"Otte nails the concept . . . He balances fantasy with teen hormones in a clever and page-turning debut . . .
The amusing noirish atmosphere of the setting draws older readers . . . A TV show full of sequel possibilities."
Why did Robin Laughlin (a.k.a. Failstate) think being a superhero on a reality show would be a good idea?
Things seemed so simple: Win the show, become an official,
licensed hero. But with his brother, Ben (a.k.a. Gauntlet) stealing
America's heart-and with Rob's own powers proving too unwieldy for TV-Failstate begins to wonder if he's going to live up to the failure in his name.
Until one of his friends and fellow competitors is murdered.
Robin vows to find the killer, and he sets out on a very real quest to unmask the hidden villain. Can Failstate find justice? Or will his lunk of a big brother ruin everything-including taking the girl who has stolen Rob's heart?
Very soon, Failstate and Gauntlet will come to blows.
Which has been the villain's plan all along.
John W. Otte leads a double life. By day, he's a
Lutheran minister. He graduated from Concordia
University in St. Paul, Minnesota, with a theatre major and then from Concordia Seminary in St.
Louis, Missouri. By night, he writes weird stories.
He lives in South St. Paul, MN, with his wife and two sons. Find John online at www.johnwotte.com. "A
About the Author
John W. Otte is a Lutheran minister who graduated from Concordia University in St. Paul Minnesota, with a theatre major, and then from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He currently lives in South St. Paul, Minnesota, with his wife and two sons. Find John online at www.johnwotte.com.
Read an Excerpt
BEING A SUPERHERO was hard enough. Being one on reality television ... Why had I thought this was a good idea?
The production assistant, a young Asian woman in her late twenties, poked her head into the green room and called my name. I followed her out of the room. You'd think after four weeks of competition, they would give me a little credit for being able to find my own way, but no. They couldn't let the contestants get lost.
We walked down a corridor made of beige cinderblocks, one dotted with metal doors. Fluorescent lights buzzed and snapped overhead. Backstage personnel rushed around and brushed past each other and me in barely controlled panic. Their infectious rush only built as we approached a doorway with a burgundy curtain hanging in the frame, the dividing line between the backstage area and the set. A red light hung over the door. It would turn green in a moment to signal when it was my time to enter. Even though I had walked this route half a dozen times in previous weeks, each step still sent my heart slamming into my ribs.
A slow throb grew between my temples. Oh, no. I stopped short and screwed my eyes shut and willed the ache to go away. I had to keep my power in check.
Please, God, let everything work tonight. Give me focus, give me calm, give me control. Just don't let me break anything.
I braced myself against the wall and took a deep breath. I tried to ignore the hum of the lights, then blew it out slowly. A relaxing tingle dribbled through my chest, down my arms, and down to my legs. The ache unraveled. When I looked up, I realized the production assistant had gone ahead without me. I jogged after her and darted around a corner, almost running into the show's executive producer.
Helen Kirkwood was a woman in her late fifties with a hatchet face, all sharp corners. Greying brown hair was twisted back in her usual tight bun, and horn-rimmed glasses perched on her nose, which was upturned just enough to give her a snobbish look. I'd never understood why she'd been chosen to be one of the judges. But then, she was Alexander Magnus's personal assistant and his company, Magnus Communication Group, produced the show.
Her eyes, grey as steel, flashed as she spoke into her cell phone. "I don't care what he says! He can use the old units for the finale ... Because I have a different use for them, that's why!" Her gaze landed on me with enough force to knock me back a step. Helen's eyes narrowed. "Get in position, Failstate. And don't break anything tonight. We can't replace any more cameras."
The throbbing surged. I barely restrained the power spike. I managed a curt nod.
"Get going and good luck." From Helen's tone, I knew she wanted me to have anything but. Her voice chased me as I took my place. "How's the construction going on the finale set? ... Unacceptable!"
The production assistant came back and took me by the arm. She steered me through the halls and to the stage entrance. After a few seconds' wait, the red light blazed.
"And now, Failstate!" The announcer's voice boomed from the set.
I took a deep breath and pushed the curtain aside and walked onto the set. The bright lights blinded me. The set, scaffolds built out of gleaming steel, was supposed to look futuristic but resembled a shattered disco ball. The stage poked out into the audience, who sat on large bleachers. Toward the back of the stage was a raised platform with a long table and three high-backed leather chairs. Normally the judges sat there, but since they hadn't been introduced yet, the dais was wreathed in shadows, silhouetted by the thirty foot tall video screen behind it. Even though loud rock music blared overhead, the low murmur of the crowd still filtered through.
I stepped to downstage center. The weight of the audience's scrutiny slammed down on me. It didn't help that a dozen different cameras, some of them perched on high crane arms, all stared at me with their glassy lenses. I counted to ten and walked to my right and took my place. I glanced at the big screen to see what new biographical tidbit about me the producers had decided to share with the audience. I skimmed through the personal data: sixteen, a local resident of New Chayton, five-five, a hundred fifty pounds. That hadn't changed.
Failstate once spent an evening trapped in an elevator after foiling a bank robbery. Oh, wonderful. They would have to choose that one!
"And now let's welcome Gauntlet!" Before the announcer even got the name out, the crowd bellowed. I groaned. Same as last week, same as always. He was here.
Gauntlet strode across the stage and waved to his screaming fans. As always, he wore his usual blue spandex, complete with golden greaves and shoulder armor. His rising star symbol blazed brightly on his chest. His sandy blond hair poked out of the top of his costume, complementing his green-gold eyes.
He paused for a moment, fists jammed into his hips. The girls in particular seemed to love his posturing, as the squeals pitched higher with each flex of his muscles. Finally, a stagehand waved at the glory-hog to take his place. Gauntlet did so, blowing kisses to the audience as he walked.
I glanced down at my costume, such as it was. I looked through the black scrim of my Halloween hood at the grey sweatshirt with a large grease stain on my right arm and well-worn cargo pants, both cotton. I struggled to keep my shoulders from slumping. It wasn't fair.
When I looked up, Gauntlet stared at me, his mouth twisted in a wry smirk. He nodded. He always seemed to know I was looking at him in spite of my mask, a full hood with black scrim to conceal my features. Although the crowd continued to chant Gauntlet's name, his chuckle rang underneath the din.
Lux practically bounced onto the stage. She was about my age and wore her usual shimmering silver costume that clung to every curve. Long brown hair partially obscured her face, but that didn't hide the sheer energy that boiled off of her as she waved and flashed brilliant smiles at the crowd. Her power was that she could generate light, different colors, different intensities, hence her name.
Heat flashed through my cheeks, as it always did when I saw her. Maybe I'd get up the courage to talk to her after tonight's show and ... Who was I kidding? I'd stay mute like usual. Probably safer that way.
Blowhard's name described his powers, if not his personality. How the taciturn hero remained in the competition remained a mystery. He was in his in his mid-thirties, and not handsome either, with a large nose and a scraggly beard. Maybe viewers liked his pirate costume, a long black coat over a ruffled white shirt, complete with a red-and-blue bandana he had tied over the top of his head to form a mask.
Veritas's expression was unreadable through his mask, which covered his entire face except for his eyes. He wore vibrant red and blue tights that covered him from head to toe, save for a shock of wild red hair that poked out of the top. He wasn't bulky by any stretch of the imagination, but he was in better shape than me. He probably worked out so much to try to compensate, since his power was being a living lie detector. He could see the truth of any situation, even read people's minds. He bowed to the audience and then walked to other end of the stage.
Kid Magnum whirred and clanked as he strutted on-stage. His metallic armor, painted a mottled grey and black, shone under the stage lights. He wasn't a true hero, in my opinion. Instead of superpowers, he had an arsenal of destructive weaponry grafted into a suit of nearly impenetrable armor. You didn't have to be a hero to operate machinery. I had no idea how old he was, since he had never removed his helmet in my presence.
"Prairie Fire!" the announcer said.
Prairie Fire slunk on stage, her shoulder slumped and her arms wrapped around herself. She wore a shimmering black outfit crisscrossed with violet lightning bolts. I could never figure out why she chosen that as her name. She threw bolts of electricity, not flames. And she came from the swamps in Louisiana, not the Midwest. I suspected she worked as a cook in New Orleans. She always smelled of Cajun spices.
