nefarious hidden conspiracy.
These points of diamonds, these Brilliant spots like the stars, shimmer out individually. They show up against the murky background, the emptiness of sky, ex tenebris.
The envy alone of the Mediocre Ones seems to drive them to push around the Brillianti. The Mediocre are mistreating them, no? But look deeper
With only the subtlest changes, this could be turned into a dystopian novel of the White Man’s Burden, trying to help the very average face in the crowd – those who despise and hate them for their God-given superiority. Brilliance and whiteness are not that far apart, and how society sees The Special Ones is a comment upon that society which reads these novels.
Alex Vasquez, not a pretty thing but a gifted woman, has this innate gift of Brilliance. From the brief description, her giftis not a skill, but rather a specialness. In the role that the psychotic visionary was accorded in the tribe. She is different by virtue that she is Better – what Better means is not well described, but is treated as though an inarguable principle.
A century ago, all sorts of measures and deductions were made in constructing an algorithm of Whiteness – the brain size, the IQ – a fraudulent proposition if there ever was one. Do not trust my account – read The Mismeasure of Man, by Stephen Jay Gould. The algorithms of the 19th century would have found Vasquez partially “White,” no doubt – rather from congelation of voodoo science, or simply by virtue of her intelligence.
We should look at our own biases, now, the 21st century. We see Brilliant and Mediocre with such self-satisfied assurance that our forefathers saw White and Negroid features. Is there an opposite of Brilliant? Why do we claim it is the Mediocre? Are people fated as such in their manufacture?
What is giftedness? is it a THING, or a capacity? Does Giftedness have an opposite? Is it properly contrasted by a painting of empty hands?
If Giftedness is a random lot doled out by God, then justice would dictate that we redistribute its fruits; or otherwise, stay with the Lot of God and not tamper with the intents of the Distribution. A lot of our political stalemate between Socialism and Social Darwinism is predicated upon such things as the essence of Giftedness. We are gifted enough to live this way, but not enough to thoroughly refute this nonsense.
Reason is a faculty of the human mind. Reason derives from a verb – it is the concrete description of a process, a movement. Thus, if Brilliant is to be refuted, it would seem to be on Ayn Rand’s premises. A person’s conclusions are only as valid as the product of their reason, not by virtue of their brilliance. Brilliance does not convey incontrovertability.
Perhaps some day we can understand how we think. Perhaps in the ancient days, the line of the priest-kings were worshiped; perhaps there was a grain of sense in that premise, as they were more likely to be properly nourished and not stunted from starvation or poisoning.
Suddenly the thought of Huxley arises, with the low proles predetermined to be so by poisoning of the deltas and epsilons in utero at the factory, to make them unable to claim a level of reason that might compete with the Brilliant alphas, and clever betas.
Other manifestations can be swept aside, in some egalitarian premise – we are not talking about racism or sexism, here, folks – we have a brown woman, for God’s sake, who is one of the Brillianti!
The reminder that race is whimsical and gender is changeable does nothing to save the awful premise, here. The incredible burden of the Bright Man’s Burden only differs from race by a letter; the wogs do not need to be dark and stupid, they may have red necks, after all.
But the premise that we are things, that we are objects of use to some overarching entity that is neither human nor humane, bursts forth; the song, after all, is the same one our species has turned to in times of uncertainty.
These are not the principles of Jefferson and King. I fear that those principles are unknown ideals, still. What if we had a world where people were capable at things, and taught to be capable and comfortable with more things? Of a world where becoming Old meant, inevitably, becoming Wise?
We live under the pretense of the “IQ,” a piece of toxic nonsense from a century ago.
Imagine a culture or a world that was directed towards the most excellence from the most people! Economically, that would be the recipe for abundance; and has is many cultures already. Why do we follow the path of dying cultures?
Written in haste, edited somewhat.