Monthly Archives: November 2013

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey is a five star book with a five star gaffe in it.  The writing is superlative, the prose flowing with grace and panache.  Descriptions are spot on, dialog is believable, the pacing is strong, and the white knuckle, page-turning factor is high.  The premise is somewhat familiar (gifted people in an Us vs. Them conflict with normals), but the execution is good enough to make this a worthwhile read even for the jaded.

The protagonist is an active force, driving the story forward.  He’s recognizably human, his motivations believable and clear, his range of emotions wide.  He has a moment of forced petulance at one point, but the book (thankfully) doesn’t try to wallow in that state, and that was the only place where I noticed characterization being actively subverted for purposes of the plot outline.

The descriptions of various settings, from D.C. to Wyoming, from country to woods to city, inside and out, are believable and well done.  In a few spots, the story puts too much description all together in a clump, but that only happens a couple of times.

The plot is intelligent, some of the individual steps along the way impressive.  And then, there’s the gaffe….

Unfortunately, the gaffe hurt.  It hurt a lot.  It was like going to a five star restaurant and finding a cockroach in the soup.  The gaffe is this:  one of the “gifted” has made too much money day trading on the stock market.  So every government in the world shuts down every stock market in the world.  And keeps them shut down.

Wow.  Luckily, this stinking whopper arrives after the cut-off point of the free sample.  I truly wonder if I would have plunked down the coin for this book had it been otherwise – and that would have been unfortunate.  Still, this isn’t a simple oops, it winds up appearing in several places in the book, including at one spot that might be called a turning point.

The reader’s trust in the book is damaged.  For some, I suspect it’s impossible to get past such a ridiculous idea.

Let’s go over this, just in case it isn’t clear.  Shutting down the stock markets permanently would be catastrophic.  They wouldn’t do it.  They just wouldn’t.  It would be akin to saying “We’re shutting down all the banks, because they put us into this global recession, and they need to be taught a lesson.”  It doesn’t matter if they plan to open the banks again in two years or whatever.  There won’t be any government left to reopen them.  Society (the few million who survive) will have been forced back into a hunter-gatherer existence.

Shutting down the markets maybe isn’t as obvious, but it’s there.  Most billionaires and millionaires would be rendered insolvent.  Investment companies, insurance companies, banks:  devastated.  Millions of retired individuals who have their retirement accounts locked up in mutual funds:  screwed, homeless, helpless, bereft.  From there, watch the dominoes fall.

No.  It won’t happen.  Look, if they want to stop the day traders, it’s easy:  you set a minimum holding period on all stock, bond, and futures transactions.  Once you buy it, you can’t sell it again for two days, two weeks, two months.  Pick a timeframe.  If you don’t like that, then just set the tax rate to 100% for any stock, bond, piece of real estate, etc., held less than the specified time.  Investors like Warren Buffet would probably applaud the idea.  Actually, I recall the man saying he wished the market would be open one day a week (or something like that), to give people more time to think about what they’re doing.

Legislate:  maybe.  (Probably not, because if they were going to, they would have already.  Think about the number of crashes spawned by people who use the markets as a gambling device or a get-rich-quick scheme.  It’s been a problem at least since the 1500s.)  But total shut down, no.  And if they did, there wouldn’t be people driving the highways, filling up at gas stations.  There would be people learning to chip stones to turn them into axes.  It would make the Great Depression look like a period of economic prosperity by comparison.

Sorry for the rant, but that’s the effect this sort of “you’ve got to be kidding” idea has on certain types of readers.  Look, we may be unstable, but our money’s just as green as anybody else’s.  Please give us a revised edition that doesn’t have this … this madness in it.

Conclusion:  this is a great book held back by a jaw-dropping goof.