A Better World, book two of Sakey’s near-future Brilliance Saga, traces the physical and psychological conflicts that arise when 1% of the world’s population possess paranormal talents.
What was your goal for the second novel in the Brilliance Saga?
I love apocalyptic stories, but they usually begin after the world is already in rubble. I wanted to write a book that showed it beginning to fall apart, how small divisions can splinter the larger whole. And I wanted reasonable people on both sides, who just disagreed about what the future should look like.
Why did you decide to treat the subject of humans born with superior talents?
Because of everyone else. To me, the brilliants are the point: how does the world react to them? What would happen if 1% of the population was objectively better than the rest of us? How would society adapt, or fail to adapt? Would we become dependent on them? Would we enslave them? Would they, for their own safety, work against us?
What are some of the literary dystopias that influence your work?
I like those best where the world hasn’t ended, but rather changed fundamentally, where society is struggling along, even if in horrifying ways.
What makes so many non-Brilliant people fear the Brilliants?
Most people are just trying to live their lives. It’s the extremists on both sides that are forcing the world steadily closer to disaster. It’s fact: the brilliants are objectively better, creating a pre-millennial tension in everyone. If you’re normal, where does that leave you? Where does it leave your children?
Which character best conveys the attitudes toward terrorism today?
Owen Leahy, the secretary of defense. He’s a bit of an antagonist, but also a patriot, a father and grandfather; he’s served his country his whole life, but that dedication blinds him, stranding him in an outdated vision of the world. He resists change and relies on broadly-applied force to solve problems.
What in your professional background prepared you best for writing this novel?
Facetiously. A decade in advertising exposed me to plenty of schemers and backstabbers. But honestly, advertising is wonderful training for fiction. Writing novels is much easier if you’ve ever tried to write a billboard.
Your hero Nick Cooper has been betrayed by his employers several crucial times. What keeps him going?
What keeps most of us going? The desire to make a better world for his children. He hunts terrorist and advises the president, but anyone who keeps a job they hate because it provides their family’s health care would understand Cooper perfectly.
Is there a common denominator to the villains in this novel?
I hope it’s that they aren’t villains. I worked hard to make them real people justifying their politics and actions to themselves. Even the most explicitly “villainous” is so deeply damaged he can’t relate to the world.
What is the greatest failure of President Lionel Clay in the book?
A lack of certainty coupled with inability to recognize others’ less than noble motives. But since his vice-presidency came from electoral math and he became president when his predecessor was forced out, it’s the nation’s failure, not his. A situation we’ll find ourselves in if we don’t smarten up as a nation.
How close are we to the America portrayed in your book?
The best thing about writing speculative fiction is the opportunity to satirize the whole wide world. The America in A Better World isn’t ours, but it’s pretty close, so I could lampoon everything from partisan politics to the cult of celebrity to our general disaffection. To me all that is the point.