Gardner Dozois (1947—2018)
The Man Who Loved Science Fiction
It is impossible to exaggerate what a striking impression Gardner Dozois made when we first met. He had straight blond hair that fell halfway down his back and a jaunty yellow beard to match. His everyday uniform was blue jeans, a black Stetson, and a T-shirt emblazoned with the words PROPHET OF DOOM. He was the wittiest man imaginable. And he wrote like a goddam angel. If you doubt me, just look up “A Special Kind of Morning” or his novel Strangers.
In addition to being a brilliant writer, Gardner was the best story doctor in the business. One sweltering August evening, I dropped by the tiny, cat-infested apartment he shared with Susan Casper, and he and his buddy, Jack Dann, took apart something I had written and showed me how to turn it into a functioning story. When I went reeling home at three a.m., drunk on the cheap cream sherry he then favored, I was no longer an aspiring writer but the honest-to-goodness real thing. I was still months away from my first sale. But it was then and there that my career began.
Nor was I special in that regard. Gardner helped many new writers get their footing. His peers, some far more famous than he, brought their manuscripts to him for advice. There was nothing in this for him. He offered his assistance because he was openhearted and because he loved science fiction. It was his consuming passion.
Even in the 1970s, no one could keep himself alive by writing short stories. So Gardner picked up the occasional editing job, read slush, compiled and sold anthologies. In the course of which, he learned the editing profession. So when the head position at Asimov’s came available, he bought a suit, got a haircut, and won the job.
My admiration for the magazine you are now reading goes back to Issue One, which I have autographed by the Good Doctor himself. If my fiction has a home anywhere, it’s here. But I’ll admit to feeling irrationally annoyed at Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, as it was then called, because when Gardner became editor, he no longer had the free time to critique my stories.
My loss, however, was everyone else’s gain. Gardner entered the job convinced that he was too literarily ambitious, too contemporary, too just plain weird to last more than a year or two. So he bought controversial stories, coaxed neglected writers out of retirement, and encouraged talented newcomers to consider the magazine theirs. He wanted to achieve as much good as possible before his corporate masters realized what a horrible mistake they had made.
Funny thing, though. They never did. By the time Gardner retired from Asimov’s, he’d won fifteen Hugo Awards for Best Editor. More importantly, he had made the magazine the place where every ambitious writer wanted to appear. He became a fixture at science fiction conventions, reciting Robert Heinlein to the meter of “Hiawatha” and singing Robert Frost poems to the tune of “Hernando’s Hideaway” at late-night parties. All the while, searching for new writers and new stories.
When asked the secret of his success as an editor, Gardner said that he was a “meat and potatoes man.” That just as he never grew tired of simple food, he could read science fiction year in and year out with undiminished pleasure. Since his tastes were catholic, he never tried to turn a story into the sort of thing he’d write. His advice was always aimed at making it the best possible version of what the author intended.
Eight days before he died, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America were wise enough to give Gardner the Solstice Award for those who “have consistently had a positive, transformative influence on the genre of science fiction and fantasy.” Appropriately, his longtime friend and coworker Sheila Williams received that same award that same evening. Gardner’s son Christopher gave a moving acceptance speech on his father’s behalf. Afterward, he told me that Gardner had wanted him to simply say that the award should go to all the writers whose work he had bought. You’d have to know Gardner to appreciate how typical that was of him.
And now he’s gone. Gardner’s family is heartbroken. His friends are bereft. His readers have lost an ally and his writers have lost an advocate.
But the science fiction he loved so dearly remains. The magazine he served so long endures.
That, Gardner would have told you, is enough.
* * *
My earliest memory of Gardner Dozois is of him going berserk with a plastic croquet mallet in Damon Knight’s Victorian parlor. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but he was going around knighting people with it, on the head—a circle of writers from age twenty to eighty-five, gathering to start a workshop at the beginning of the 1970 Milford Writers Workshop. He and I were neophytes, along with Gene Wolfe, George Alec Effinger, and Jack Dann.
In those days Gardner was a total wild card. He obviously craved attention, and would go to extremes in its pursuit. He was silly, but even in that setting his silliness was clearly neither trivial nor simple. His talents were obscure and mysterious, and not well controlled, but it was obvious to everyone there that he was one of a kind, perhaps valuable.
After that day we were friends for life, which turned out to be not quite half a century more. Too short, one always laments. But perhaps longer than anyone in that room would have predicted.
He burned the candle at both ends, and sometimes it was a Roman candle. But he hung onto it for a good long time. He will be greatly missed and never replaced.
* * *
Gardner was one of the first editors to buy my work, and an early story, “The Utility Man,” managed to be nominated for a Hugo Award.
I attended that year’s Worldcon, Chicon V, in part to meet my editor, and the man did not disappoint. A larger-than-life persona built on self-deprecating jokes and wry observations, he dominated the SFWA suite like nobody else ever will. It must have been hard work, maybe even grueling work, being that Gardner Dozois day after day. But for me, the golden moment was our quiet first conversation. Standing in a hotel hallway, he decided to give his young author some solid advice. Regardless what I thought about my chances, when I sat at the ceremony and heard my story listed as a nominee, I was going to suddenly and passionately believe that I was destined to win. An emotional tidal wave was coming, he warned me, and since “Bears Discover Fire” was on the ballot, I ended up being thankful for any lifejacket that I could find.
“Aeon’s Child” was another youthful effort. My second Great Ship story, it was rejected by the first market because of an “unlikable” protagonist. I mentioned this to a fellow writer, Rob Chilson. Right away, Rob said, “Send it to Gardner. He likes unlikable characters.”
Sure enough, Gardner bought “Child” without a qualm.
I can’t claim special insights about the man. We had a working relationship. Not much else. What little I knew about his life came through others, and I have no idea what he knew or assumed about me. We intersected when I sent him a story or when he wanted to reprint one of my old efforts. At the conventions, we always had one cordial conversation, but having very little in common, we would fall into polite silence before making our mannerly escapes.
One Nebula banquet stands out. I wasn’t nominated, but every other writer at the table seemed to be. As I recall, several of them were competing in the same category. Tensions were predictably high. But then the man who bought all of their stories took the trouble to congratulate everyone and to praise them for their good, good work, leaving his loyal authors in a place where they were ready to weather either eventuality—losing or winning.
I’d like to think that I was one of those.
* * *
Gardner Dozois was so many things. Wonderful writer—“Morning Child” is still one of the few science fiction stories that can make me cry. One of the best editors our genre ever had. He was instrumental in advancing my career, as he was for so many. But my most important, because most personal, memories of Gardner all occurred in bars.
For me, groups of friends sitting around in bars, talking and laughing and catching up with each other, is still the essence of science fiction conventions. Panels and readings and presentations are valuable, and certainly a lot of business gets done that way, but bars remain central. And Gardner was so much fun at bars, and not because of alcohol. He just lit the place up.
At one Worldcon—who can keep them straight, after forty years they mostly blend together—there was a group of us having a wonderful time in the hotel bar, when I was supposed to leave for a panel. “I don’t want to go,” I said. “It’s too interesting here.”
“I’ll write you an excuse,” Gardner said. He scribbled on a napkin in big bold letters: PLEASE EXCUSE NANCY FROM HER PANEL AS SHE HAS THE STOMACH FLU.
I said, “That’s exactly what my mother used to write the school when I was sick.”
“I know,” Gardner said. “That’s what everybody’s mother used to write.” And he gave that marvelous, high-pitched cackle, blue eyes bright.
I went to the panel (devotion to duty), but I still have the note somewhere.
When I began seeing my husband, Gardner opined about that—in, of course, a bar. I had arrived at the con before Jack and was having a quick glass of wine with Gardner, Susan, and other friends. When I said I had to go, Gardner asked why.
