Download the .mp3
But, around the time I entered high school, relatives suggested that I give horror a try. King and Koontz were the authors they recommended, and I was quickly swept away. It was an amazing thrill to pick up these new authors and discover the joy of being terrified out of my mind. My writing, as you might imagine, followed suit.
One genre that I never dared tried to write, though, was science fiction. My favorite film of all time, Star Wars, is a science fiction movie, but for whatever reason I grew up thinking that only brilliant people could write the genre. I mean, it was right there in the name - SCIENCE fiction. What did I know about science? I barely knew where the moon was, so how I could write about people in far flung places doing things I couldn't begin to understand or describe. Science fiction was a genre I adored, a genre I consumed with an insatiable appetite, but it was the one genre I didn't believe I could write in. That changed when I played the Wing Commander series of computer games.
Once I was done with Wing Commander IV, I didn't want it to stop. I was too jazzed, too filled with ideas of what-if and how-about. So, to give myself an outlet, I decided to write the game's developer, Origin Systems (R.I.P. dear friends), and offer them my take on where they should go next. It was a grand story about a secret project to create A.I. piloted drones capable of fighting the enemy so that human lives could be saved, and how the project went awry, becoming a new threat humanity had to face. You know, the classic tale of our hubris biting us on the tuckus. I followed that up with an idea about a new alien threat coming from beyond the galaxy, but these aliens were far more strange and terrible than the cats we'd fought before. These new threats actually had living ships, coming in shapes large and small, capable of war in ways we never dared think possible. Again, a classic tale of the unknown and our greatest fears.
At the time they seemed like fantastic ideas, and I was excited to write about them. Without even realizing what I was doing, I was writing science fiction. I spent days upon days outlining, plotting, researching, and writing. When I sent them off to Origin, I was pretty certain that I'd be getting a call shortly telling me to move to Austin where they were located and get to work helping them chart the future of Wing Commander. One thing I didn't lack for back then was confidence. I wish I was so cocksure now.
As you can probably guess, that call never came. No messengers arrived with contracts, no emails flew to my inbox. I was disappointed, to be sure, but after awhile I moved on. The only time I became angry was when the next Wing Commander game came out, Wing Commander: Prophecy. It was supposed to be the start of a new campaign with new characters (though Mark Hamill was still in the mix) and a new enemy. To my shock and horror, that new enemy was from beyond our spacethat used living ships. And, the new fighters the humans used were called Tigersharks, which was the name of the new fighters I'd created for my out of control A.I. story. I was dumbstruck.
But that wasn't the end of my love affair with Wing Commander. About a year or so after I sent that package off, I stumbled across some people at AOL (my internet provider at the time) who had a writing club centered on the Wing Commander universe. It was like a chain letter fan fiction club, and I begged to be let in. They were kind enough to do so, and that began my real writing life. Over the course of several years I wrote them enough stories to fill at least two novels, and together we took the club in bold new directions. By the time we disbanded, my character had risen to the rank of Captain and was in command of his own ship of privateers. We loved, we fought, we laughed, and we wrote. I would not be the writer I am today -- for better or ill -- were it not for the Wing Commander Pilots Club. I owe them a debt I'll never be able to repay.
I'm not much of a science fiction writer anymore, but it's not out of any loss of love for the genre. I'm just trying to spread my writing wings and see else I can do. But, science fiction is no longer the boogie man it once was to me, and it's something I'll always love and return to. And I owe that in large part to Origin Systems and their amazing Wing Commander computer games. Much like Star Wars nearly twenty years before it, Wing Commander opened my mind and filled it with wonder. And wonder is the foundation upon which every great story is built. Thank you, Origin Systems, and thank you to my old friends at the WCPC.
Now I see it as my duty, and the duty of every writer out there, to pay it forward and pass that same sense of wonder on to a new generation through the stories we create and the characters we breathe life into. Not all of us will succeed, but we have to try. We have to create and built and explore the strange reaches inside of us. We have to write.
- Justin R. Macumber
Justin Macumber is a happily married fella in his late 30’s, and right now he’s a full time writer and podcaster. He lives in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex with his lovely wife of eleven years, and with them is a motley pack of dogs and cats that they think of as their children. Right now he has to say that he is happy, though getting published would go a long way toward making him even happier. Find his work at: