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'Choose Your Own Adventure' for Grown-ups

You Are a Miserable Excuse for a Hero

Do today's heroes slay monsters? Rescue damsels in distress? Kill foes in war?

No; according to author Robert Powers, the truly heroic actions, the most daunting tasks of modern times are all about making basic, everyday decisions about our lives.

And unlike superheroes, most of us fail spectacularly.

Because in the stories we all write in our heads, as long as we don't choose, we still feel anything is possible, says Powers. Overcoming the paralysis of choice is the true heroism of our era.

Powers has chosen to illustrate his theme — and entertain readers — in his new book, You Are a Miserable Excuse for a Hero, by using the form of the popular "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. In those children's books, readers would be led through different parts of the story depending on which decisions they made for the characters and the story. The outcome relied entirely on the choices readers made.

You Are a Miserable Excuse for a Hero, which he has termed a "Just Make a Choice" adventure, is aimed at adults. In the introduction to the exercise, "A Note On Being In Your Thirties and Having Accomplished Very Little," Powers establishes your character's back story: "You feel like time is running out for you to make something of yourself," he writes. "Every choice feels weighted with the possibility that it will send you down a path to FAILURE ... So you've been doing your best to make no decisions whatsoever."

And this is how the story begins: You've just gone on a great date with an attractive woman named Julia. The next morning, you receive a call from kidnappers, who demand a ransom of $50,000 for Julia's safe return. You can try to get the money by asking your parents for it — or you can ignore the request and decide to sleep with your ex-girlfriend.

It all boils down, says Powers, to a question of moral choice, albeit with a heavy dose of humor. "You're trying to figure out if she's worth it, if the responsibility really falls on your shoulders," he says. "It was a great date and you barely knew her. Isn't there someone else to go to for the money? But it turns out she's new in town."

Thus, the adventure begins — and heroic endings are possible but unlikely: "There are a few endings where you save the girl and become a somewhat better person, but only a few," says Powers. "Most of the time you just die or you do nothing."

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