Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Rick Wilber

Today is Rick Wilber's 71st birthday. I've gotten to know Rick fairly well meeting him at numerous conventions over the past years -- he's  a St. Louis native, and I live there, which makes one connection, and Rick is the son of a major league ballplayer (Del Wilber) and a baseball player and fan himself -- and I wasn't much of a ballplayer after hitting .600 or so in Little League (I was exposed once I saw a curveball), but I'm still a fan, so there's another connection. Rick's also a damn fine writer, and his story "Today is Today" will be in my 2019 Best of the Year book. His stories often feature baseball as a major element, and sometimes St. Louis as well (so that, for example, I'm pretty sure I know exactly what Kirkwood nursing home is mentioned in "Walking to Boston".) Here's a selection of my reviews of his more recent stories in Locus:

Locus, November 2010

Better still is Rick Wilber’s “Several Items of Interest” (Asimov's, October-November), the latest in a series of stories about the aftermath of the invasion of Earth by the S’hudonni. It concerns two brothers. Inevitably, one is a collaborator, who has been rewarded profoundly (with wealth, health, and sex) for telling the S’hudoni story as they – or as his patron, Twoclicks – want it told. The other is a resistance leader. That’s an old story, and Wilber doesn’t do anything fundamentally new with it, but the familiar ground is traveled very well. We see the brothers’ personal history, and why each chose his path, and we see the complications of S’hudoni politics, and the choices are not as straightforward as might be expected. As I say – nothing much here is really new, but it’s quite fun.

Locus, April 2012

Rick Wilber's novelette “Something Real” (Asimov's, April-May) takes on baseball player and spy Moe Berg, in a story set in multiple alternate worlds during World War II, in which he must wrestle with the notion of assassinating Werner Heisenberg, who may have been on the cusp of developing an atomic bomb for Germany. '

Locus, November 2015

Probably the best thing in the October-November Asimov's is Rick Wilber's “Walking to Boston”, set in WWII Ireland and in 1980s St. Louis, as Harry Mack visits his wife in a Kirkwood, MO, nursing home and indulges her desire to travel to Boston, where he'd promised to take her on their honeymoon. Niamh was an Irish girl whom he met when his bomber crashed on the way to England during the War, and we hear of the crash, and how Harry and Niamh met, and her grandmother and the “sisters”, and Harry's less than faithful treatment of her after their marriage. Most of us will guess who the “sisters” are easily enough, but they are mainly a vehicle for a story of character, and a nicely done story it is.

Locus, July 2018

Asimov’s for May/June opens and closes with entertaining novellas. Rick Wilber and Alan Smale offer “The Wandering Warriors”, about a semipro baseball team, just after World War II (in a slightly alternate history), who are then transported to ancient Rome, at the time of the interregnum between the Emperor Septimius Severus and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta. Luckily their catcher and leader, the Professor, knows Latin, and they are able to land on their feet, so to speak, ending up in the Colosseum for a baseball tournament in celebration of the two new Emperors. Of course, there is intrigue, involving the famously awful Caracalla and his rivalry with his somewhat nicer brother, and particularly their mother, Julia Domna, who turns out to be a good baseball player in her own right (though in our history she’d have been about 50 at the time). I have to say the Romans' ready adoption of baseball didn’t really convince me, but the story remains a good read.

Locus, September 2018

Rick Wilber’s “Today is Today” (Stonecoast Review, Summer) reflects on parallel universes as the narrator meditates on numerous alternate tracks his life might have taken, concerning his sports career, his relationship with his wife, and especially the life of his daughter, who in most of these tracks has Down Syndrome. (The early reference to the Billikens of Loyola University of St. Louis clued this St. Louis resident in right away to the fact that the prime universe displayed here is not our own!) Again – the story is in the end about a father and his daughter – and quite movingly so – the SFnal apparatus is an enabling element, but used quite effectively.

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