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Richard Wilber, Ph.D.

Professor honored at World Science Fiction Convention

TAMPA, Fla. –- A University of South Florida professor won a prestigious award at the 2013 World Science Fiction Convention.

Rick Wilber, a visiting assistant professor in the School of Mass Communications, received the annual Sidewise Award for Best Short-Form Alternate History for his story titled “Something Real.”

Wilber’s award-winning novelette puts a historical twist on the true story of Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who, following his playing career, served as an American spy during World War II.

“I just thought, ‘What a fascinating guy!’” Wilber said. “The more I read about him, the more I started thinking he’d be a great subject for me to write a fictional story about.”

The story represented a chance to delve into his two passions: science fiction and baseball.

While Wilber fell in love with science fiction as a young boy, he has genetics to thank for his love for – and deep knowledge of – the game of baseball.

Not coincidentally, he was born into a baseball family, led by his father, Del Wilber, who played professionally in the major leagues during the 1940s and 1950s, and even won a World Series Championship with the 1946 St. Louis Cardinals.

As it did with “Something Real,” Wilber’s complex relationship with his father influenced his writing throughout his life.

Fittingly, he even went as far as to write and publish a memoir about his father, entitled “My Father’s Game: Life, Death Baseball,” which one LA Times columnist called “powerful… a work of uncommon courage.”

It wouldn’t be the first time Wilber would receive rave reviews for his work.

As his mass media students may or may not know, Wilber has been a critically-acclaimed writer, mostly in the genre of science fiction, for nearly 30 years.

In fact, he has a vast amount of experience in the field; working for years as a feature writer for the Tampa Tribune and working for many more years on his own as a science fiction writer. He guesses that he has written and published about 50 short stories in the genre.

In spite of all the success he has accumulated, however, this is the first award he has ever received for his writing.

Wilber admits he was shocked to win and completely unprepared to make an acceptance speech at the convention.

“I had no expectation to win it, to be honest,” he said. “I read the other stories and I thought, ‘Oh gosh. These are really good. I’m not gonna win it!’ So I had to get up there and sort of wing it.

“Just before I got up there, I started jotting down notes on people not to forget to thank, and it’s a good thing I wrote that down because my mind was kind of a blank… I think I survived the speech alright,” he laughed.

As Wilber notes, this achievement provides a valuable lesson to his students who pursue writing careers: dedication and persistence in the industry does pay off eventually.

“If you love writing, keep writing and somebody will notice if you’re doing a good job,” Wilber said.


The following is an excerpt from Wilber’s award-winning novelette, “Something Real.” The story was published in the April/May 2012 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine and won the 2013 Sidewise Award for Best Short-Form Alternate History.

December 12, 1944

“…Berg undid his belt and reached down to his groin to pull free the Beretta. There was a brief moment of pain as the athletic tape came free and then he had the gun and was buttoning up again and putting it into his pocket. The smart thing to do was get to Scherrer’s house and get back on the job: find Heisenberg, talk to the man, make a damn decision.

But where the hell had that woman gone? He wanted to know. He needed to know, in fact, and so he pulled the Beretta back out of his pocket and walked after her: across the cold, winter grass and along the route he’d seen her take through some bushes and next to that plane tree.

There was a tingle, that dizziness, that moment of nausea, a sense of something— electricity?—in the air, but nothing else. She was gone. No footprints in the grass, no way to guess how she’d departed. Hell.

It was cloudy, dark, with snow starting to fall. But Scherrer’s house had to lie in that direction, through this little park and down onto the Seestrasse and on toward the lake. Hadn’t the sky been clear a moment ago? Oh, hell. He pulled up his coat col- lar, shoved the Beretta back into the coat pocket, and started walking.”

-- USF --

Filed under:Arts and Sciences Mass Communications    
Author: Dominique Benjamin