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Chicago serves as ‘A Better World’ in Marcus Sakey’s new book

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Updated: July 23, 2014 6:17AM



You might think you’ve heard this story before, but you haven’t.

Everyone talks about what they would do if the zombie apocalypse occurs, or where they would go if, suddenly, the lights went out and never came back on. People dream of what life could be if X-Men-type characters really existed and what the government would do if faced with potential terrorist threats on U.S. soil.

Imagine no more. Chicago writer Marcus Sakey’s newest release, “A Better World,” does it for you and in so doing adds a decidedly adult, disturbingly feasible spin to the dystopian, future Chi-town trend overtaking literature. A follow up to last year’s well-received “Brilliance,” the second novel in the series tells us what happens after a government plot to start a genocide against especially smart and physically adept people gets uploaded to the Internet. Extremists on either end of the spectrum ultimately want a better world — or no world — for the so-called Brilliants, and most will kill to get it.

“If it was utopia, it’d be a pretty dull book,” says the author, laughing. He then describes the Chicago he has created. There are no dragons here; only high-end science, empaths and sociopaths, a concept conjured up in part by the author’s ruminations on the positive sides of the autism spectrum. What would happen if a person who was a savant was fully functional and a savant? Such a person might be unstoppable. “In my world there’s absolutely no discrimination against homosexuality because instead there’s a discrimination against Brilliants.”

Nick Cooper is our hero. He’s a “Tier 1” Brilliant who processes information a few seconds faster than the rest of us. He knows you’re going to turn left before you do, and if he wants, he can take you out. He’s also, of course, a government agent. Or double agent. Or double-crossed agent. It’s complicated.

Chinatown figures prominently in the book, which takes place in an alternate reality that splits from traditional U.S. history starting around 1980. The divergence, and the point of the story, is to flesh out what happens when regular folks get jealous of the Brilliants who play the stock market like a kid’s game, dominate the Chicago Bears and are better at, well, everything, than their born-normal counterparts.

Sakey, a Chicago resident for 12 years, doesn’t normally write speculative fiction. (Many will argue that the book is downright sci-fi.) He’s a well-known writer of suspense thrillers, but this book has caught many eyes, and the first story has been optioned by Legendary Films. Will Smith was set to play Cooper, but lately the rumor mill says Smith bowed out because of scheduling conflicts and that Jared Leto is “in talks” to take the role.

“It was such a bizarre and wonderful day . . . by the end of the day there were offers from six movie studios,” says Sakey, 40, of Roscoe Village. “A lot of things that are optioned never get made, that’s why I’m so excited about the enthusiasm.”

Either star would be a plus. Smith is a megastar. Leto just won an Oscar. And in the case of that first book, it’ll largely carry the essence of Chicago. The city is ripe for storytelling, he says, because it has a lot of ghosts.

“There’s probably something to the fact that Chicago is a deeply American city,” Sakey says. “LA is Hollywood and looks West. Seattle is hipster and grunge. D.C. is the business of government. I think that the kind of sense of a city that built things, that had a weight and a heft and people that worked with their hands, that still lingers here today. If you’re going to pick a city to represent the soul of America, you could do Chicago.”

Email: agibbs@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adriennewrites



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