Titanium Ram, or T-Ram, sauntered to center stage. He wore a fairly simple costume, a blue coverall jumpsuit that appeared more like something a car mechanic would wear rather than a superhero. But he also wore a gleaming chrome helmet. He was in his late twenties and built like an English bulldog, squat and muscular. He could propel himself at incredible speeds and smash through just about anything.
Everett Thompson, the show's host, bounded on stage. He wore his trademarked zebra-print suit and gaudy smile. He swept an arm in our direction. "And here they are, America! The remaining eight heroes! Which one will be America's Next Superhero?"
The crowd went wild. Most of them chanted Gauntlet's name.
Everett let the chaos reign for a few more moments and then waved the crowd into silence. "But before we can proceed with tonight's festivities, we need to send one of these brave young heroes home. As always, the three contestants who received the fewest votes since the last show will have one last chance to demonstrate their heroic acumen — in the Chamber. But America's voice matters most. The hero who had the least votes will be eliminated. So here's our chief judge, Helen Kirkwood, to deliver the voting results from last week. Helen?"
A rhythmic pock-ting of heels on steel preceded Helen's arrival. The crowd fell silent except for a few boos.
Helen waited for the few naysayers to settle down, her mere presence creating a chill that hung over the whole studio. She took the microphone from Everett and turned to the audience. "Over twenty million votes were cast, and the results are in." She paused, her gaze sweeping over us. Did she linger on me? No, it had to be my imagination.
Rhythmic music, driving and mysterious, began to play, sounding like a fast-ticking clock.
Helen pulled a small envelope out of her suit pocket and cracked it open. "The three heroes with the fewest votes, the three in danger of being sent home tonight, and the first of the three heroes facing the Chamber is ... Veritas."
Veritas bowed his head for a moment but walked across the stage. He shook hands with Everett, then turned to face the audience. The audience cheered, and a few people shouted his name.
Helen waited for the noise to die down. "Next is ... Prairie Fire."
Prairie Fire jumped, and a small shower of electrical sparks erupted from her shoulders and cascaded down to the floor. She scurried to stand next to Veritas. Everett didn't offer to shake her hand. Probably didn't want to risk getting electrocuted.
"And the third and final contestant who will try to keep his or her chances alive to win the government vigilante license is ..." an ominous fanfare thundered overhead ... "Failstate."
The audience roared, some shouting for me to say goodbye, others yelling my name. I accidentally sucked in a mouthful of my hood and choked. I somehow managed to stumble forward. I limply shook Everett's hand and took my place next to Prairie Fire.
Helen turned to face the three of us. "Tonight, your goal in the Chamber is simple: Take out one criminal within ninety seconds. Good luck."
A camera on a crane arm dove and whizzed past the three of us as the audience cheered and screamed. Hopefully not all of them were out for our blood. I tried to stand straighter, strike a heroic pose.
Being in the bottom three was not good. It meant I could have been voted out already, but I wouldn't know until after the Chamber. Technically, even if I did amazingly well in the Chamber, it couldn't change my fate if the audience had decided to eliminate me. It was more a chance for the two who were spared to redeem themselves, show what they could do. But the fact that I had wound up in the bottom three at all was a bad sign. It could all end right now, and then where would I be? Still wearing second-hand costumes and busting petty criminals
And never able to make up for what I'd done.
I tried to muster enough concentration to pray. All I could remember were the words of Psalm 103, my Bible study from earlier that day. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits — who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. I didn't know if the Chamber qualified as a pit or if winning a reality show counted as being crowned with "love and compassion." So I just summed up my desires in one word: Help!
"How will Prairie Fire, Veritas, and Failstate do in the Chamber? We'll find out, right after this!" The announcer's voice could barely be heard over the audience.
The lights dimmed, and stagehands herded the three of us toward the Chamber. I shot a look at Veritas and Prairie Fire. Veritas remained unreadable, hidden behind his mask. Prairie Fire crackled as she walked. Sparks skittered up her arms and across her face. She glanced in my direction and smiled, a nervous twitch of her lips.