“A friend is arriving from the airport in a few minutes.”
“Oho! A male friend? Who is it?”
Gardner considered. “Okay. He’s a good writer.”
I had Gardner Dozois’s permission to date Jack. Then he gave that gorgeous, self-mocking laugh. “Have fun!”
Nobody else could put such bawdiness into two innocuous words.
So many meals, in restaurants as well as bars, in so many cities. So much laughter. Such a huge, irreplaceable loss. But, also, such a privilege to have known him.
* * *
As I walked down Smith Street in Melbourne, Australia—as I passed by familiar street people hunched against soot-stained buildings, passed neighborhood pubs, outdoor grocery stands, jewelry shops, kitsch art galleries, and trendy coffee houses packed with the too-cool-for-school bearded hipsters sipping blue algae lattes or deconstructed coffees—I slipped back in time and space faster than you could say Billy Pilgrim. I slipped back to South Street in Philadelphia. I’m walking with a very young and skinny Gardner Dozois. We’re in Gardner’s and his partner Susan Casper’s old neighborhood. We’re in the 1970s. We’re walking fast and talking fast. We’re living Jean Dutourd’s Pluche: Or the Love of Art. We’re living Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.
South Street was buzzy and run-down in those days. Yuppification was decades away, and punk culture was alive and well. Drugs, spiked hennaed haircuts, torn jeans, piercings, knife-fights, swastikas, and one particular gun-fight that I remember were all part of its hyper, concentrated street life. But Gardner and I were talking shop, talking about stories, plotting a novel we would never write called The Wall. We might have been walking down South Street or Broad Street or Market Street . . . or the Champs-Élysées; it didn’t matter. We were submerged in the dream-construction of stories, brainstorming the ghostly architectures of plot, character, and theme. We were drunk with enthusiasm and the pure joy of living and breathing craft, of being young writers who were part of a new zeitgeist: a speculative fiction literary movement known as the “New Wave,” which was smashing through genre conventions and barriers. What a wonderful metaphor for two young writers starting out!
That’s how it was then: youth and literature. What a potent, dizzying combination! It was about writing all night, or all day . . . it was about talking about writing all night, or all day . . . it was about brainstorming our ideas and stories . . . and somehow, surprisingly (to us, at least), it was about editing other people’s stories. To our mutual dismay, the first books we sold were anthologies. Gardner’s brilliant A Day in the Life was published in 1972; my first Wandering Stars volume in 1974. And in 1976 we coedited Future Power. Somehow, choosing stories, doing manual word counts, sorting the tables-of-contents felt like writing. It was something like a similar variety of wine, and so Gardner wrote short stories, a very few novels, and became editor of one of the longest-running Best of the Year anthology series in the genre . . . then became editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, edited anthology after anthology (hell, we did over thirty together); and incrementally and profoundly influenced and shaped what we think of now as modern science fiction. John W. Campbell might have been the herald of the golden age of science fiction; but Gardner was its future.
He did it all for the simple (and addictive) joy of the process. Of course, he would have said it was for the money! And that empowering sense of joy did not diminish—not even a little—over the long years; nor did his prodigious talent for writing and discovering stories that shook the arms off the chairs. Although Gardner was one of the best short story writers I’ve ever read—in and out of the genre—he (like Damon Knight) didn’t feel entirely comfortable writing at novel length. But he had the keenest editorial eye I’ve ever encountered . . . perhaps because his natural perspective was that of a writer. He could deconstruct and reconstruct a manuscript as naturally as a racehorse could run.
Both Gardner and I learned our bones through workshopping with a like-minded group of writers. But when it came to finding exactly what the problem was with any given story, Gardner had no equal. I showed him everything I wrote for years. I would encamp at Gardner and Susan’s and—yes, it embarrasses me to admit it—wouldn’t leave until Gardner had waved his magical wand at the story. Thus the dedication to my early novel The Man Who Melted: “For Gardner Dozois, who won’t have to read it again.” And I remember the sense of loss I felt when all those years ago it finally dawned on my callow mind that Gardner could no longer act as my personal muse and editor. He belonged to the genre now.
