In 1998 HarperCollins received the license to publish books based on Chris Roberts' Wing Commander movie. The agreement allowed them to release two novelizations, a technical manual and two continuity novels. For the technical manual they turned to Incan Monkey God Studios, the company responsible for the classic Wing Commander manuals and official guides. The result was Chris McCubbin's Wing Commander Confederation Handbook, the most lavish Wing Commander book ever put to paper.
For the novels they first turned to Dr. William Forstchen, the man responsible for six earlier Wing Commander novels. Forstchen turned the project down outright, later citing low pay and a poor script. Harper found a suitable replacement: Peter Telep, whose well received Space: Above and Beyond novels had proven that he could both adapt a script and expand upon a military setting for original sequels.
Unlike earlier Wing Commander novels, Telep's books were characterized by a great deal of energy focused on continuity. He did extensive research and made sure to include many references to the classic Wing Commander games alongside the new material created for the movie. His novelization (also published as a reduced Young Adult book) remains the only official 'full' story of the movie events, owing to extensive cuts made to the film after test audiences reacted poorly to a major subplot.
Telep envisioned his two continuity novels as a direct continuation of the movie, forming a 'Pilgrim trilogy' which would conclude without interfering with Dr. Forstchen's later Bondarevsky stories. The follow-up books were titled Pilgrim Stars and Pilgrim Trust - later renamed Pilgrim Truth. Telep dutifully completed Stars on time and then went to work on Truth.
In retrospect, the writing was on the wall: despite a contract which promised to publish both books within a year of the movie's release, HarperCollins delayed Stars' publication by months. When the book finally did reach stores in 2000, it did so without even new cover art. Instead Wing Commander's theatrical poster was re-used, advertised alongside largely nonsensical advertising copy. The HarperPrism imprint, responsible for the series, was quietly disbanded. Although Telep completed Pilgrim Truth the book was never scheduled for release. Worst of all, Stars ended in a cliffhanger: Paladin was missing and thought a traitor, the Confederation still threatened by Captain Aristee and her doomsday weapon.
In short, Pilgrim Truth has become a holy grail for Wing Commander fans. The book not only answers questions left by Stars, but it also resolves the 'movie story' once and for all -- setting the continuity right for the Baen novels. It lies frozen on a hard drive in central Florida, all for fear of litigation. To his credit, Telep would happily sell the novel online were he given permission by Electronic Arts'... but the woes of the Wing Commander community have been no one's priorities in recent years.
Telep has released the novel's prologue and basic outline online as thanks to fans who have kept up their interest in the series over the years.
In 1999 the Wing Commander community lost a good friend: Andrew Keith, author of Heart of the Tiger and False Colors passed away unexpectedly. Mr. Keith was not only an accomplished Wing Commander author, but he was also a good friend to the fans. He was always happy to grant an interview and talk about his involvement in the series.
In 1996 he wrote False Colors, based on an outline by Dr. Forstchen. It took over two years for the book to be published, but it eventually became both the final and the longest title in Baen's Wing Commander library. The book follows the lives of the earlier novel characters through the largely unexplored post-war era. In December 1996, Mr. Keith spoke of his desire to turn False Colors into a trilogy of post-war stories. He shared his basic plans with a group of Wing Commander fans:
Book #2: "One I'd like to do would involve a Kilrathi prince -- a friendly one -- from False Colors. Sort of Bonnie Prince Charles in Scotland, with Cats and carrier support by the Karga."
Book #3: "The other would put the Landreich at war with the Confederation. I'm thinking of following something like the Alamo/Goliad/San Jacinto model."
These may seem simplistic to the average reader... but in truth these books nearly write themselves. Anyone who has read False Colors knows that the setup for these stories already exists (in fact, The Price of Freedom, set later in the timeline, references the events of 'Book 3' - mentioning Jason Bondarevsky's promotion to Rear Admiral while commanding a fleet of escort carriers). An talented writer who understands the Wing Commander/military science fiction genre could easily use the previous stories and these simple descriptions to tell Mr. Keith's saga. This would be a fitting tribute to the man and an amazing gift to the community.
... And Then Some
The three books discussed above are the only serious Wing Commander novel plans which are 'lost' in any sense of the word. However, there are at least two other concepts which a future Wing Commander publisher might consider.
#1 - Action Stations 2: In 1998 Dr. Forstchen took the Wing Commander series in a new direction by going back in time to tell the story of the first days of the Kilrathi War, through the eyes of a then-young Geoffrey Tolwyn. The book melds together the original Wing Commander bible's "McAuliffe Ambush" back-story with Forstchen's Tolwyn character and the attack on Pearl Harbor. The book is clearly set up for a sequel, which would connect Tolwyn's relationship with/loss of his family (referenced by earlier Forstchen novels) to the 'Enyo Engagement' fiction and the historic Battle of Midway.
#2 - The second is more of a missed opportunity. In a December, 1998 Computing at Chaos Manor column, famed science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle said: "I still wish they’d simply publish the specs for writing ad on scenarios to the original Privateer, though. If they want to improve the graphics levels, fine, but in fact that was about good enough; and it sure was fun. I can think of a number of stories I could write in that universe." Some publisher, some time, somehow should pursue this.
Will we ever see any of these stories? I certainly believe it is possible. I have put this article together for our archives because new Wing Commander games are finally on the horizon after many years. There will, someday, be new Wing Commander books... and whoever writes and publishes them would do well to keep these items in mind.