We left the studio, the audience's cacophonous din falling silent as thick metal doors thudded shut behind us. We walked down a cement ramp and into another beige hallway. A short walk past doors labeled "Costumes" and "Props" brought us to the doors of the Chamber, black metal without windows. Someone had helpfully taped a page of yellow legal paper to the door with the name "Chamber" scribbled on with black marker, complete with a skull and crossbones. Good thing there were no cameras back here.
The stage manager, a portly guy in his late fifties, paused for a moment and listened to the voices on his headset. He leveled a finger at me. "You're first up."
My heart jackhammered against my ribs. The throbbing behind my eyes spiked. I clenched my fists and willed my breathing to remain steady.
If the stage manager noticed my agitation, he didn't let on. "The 'criminal' is on the far side of the room. Bring him down and get these cuffs on him before the horn blows. Remember, ninety seconds go by really fast in there."
The stage manager handed me a pair of zipcuffs, two plastic loops that could be pulled tight quickly. I tugged at them to test their strength. Two stagehands hauled the doors open, and I stepped into a darkened room. The doors slammed shut behind me.
An overhead light snapped on and bathed me in a small ring of light. I squinted. The Chamber, the size of a basketball court, had probably started as a corporate gym but had since been painted black. I could still hear the creak of hardwood floors beneath my feet, the same sound I heard in gym at school. The smell of dust hung in the air, mixed with the odor of stale sweat. Small pods, concealing cameras, dotted the brick walls. Various stage lights dotted the ceilings, shifting and rotating. I swallowed my rising panic. No way I wanted to fry this much equipment.
Then another light snapped on across the room. A solitary figure stood wreathed in light, a mannequin wearing a black and red zoot suit, a large-brimmed hat slouched over its face. I laughed. This was my criminal? Had I been transported back to the '20s?
"Failstate, stand ready!" Helen's voice blaring out of speakers nearly made me jump out of my boots. "In three ... two ... one ... begin."
I dashed forward. I'd just tackle the mannequin, bring his arms together and ...
That's when the firehoses appeared.
Nozzles popped out of the walls. Water slammed into me, knocked my feet out from under me, and rolled me into the wall. I coughed and spit a mouthful of water through my hood's fabric. I should've known it wouldn't be that easy. I inched my way forward and held up my arms to shield myself from the freezing spray.
Just as quickly as the assault started, it stopped, the water cutting off. I stumbled, unsteady on my feet, and I looked across the room. The mannequin still waited. I had to —
Thunder exploded next to me, a flash of yellow and white very close to my head, sparks raining down on my soaked clothing. I staggered backward, momentarily deafened. Were they crazy? Who would put pyro that close to anyone, superhero or not?
I braced myself for another assault. I summoned my powers. Maybe I could keep the next explosion from happening if I short-circuited the flashpots. Nothing happened. I snorted and started for the mannequin again.
A series of clicks echoed around me, and panels slid open on the wall behind the mannequin, revealing two large fans. My shoulder slumped. Oh, great.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Failstate"
Copyright © 2012 John W. Otte.
Excerpted by permission of Third Day Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Have read it 3 times, all of them I couldn't put it down
I originally bought this book because I was bored and thought that this book, with its rather silly sounding premise would at least be worth a few laughs. Boy was I ever wrong! And I say that in the best possible way! What I found was a surprisingly serious and realistic and well thought out story world that, while it was still full of you typical overblown superhero action scenes it almost felt as though it could happen. Some parts read more like a good mystery novel. There was plenty of investigating to be had and it was great to see Failstate using his head and not just his powers. The characters were very realistic and likeable and I love how the author subtly weaves his faith into the plot without shoving it in your face. This book is also very clean and this reader appreciates that a great deal. This book was a surprise gem that has set John Otte high on my list of new favorite authors. I am very much looking forward to reading the sequel.
John Otte pens an intriguing novel about two brothers competing on a teenage reality show, where the winner becomes an official licensed superhero. In Failstate, Robin and Ben join other contestants on Who Is America’s Next Superhero? The brothers live in a world where superheroes are governed by regulations. Without a license, superheroes are limited to what they are legally allowed to do. Ben is Gauntlet. He wears blue spandex with a rising star on his chest, and wins over the females with his good looks. Robin, on the other hand, is Failstate. He wears a scruffy grey sweatshirt and worn-out cargo pants, hardly the image of superhero. Ben looks the part while Failstate can barely control his powers. But when a fellow competitor is murdered, Robin tries to prove he is not a failure by finding the murderer. Failstate had good character and plot development. Everything seems to come easily to Gauntlet (Ben). Meanwhile Failstate (Robin) struggles with bitterness and unforgiveness when Gauntlet gains success. They learn from each other and to value each other. Otte writes an engaging comic-book novel without the comics. Even the cover has a comic-book feel to it. In fact, one is slightly disappointed that a few illustrations were not included. Still it is a good read and one can picture this book as a movie! While there is some violence, none of it is graphic; all of it is expected in a world where superheroes are battling evil. With its short chapters, comic-book feel, a mixture of humor, light romance, mystery, and adventure, Failstate is the perfect read for teens. Disclaimer: Book reviews are my opinion of books I either purchased or received free of cost from the publisher in exchange for a honest review. Carol R. Gehringer
Starts out with a likable underdog hero and a fairly simple plotline but it gets more complex and intriguing the deeper you go i loved it good book
I was really excited to read Failstate by John W. Otte because 1) it’s about superheroes, 2) it’s about a superhero tv reality show, and 3) the cover looked pretty awesome. “Being a superhero was hard enough. Being one on reality television…Why had I thought this was a good idea?” I loved the reality show concept and the idea of competing for a vigilante license and the VOC (Vigilante Oversight Committee.) Robin, aka Failstate, is a Fantastic character, and Otte really nails the male teen psyche in a way that can be rare in Christian fiction. My favorite character was Pastor Grant, aka P.G. Otte is a Pastor by day, perhaps P.G. is a bit autobiographical? Anyway, the twists are good, the sibling rivalry is hilarious, mostly, and the fantasy world-building (while not that different) is still great. Failstate is another great new title from Marcher Lord Press. I really hope there’s a sequel because I’m really not ready for Robin’s story to be done!!!
"My control shattered. Fire rippled through me. Darkness clouded my vision. And destruction flowed out of my body, coursing through every fiber of my being. An invisible, intangible aura that cut through the field. I gasped with equal parts horror and relief. I knew my power was wreaking havoc...destroying everything around me, but I couldn't stop. I'd have better luck stopping a fire hydrant with my hands." Name: Robin Laughlin Superhero Alias: Failstate Age: Sixteen Ability: Creates a potential failstate within covalent bonds at a molecular level (aka breaks down molecules). Goals: To win America's Next Superhero so he can become a licensed superhero...and get the pretty new girl at school, Elizabeth Booth, to notice him. Robin, aka Failstate's, goals undergo a drastic change when one of the contestants on America's Next Superhero is killed. The mystery surrounding the death is a catalyst that unleashes a chain of events and revelations that have Robin's head spinning, and life as he knew it will never be the same. Oh. But this was a Fun. Read. Superheroes have made a comeback in the last few years, and with the success of the new Avengers movie, I'd say Failstate by John Otte has hit the bookshelves at just the right time. Failstate has an old comic book aura with new heroes introduced that feel as if they've been around as long as Batman and Superman. The coming-of-age story of Robin/Failstate introduces a gritty and relatable world where all of the characters made choices that were both good and bad and then had to deal with the consequences accordingly. They each had understandable motives. The good guys and bad guys weren't necessarily purely good or purely evil, just purely human, and they all had room for change. The plot wasn't overly predictable and often I had to change my opinion of what I thought was going to happen next. Also, it didn't just handle the standard "save-the-world-superhero" issues, but like any good story, it was layered, focusing also on family, friendship, crushes, morals, and faith. I admit it. I didn't think I would like this book that much, but I was taken by surprise by how much I liked the story and how I look forward to seeing what's going to happen next. I even think it would be great to have some comics or graphic novels based on the "old" superheroes and villains in Failstate, like Meridian and Mind Master. I would definitely read those! Failstate is a great start to a series that both guys and girls will enjoy. Now, bring on the movie!