The genre he so graciously and happily grew.
So fare well, dearest friend. We all miss you. And a part of me will always be walking down South Street with you.
What was that story we were just discussing . . . ?
Memories of Gardner
I first met Gardner at a Worldcon, where what impressed me most was his ability to capture the attention of entire rooms. I suppose everyone’s heard stories about his blowing jellybeans out of his nostrils into the midst of a delighted crowd, but that was actually among the least audacious of his stunts.
It wasn’t until a small handful of writers—Pat Cadigan, Janet Kagan, Jack Chalker, me, Gardner, a few others—formed the Delphi Rangers, a group of writers that met every Wednesday night for years on the Delphi network of sainted memory, that I realized that his public persona was a ruse, that he was a serious and totally dedicated artist.
He began editing Asimov’s a couple of years later, I began submitting to him, and over the years he only rejected one story of mine. I sold it a week or two later to F&SF, it made the Hugo ballot, and I teased him at every con we were at that I’d made the ballot with an Asimov’s reject. Then came Labor Day weekend, and I lost to (of course) an Asimov’s story, and he got to tease me back for the next few months.
He and I also coedited some reprint anthologies, and I was truly impressed by the depth of his knowledge concerning the kind of stories we were looking for.
And when I was hired to edit Galaxy’s Edge, I finally got to buy some Dozois stories (though never enough to even the score, or come within hailing distance of it).
Whenever Carol and I were in Philadelphia we had dinner with Gardner and Susan—and we didn’t limit it to Philadelphia. We dined with them in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, all the hell over the country, even in Paris when we were co-guests at a convention over there.
In the more than a third of a century that I knew him, I never had a single bad experience with Gardner. I can’t make that statement about a lot of people. He was my friend, and I miss him already.
* * *
It has been a few weeks since Gardner Dozes died. I’m still having a hard time coming to grips with it. He was such a huge presence in the field, such a gigantic personality; it still seems inconceivable that he’s gone. I posted about our friendship below, about the laughter he brought with him wherever he went . . . but I wanted to write about his legacy as an editor as well.
It’s been harder than I anticipated. Every time I start this post, it hits me all over again, and I realize that I will never see him again.
I need to say something, though. Not for Gardner—there are dozens of memorials all over the net, speaking of his talents—but for myself.
There’s really not much that I can say that has not already been said. As an editor, I think, Gardner had few peers. Over the decades our genre has been fortunate in having a succession of amazing editors: H.L. Gold, Anthony Boucher, Terry Carr, Damon Knight, Robert Silverberg, Donald A. Wollheim, Cele Goldsmith Lalli, Ellen Datlow, Ben Bova, Ted White, Fred Pohl, and Groff Conklin all come to mind, and many more. But two figures tower above them all: John W. Campbell, the editorial genius who gave SF its Golden Age, for whom not one but two memorial awards are named . . . and Gardner Dozois. His stint as editor of Asimov’s can rightly be compared only with Campbell’s decades at Astounding and Analog, and was similarly influential. He discovered and nurtured more new talents than I could possibly remember or recount . . . among them, myself. Not at Asimov’s, no. I was already well established before Gardner got that gig. No, he found me long before, in his first editorial job . . . reading the slush pile at Galaxy. It was in that pile, in the summer of 1970, that he came across my short story “The Hero,” and passed it along to editor Ejler Jakobsson with a recommendation to buy. That was my first professional sale, and came during the summer between my senior and graduate years at Northwestern, when I was starting to seriously contemplate what I wanted to do with my life. That sale, and the publication that followed, went a long way toward making that decision for me. It’s no exaggeration to say that I might not be where I am today if Gardner had not fished me out of the slush pile in 1970.
