Q&A with author Rick Wilber

Written by / Interviews

Risingshadow has an opportunity to feature a Q&A with author Rick Wilber.

Rick Wilber
Rick Wilber

Rick Wilber grew up in baseball clubhouses and dugouts when his father played for the Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, and St. Louis Cardinals. His writing has appeared in such magazines as Asimov's, and he's been nominated for several writing awards, including the Dave Moore and Sidewise awards. Aside from writing, Wilber is a journalism professor at the University of South Florida, where he heads the magazine major.


1. Could you tell us something about yourself in your own words?

Alien Morning (Alien Morning #1) by Rick Wilber
I’m an award-winning science-fiction and fantasy writer who is also a creative-writing professor at Western Colorado University’s low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing/Genre Fiction. My short fiction is frequently found in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine and my short-story collections, novels, and other books have been published by Tor/Forge Books, WordFire Press, McFarland Books, and others. I also write college textbooks on writing and the mass-media for Kendall Hunt and other publishers.

I grew up in a professional sports family, where my father was a major-league baseball player and coach, and my brothers both played professional baseball, as well. One cousin played basketball in the NBA and then had a long career playing professionally in Italy. Nieces and nephews have been high-school and college athletes in soccer football, American football, baseball, basketball, cross-country, track and field sprinters, squash, tennis, and more. I was a high-school and college athlete myself and continued playing for many years as an amateur in track and field (discuss), baseball, basketball, American football and soccer football at a high level.

It’s not surprising, then, that I often incorporate athletes and their sports into my science fiction and fantasy. In Alien Day, my protagonist, the beleaguered Peter Holman, is an ex-professional basketball player, and his primary love interest, Chloe Cary, played soccer football and was on the swim team at Stanford University.

My current novel, Alien Day (Tor, June 1, 2021) is the sequel to 2016’s Alien Morning (Tor) which was a finalist for Best Science Fiction Novel of the Year (The John W. Campbell Memorial Award) in 2017. Recent short fiction includes “Tin Man” (with Brad Aiken), in the May/June 2021 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, and the forthcoming “Billie the Kid,” scheduled for the September/October issue of Asimov’s. Both stories feature baseball players, the first in a near-future story where the U.S. had fallen into anarchy and is now recovering, the second in an alternate-history story about a teenage girl playing shortstop for the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League in the 1940s and fighting against the evils of fascism while she’s at it.

2. What inspired you to become a speculative fiction author?

I was a heavy reader as a child, often reading a juvenile novel (as they were then called) every day during the summer months and reading nearly that much during the school year. I read voraciously, from the Bobbsey Twins to Nancy Drew to the Hardy Boys to Tom Swift Jr. to Rick Brandt to Andre Norton, and then onto more complex novels by Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke and Ursula Le Guin and Walter M. Miller. I read pretty much constantly and still do.

Somewhere along the line, perhaps in high school, I thought it would be fun to be a writer and tell stories of my own. For a while, I was waylaid by sportswriting, which came very naturally to me given my family’s deep immersion in sports. I covered high-school basketball games for local newspapers and interviewed athletes for stories for major national sports magazine while I was in college. I enjoyed that, and it was easy for me and paid pretty well. But what I -really- wanted to do was write science fiction and fantasy, so by my late twenties I applied to the famous Clarion Writers Conference, was accepted, attended, and began to learn the craft of writing science fiction and fantasy. Over time, speculative fiction took over and I drifted away from journalism and wrote more and more science fiction and fantasy.

These days I rarely write non-fiction other than book introductions for other writers, blog posts and essays like this one, and some textbook work on the mass media. My focus is on novels, novellas and novelettes in science fiction and fantasy, particularly involving my S’hudonni Empire stories and also involving my series of stories on a fictional version of famous World War II American baseball player and spy, Moe Berg. Alien Day is the latest of those S’hudonni Empire stories, and there’s a new Moe Berg story, “Billie the Kid,” coming out soon in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. It’s a novella about a brilliant teenage girl who’s a private pilot for fun and a professional baseball player for profit during the 1940s in Hollywood. She heroically puts down her baseball glove and picks up the controls of a B-25 bomber to try and save Los Angeles from a brutal attack by Imperial Japan. It is, I think, a lot of fun and has a particularly poignant ending.

