I’ve known about Justin Macumber for a couple of years, having been a fan of the Dead Robots Society podcast that he co-hosts. Until this year though, I hadn’t read any of his fiction. When I found out that he had a book called Haywire coming out I was naturally interested in what it was like. He had spent two years or thereabouts talking about writing, his progress and process, and interviewing some truly excellent people in the business. I wanted to know if any of that wisdom had rubbed off on him. I’m happy to say that it looks like it did.
Before I get into the why and wherefores, let me tell you a little about the book. Humanity was on the brink of destruction thanks to a race known as the Hezrin. Thanks to one man’s brilliance and the bravery of a host of men and women they were able to push them back. The invention of nanites turned these soldiers into practically unstoppable forces known as the Titans. A century passes and the Titans have passed into memory. A band of space pirates, wannabe young rocker Shawn Campbell, and his Titan obsessed mother Dr. Alicia Campbell discover that forgotten does not mean gone. One of the Titans returns with a horror story. The Hezrin were defeated, but left behind a virus that has turned the quasi-deities into bloodthirsty monsters and now they’re on their way home with destruction on their minds.
From there, chaos, explosions, chases, and general mayhem ensue. If this were a movie it would be a balls to the wall action set piece, but that’s not all. There’s a heart under all of the spectacle. The relationship between Shawn and his mother is anything but healthy. It’s complicated by divorce and a new boyfriend in her life (and by all the impending doom). Watching them rebuild it is believable and touching. Shawn is also called upon by the emergency to sacrifice a great deal with the potential of losing everything and everyone he cares about. His struggle is mammoth.
There are little moments in this story that are great too. A couple of interactions between the space pirates (I can’t type the phrase “space pirates” enough) are great. I’d actually like to see a book about them. There’s also a scene between Dr. Campbell’s assistant and her boyfriend that sticks with me. So in addition to writing some excellent action, Justin is also good at developing characters that you care about.
Is there anything I didn’t like about the book? There are a few nitpicky things. The discovery of the secret labs seemed a little too easy. Either they should have been harder to discover, or they should have been discovered previously and their contents misunderstood. Probably the former since the Doctor was so far ahead of his time. The key to conquering the Titans also struck me as easily mass produced. That did get balanced out by the difficulty and cost of actually deploying it, though. The last thing, conveniently, is the last thing.
The ending bugs me a little. The end of the last chapter would have been a suitable ending, if a bit dark. After that, Justin gives us an epilogue that’s much more upbeat. It feels a little tacked on, though I will say that it’s the ending I expected given the set up. I’m fairly certain it’s the ending we’re meant to be given, but it’s less than satisfying somehow. I suppose it’s because in a story full of messy, real seeming characters and situations, it’s a little too neat.
Overall, I really enjoyed the story and would encourage you to run out and buy a copy. Justin has a bright future as a writer and I look forward to this being the first of many stories he will bring to his audience. I give it a solid four out of five stars.