Gardner Dozois won fifteen Hugo Awards as Best Editor, a record that will never be broken, I expect. It was an honor to know him, and to work with him. I miss him so much.
—George R.R. Martin
(Excerpted from Not a Blog,
June 17, 2018)
* * *
Gardner Dozois had such a monumental effect on my life that I was surprised when I went through my files and discovered only a handful of letters. It wasn’t really a correspondence per se. I would send Gardner a story (or two stories in the same mailer), and he would reply, usually, with an acceptance or a request for a rewrite. Sometimes I wasn’t sure he was even asking for a rewrite. In the case of my story “Transplant” he started by saying he was passing on it, then he spent an entire single-spaced page explaining why. In the end he softened the rejection language by saying he was going to pass on the story in its present form. Reading back through the letter now, I can see him wanting to change his mind even as he declared the middle section of the story “boring.” Well, as an editor, Gardner always said exactly what he meant.
Though I had been writing for decades, I was still a newbie to the world of professional magazine publishing. It had taken me a long time to get through the door, and I was worried there had been a mistake and the bouncer would soon show me the way back out, and good riddance! So I latched onto in its present form and dug into the story again, paying close attention to the stuff Gardner objected to. The next time I heard from him he accepted “Transplant” and two other stories I’d submitted in the meantime.
Eventually I knew Gardner in real life, too. We shared a few group dinners and bar sessions and chatted briefly in the SFWA suite at cons. Those dinners were really fun (especially the Montreal Worldcon dinner). Gardner was a gifted raconteur and an even more gifted writer, though he put his fiction writing on extended pause when he became editor of Asimov’s. He was also a kind man and one who cared deeply about science fiction. When he knew he was leaving his editorial position at Asimov’s, he went out of his way to introduce me to Sheila Williams, and I am grateful that he did. In those early days of my career I would have been too shy to do it myself.
Other people knew Gardner much better in person than I ever did. Like everyone, he had his inner circle. So it’s in those few letters where I really connected with him—those editorial messages dispatched from Science Fiction Central Command, as I like to think of it. In the last email I received from him while he still edited the magazine, Gardner mentioned he had been to a con in Eastern Washington, where he had expected to see me and all the other Seattle writers he knew. He made a little joke about being told later that no one from the Western half of the state ever goes to the Eastern half. “. . . there was almost nobody there I knew.”
Gardner didn’t believe in the afterlife, but if there is one anyway, I’m certain everyone will know who he is and will want to hear all his stories, especially the bawdy ones.
* * *
Gardner the Great
There are quite a few anecdotes about Gardner Dozois. He was a guy who could make you laugh even if you were having a bad day, and that’s just one part of his persona that endeared him to his friends. I’m going to let others tell those stories. Instead, I want to speak about the aspect of him that’s most meaningful to me and to the readers of this magazine: Gardner the editor.
I met Gardner Dozois the day I made my first fiction sale: Orbital Decay, my first novel, published by Ace in 1989. At the Boskone SF convention in 1987, the editor who’d found the manuscript in the slush pile, Ginjer Buchanan, told me over coffee that she wanted to buy the book. However, because Ace currently had an enormous backlog of titles already awaiting publication, I’d have to wait two years before it saw print. She suggested that, in the meantime, I should introduce myself to readers by publishing a few short stories.
I told Ginjer that this was easier said than done. Since age fifteen, all I’d done was try to sell short stories to SF magazines. I had filled two ledger boxes with rejected manuscripts, and one of the reasons why I’d turned to writing novels was my failure as a short-fiction writer. Ginjer asked if I’d submitted anything to Asimov’s lately, and when I told her that I’d been too busy with my newspaper career to produce any new short fiction, she waved over someone who happened to be standing nearby: “Hey, Gardner, come over here . . . I want you to meet someone.”