3. You're the author of Alien Day, which is a sequel to Alien Morning. Could you tell us something about this novel?

Alien Day (Alien Morning #2) by Rick Wilber
Alien Day is a story of sibling love and deadly rivalry, of unrequited love and violent death, of anger and revenge, of friendship and envy, and of the welcome embrace of some very strange changes. Oh, and it’s about how aliens market Earth’s hand-crafted beer, too, along with single-malt scotch, and artisanal wine and ouzo and mezcal and vodka and saki and many more. All of this is driven by S’hudon’s greedy old-school mercantile colonialism and Earth’s response to that greed. The story is often darkly comic.

4. What can readers expect from Alien Day? What kind of a science fiction novel is it?

I suppose we might slot it into Science Fiction/Space Romance as a sub-genre. The novel does takes space science, climate science, and future media tech seriously. Of necessity it stretches the possibilities for space travel.

In Alien Day, readers can expect love and violence right from chapter one. They can expect to find a mix of sibling rivalries and selfish colonialism that eventually boils over into bloodshed that threatens the peace on two planets, Earth and the alien’s home planet of S’hudon. Half of the action (and there’s a lot of it) takes place on Earth. The other half takes place on S’hudon. A lot of conflicts have been resolved by the end of the novel, but one major question remains. Why did that highly advanced civilization abandon the planet that the S’hudonni took over, and what if they want it back? In the concluding novel of the trilogy we get the answer to that question and find out if our heroes and some new friends can measure up to the challenges they face.

I don’t have a name for that third novel yet, by the way. Anyone have any ideas for me?

5. Is there anything you could tell us about the protagonists in Alien Day?

Our heroes and villains in Alien Day start with Peter Holman, an ex-pro basketball player in Europe who suffers a career-ending injury and turns to media work as a way to stay in the limelight and make a living. In the first book of the trilogy he improbably winds up doing a documentary on the arrival and tumultuous rise to power of Twoclicks and the S’hudonni. In this second novel he’s on his way to the alien homeworld ostensibly to document peace talks between Twoclicks and Whistle, but more importantly to rescue his sister Kait from Whistle’s compound, where she’s a hostage. As it turns out, Kait is the one doing the rescuing, not Peter.

Other characters include Peter’s would-be girlfriend and Hollywood celebrity Chloe Cary, who revitalizes her career as an action hero while taking a S’hudonni princeling name Treble on a world tour of Twoclick’s holdings on Earth. Treble is the son of Twoclicks and Whistle, both. When Peter stumbles, as he often does, it’s his sister Kait who saves the day (and saves him while she’s at it). And when Twoclicks stumbles in his risky efforts for peaceful control of Earth, it’s Chloe Cary who turns her television heroics into the real thing to save the princeling Treble.

Twoclicks (one of my favorite characters in this story or in any of my stories, for that matter) is a prince in the House of S’hudon, and his arch-rival is his brother, the prince named Whistle, who’s the villain of the story and trying hard to wrest Earth and its profits away from Twoclicks. Their royal confrontations are violent, and innocent Earthies (as I call the humans from Earth) die as a result of these family spats (and if that all sounds a lot like European strife during the 19th and 20th centuries, yes, that’s what I’m aiming for). The other villain is Tom Holman, Peter’s estranged brother, whose career as a biologist is ruined by S’hudon’s arrival and takes up arms with the help of Whistle to try and overthrow Twoclicks’s regime.

6. Does Alien Day stand alone, or should you read Alien Morning first?

The novel is meant to stand alone. I weave in background material right from chapter one. Also, my editor at Tor wisely asked me to write a prologue, which was excellent advice. It nicely provides essential background from the first book.

7. Is there anything you'd like to add?

Just that I’d be delighted to hear from readers who enjoy Alien Day or any of my novels, short-story collections, or short fiction. You can send me a note through my website at: http://ww.rickwilber.net