Robert Laughlin is just your average, ordinary, everyday high-school guy. He gets nervous around girls, isn’t terribly popular, and gets picked on by his alpha-male older brother who happens to be mom’s favorite. But he’s also a contestant on a reality show, which isn’t very ordinary, especially since it’s called America’s Next Superhero. Oh yeah, Rob isn’t just a reality show contestant—he’s a superhero that goes by the name Failstate.
Despite his abilities, there’s a far cry between super-powered and superhero. Rob’s ability—causing the stable state of individual molecular structure to fail—is difficult to control and often results in him frying electronics and other such devices. He’s doing the best he can with what he’s got, hoping to win the contest in order to earn his superhero’s license, but it’s his charismatic older brother, a superhero known as Gauntlet, who gets all the praise.
Things go south when one of the contestants is killed during an off-show patrol. Failstate was supposed to meet up with Lux to go on patrol, but when he nears their meeting area, it notices some commotion and finds Lux already near death. Feeling responsible for her death, Failstate teams up with Lux’s partner Veritas and begins to investigate and opens up a mystery that goes deep into the heart of superhero history.
John Otte’s debut novel Failstate can kind of be described as Sky High meets The Incredibles, with twists that Disney wishes they’d thought of. At the core of the novel, is, of course, Rob aka Failstate. Rob is seen as a loser and a misfit even though he’s been given these incredible powers. He doesn’t fit in with the normal kids, because he has a secret too big to reveal, but he doesn’t fit in amongst the better-trained and better-powered cadre of superheroes either. To top it all off, his brother succeeds at both. Conflict surges between the two brothers, not just on the show and over their powers but also over the affections of a girl. It’s the classic underdog story rewritten in a fresh way in a fun genre.
It’s the theme of Failstate that really makes the novel. Rob is just an ordinary kid with extraordinary powers out to save the world. But isn’t that what all Christians are called to be? Combining superpowers and faith, Failstate goes through the same journey many of its young adult readers are living out, albeit on a less flashy and grand scale. The plot stretches the bounds of plausibility at times, but when you consider it centers on a reality show for superheroes, it’s quite forgivable. Otte’s debut packs quite the punch, delivering a fun read with some thoughtful themes. Wholesome, wholehearted, and wholly entertaining, Failstate continues the Marcher Lord Press tradition of offering up the very best in Christian speculative fiction.
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