By then, Gardner had been Asimov’s editor for only a couple of years, but he was already building his own stable of writers. We had a brief conversation, and after he left, Ginjer instructed me to go home, produce the best short story I could, and send it to Asimov’s, reminding Gardner in the cover letter that we’d recently met. I did so with a story called “Live from the Mars Hotel.” Gardner read it, and then did something no other fiction editor had done for me until then: he told me that he liked the story but felt it was too long, and if I could cut it from ten thousand words to six thousand words, he’d look at it again.
Cutting those four thousand words was hard work, but he was right. When I re-read my original draft, I realized that the story was too long. So I rewrote it, sent it back, and Gardner bought it . . . and to this day, making that sale is one of the proudest moments of my life.
This began one of the best editorial partnerships I’ve ever had. I continued writing for Asimov’s while also working on my second novel. At first it was a matter of practicality—encouraged by the novel sale, I’d pulled the plug on my journalism career, but still needed to pay the bills even though I no longer had a regular salary—I soon rediscovered my love for short fiction. That love had made me want to be a writer in the first place. And Gardner wasn’t just a great editor; he was a great teacher, too. He was tough, but fair-minded; he seldom rejected a story of mine outright, but nearly always gave me a chance to fix things and try again. He wouldn’t try to make me write the story he would have written, though. Instead he would figure out what I was trying to do, and hint at—but not explicitly tell—what I needed to do to make it work.
It takes an editor of exceptional insight and talent to do that. Many have said that Gardner was one of the most influential editors the SF genre has ever had; that’s a major reason why. He demanded my best efforts, and even after I’d become a regular contributor and taken home a couple of Hugos for stories I’d published in Asimov’s, he wasn’t afraid to reject a substandard story. Gardner was a tough customer, and because of that I learned more about my craft from him than all the creative writing workshops I’d taken in college. I don’t think I would’ve become a successful SF writer if Gardner hadn’t been there.
Do I owe him? You bet I do. And so does everyone who’s been a long-time reader of this magazine.
—Allen M. Steele
* * *
He was the only person I knew with that name. It suited him, if you think about it. As an editor, he tilled the soil, planted seeds, nurtured young plants, and sustained a beautiful garden. He did it not just for Asimov’s but also in his year’s best series, and in I have no idea how many other anthologies. A boatload.
I heard of him long before I met him. He was an ideal, really. He edited Asimov’s, and I wanted to sell a story to Asimov’s. Just one, because it was the premiere magazine of its time. I figured I’d never get more than one past him. I certainly didn’t get one past Shawna McCarthy when she was editing the magazine.
I sold Gardner a story before I met him. Not that the sale was easy. He’d read the story, offered some comments, and hoped I would agree with him. Then he’d look at the story again. The comments were insightful and improved the story. It’s a rare editor who can do more than point out that a word is missing or some minor copy editing point. Gardner always got to the heart of a story’s problem. He usually did not offer solutions. He let the author find them. But when he did offer one, it improved the story.
In my long career, I’ve had very few editors who were as insightful as Gardner.
I don’t recall meeting him, and you’d think I would. He was larger than life, truthfully. He had a voice that wouldn’t play on radio, as we used to say, and his laugh was unique, infectious, and loud. He was shy, terribly shy, and he masked it with an over-the-top personality in public that got into people’s faces before they got into his. Not that he was mean. He wasn’t. He was funny and sharp and witty.
And always entertaining.
We became friends at conventions, thrown together as writer and editor, then as “rival” editors when I was editing The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. In truth, we bought each other’s stories and often sent a writer with the perfect story for “the competition” to the competition.
I have so many “Gardner stories,” situations that we could only have gotten into with Gardner’s participation or instigation, that I would write a novella in memorial, rather than this essay, which is already going long.
But I have one more thing to add:
Gardner was kind. Not fake kind, with all the smiles and politeness that went with it. But truly kind. He had incredible compassion for others. We co-taught workshops early in this century, and he was very very careful of the writers’ feelings. We asked for some tough work in exercises, and he made sure the writers were emotionally protected.
