Edited by Rick Wilber

Night Shade Books


320pp/$15.99/October 2014

Field of Fantasies

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

There is a magic to baseball, a magic that anyone can feel as they walk into a baseball stadium and see the lush green grass for the first time in the season.  This magic has been translated time and again into fiction and film, from Bernard Malamud's The Natural to Sam Raimi's For Love of the Game.  Rick Wilber has collected twenty-three short stories that try to capture that magic in black and white in Field of Fantasies.

A look at the table of contents indicates that the magic of baseball is widespread.  Not only does Wilber include such noted fantasists as Stephen King, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ray Bradbury, and Louise Marley, but he also includes several authors who are not necessarily noted for writing science fiction, from Jack Kerouac to Valerie Sayers to T. Coraghessan Boyle.  With this lineup, Wilber is stating that the magic of baseball impacts all of us.

Some of the stories only tangentially touch on baseball.  Sayers's "How to Read a Man" looks at hr narrator's success at being able to predict the outcome of actions on the baseball diamond while watching games as opposed to her inability to fully understand the men in her life.  Baseball provides her with an escape from her poor choices, whether the boyfriend she left behind in New York or the lover she is getting to know in Pinckney, South Carolina.

The players are a major part of baseball, and many of the stories include the names of actual ballplayers, from the historic to the modern.  Two stories, which seem to be forever linked, both envision a world in which Fidel Castro played in the major leagues.  John Kessel's "The Franchise" and Bruce McAllister's "Southpaw," both saw their initial publication in the August 1993 issue of Asimov's and Wilber reprints both of them in Field of Fantasies, giving readers two very different looks at Castro's theoretical career, and the politics behind it.

Of course, there are those for whom baseball holds no magic at all, but is seen as a punishment, and Karen Joy Fowler explores that side of the sport in "The Further Adventures of the Invisible Man," about an unathletic boy who wants nothing more than to stay home and play videogames, but who is forced to join a Little League team. The sport that is feted throughout the rest of the anthology suddenly becomes a dark and miserable place for a young boy who everyone tells is being forced to take part for his own good.

The collection ends with W. P. Kinsella's "How I Got My Nickname."  Best known for writing Shoeless Joe, Kinsella is one of America's premier chroniclers of the national pastime and this story, which places himself in the spotlight, demonstrates one of the magical aspects of the sport and he describes how a mythical version of Kinsella acquires a nickname in the sport.  As he strives for a name other than his own, offering up "Moonlight" after "Moonlight" Graham, whom he immortalized in Shoeless Joe, it is clear that baseball nicknames, from "Catfish" Hunter to "The Big Hurt" to "Dizzy" Dean, raise the players of the game, and the game itself, to a mythical level.

It is the perfect time to read the stories collected in Field of Fantasies, with the long winter months stretching out ahead before the pitchers report to Spring Training and the magic begins again for the next season.  Of course, once the season it underway, it is also the perfect time to read these stories to help prolong the magic that takes place on the fields of stadiums across the country.

Stephen King & Stewart O'Nan A Face in the Crowd
Karen Joy Fowler The Further Adventures of the Invisible Man
T. Coraghessan Boyle The Hector Quesadilla Story
Kim Stanley Robinson Arthur Sternback Brings the Curveball to Mars
Jack Kerouac Ronnie on the Mound
Wilbur Schramm My Kingdom for Jones
Louise Marley Diamond Girls
Valerie Sayers How to Read a Man
Gardner Dozois The Hanging Curve
John Kessel The Franchise
Max Apple Understanding Alvarado
Bruce McAllister Southpaw
Ray Bradbury Ahab at the Helm
Robert Coover McDuff on the Mound
Rod Serling The Mighty Casey
Harry Turtledove The House That George Built
Ray Gonzalez Baseball
Ron Carlson My Last Season with the Owls
Cecilia Tan Pitchers and Catchers
Edo van Belkom Baseball Memories
Jacob Weisman & David Sandner Lost October
Rick Wilber Stephen to Cora to Joe
W. P. Kinsella How I Got My Nickname

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