For some of that work, only Gardner and I saw what the writers wrote—much of it heartbreaking—and we discussed how to handle the delicate situations we sometimes found ourselves in.
Gardner and I shared a filthy approach to language, and we loved verbal wordplay. Midway through one workshop, he learned that one of our students came from a particularly strict religious background—one that didn’t allow foul language or mention of the body parts we verbally threw around with impunity.
He panicked, worried that we had offended her—that he had offended her in a very personal way. He agonized over this for more than a day, then finally apologized to her. She hadn’t minded. But he was unconvinced. He was worried, less for what he had said than its effect on her.
Because that’s how he was.
Warm, generous to a fault. Funny. Brilliant. Insightful.
There’s a Gardner-sized hole in the world. And that hole is larger than life itself.
—Kristine Kathryn Rusch
* * *
What Are You Doing New Year’s?
Gardner presented me with a problem when he moved to Philadelphia. His arrival obviously challenged my claim to be Philadelphia’s leading science fiction writer—a title I based on the fact that I was the only science fiction writer living inside the city limits. L. Sprague de Camp was the leading science fiction writer in the Philadelphia region, but he lived in the suburbs.
Isaac Asimov said he and Arthur Clarke had settled a similar problem in a conference in a New York taxi. They agreed Isaac was the world’s leading science writer and Clarke the world’s leading science fiction writer. Gardner and I followed their example and decided he was Philadelphia’s leading science fiction writer, and I was its handsomest. When Michael Swanwick came along a little later, he became its friendliest.
Asimov and Clarke weren’t the only writers who provided us with useful role models. I had once read that two famous American writers agreed they would praise each other’s work on every possible occasion without actually reading it. Gardner liked that idea and it’s the reason the dedication to his novel Strangers reads “To Tom and Sara Purdom, who won’t read this one either.”
I did read Strangers, of course. I think it’s one of the best science fiction novels ever written. It may well be one of the best novels ever written about the importance of culture.
I once heard Gardner admit he might not agree with the harsh cultural tradition the aliens in the story maintain because they know their lives will fall apart if they change it. But that’s the mark of a good writer. They’re always aware of the complexities of the situations they write about.
Many people have said Gardner’s death leaves a big hole in their picture of the world. For those of us who live in Philadelphia, the gap seems irreparably large. The science fiction and fantasy writers in the city see each other regularly at various events, and Gardner was a central figure at every get together. On New Year’s Eve, for many years, he and his wife, Susan Casper, hosted a party that attracted all the local writers along with luminaries from other areas. On New Year’s Day, a smaller contingent would gather in their living room with the TV set tuned to Philadelphia’s annual Mummer’s Day parade. Most of the people there weren’t big Mummer’s fans, but we commented on the acts the different clubs put on and talked about other things.
When I asked a few local people how they thought of Gardner, they used terms like “larger than life.” One person remembered his kindness. Everybody mentioned his wit. Darrel Schweitzer notes that Gardner had the ability to be silly “without any loss of dignity.” Fans gathered around him just to hear what he would say. My wife and I used to hold a monthly open house when our son was a child, and Christopher remembers that Gardner always had a group around him.
Editors are critical figures to writers. Your career depends on their decisions. Gardner was a major editor in the field for over thirty years, but his position never seemed to affect his personal relationships. He fitted in to writerly gatherings like he was just another writer.
Gardner rejected three or four of my stories while he was editor of Asimov’s, but the rejections never disturbed our relationship. He had a job to do, and it was clear he knew what he was doing. If that meant he couldn’t use one of your stories, so be it.
Editors have exercised a huge influence over the development of science fiction. Their vision of the genre shapes the stories writers produce and the kind of readers it attracts. Some, like John W. Campbell and H.L. Gold, become associated with strongly defined visions. Gardner reminded me of Frederick Pohl, who edited the Galaxy magazines in the sixties. Like Fred, he had a clear vision, but it was too complicated to be summed up in a couple of sentences. Like Fred, he wrote a certain kind of science fiction, but he liked a broad range as a reader and editor. They both surprised me when I discovered they liked space opera.
But Gardner did have a well thought out vision. He coined the term “core science fiction,” and he knew what it was and valued it, even if he happily published fringier work. I once heard him complain, too, about stories that used the “trappings” of science fiction but weren’t the real thing. He understood the difference.
When people die after long careers, it’s common to say a few words about all the things they might have achieved if they’d lived. Most of the time, that’s just a conventional piety. But sometimes it’s really true. Isaac Asimov would have written a lot more books and said a lot of funny things if he had lived past seventy-two. Gardner would have enlivened a hundred more gatherings and continued editing anthologies that connected writers in touch with larger audiences. He had just started writing again, and we were all looking forward to seeing more of his stories. A lot of people are going to feel something is missing when they attend science fiction events. Some of us may feel that way for a long time.
* * *
Gardner Dozois first caught my eye when I was an undergrad at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He wrote trippy stories that appeared in Damon Knight’s Orbit, Robert Silverberg’s New Dimensions, and Quark, edited by Marilyn Hacker and Samuel L. Delaney, among other places. I was awed by the way he used language to evoke images and feelings. As an aspiring writer myself, I hoped that someday, I would write something that good. Perhaps I might even get to meet Gardner Dozois in person.
In those days, I was an SF fan in isolation. I read, but I had no awareness of the subculture that had grown up around genre fiction.
About half a dozen years later, I had come in from the cold to work on the 1976 Kansas City Worldcon, MidAmeriCon. I was sitting by the hotel swimming pool at the Con when a tall man with blond hair nearly to his waist smiled at me. I almost fell over when someone told me this was Gardner Dozois.
In the years following, Gardner and his wife Susan Casper became two of my closest friends, in or out of the subculture. Gardner had a wacky sense of humor, and Susan was wicked with one-liners. Everyone called Gardner Eeyore, but what I remember is sitting up late at conventions and laughing until I couldn’t catch my breath. And then sitting up even later talking about—well, all those things you only talk about with your closest friends.
Gardner and Susan were the first people I called when I found out I was pregnant with my son, and after my son was born; they were the first people I called after I got cancer, and when the cancer recurred. I turned to them in good times and in not-so-good times. The fact that they were there made me feel like I could survive anything.
Yes, Gardner was also a brilliant editor. I wish we could have cloned him so Gardner 01 could have continued writing while Gardner 02 edited. There are few writers who can edit as well. In my opinion, Gardner was on a par with Anthony Boucher.
Gardner had the editorial version of perfect pitch—he could look at text and know if it needed work, and where, and how. He could rearrange a few sentences and turn a story from pretty good to something wonderful. He did that for me more than once. I learned so much about writing from his editing, so much about the right way—the best way—to order words.
But more than anything else, Gardner was my friend—one of the dearest, truest friends I have ever had. Most of my family was gone by the time I grew up, so my friends became my family. Gardner and Susan were most definitely family to me. Losing Gardner is—well, I have no words, except these from “Ode on Intimations of Immortality” by William Wordsworth:
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Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
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And yet Gardner was such a profound part of my life, I’ll never truly be without him.
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Writing this tribute to Gardner Dozois is the last thing I wanted to be doing. What I wanted was to present the Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award to him at the Nebula Awards banquet and then watch him make his acceptance speech and reduce the audience to helpless laughter, just like he’d done every other time I’d ever seen him speak.
But it was not to be. On the day of the banquet, he was in the hospital, suffering from congestive heart failure, and I had to present the award to his son Christopher instead. And a week later, Gardner was gone, and I had to face the fact that I’d never get to have another hilarious evening with him, like one particular Asimov’s Readers’ Awards dinner in New York some years ago.
We were at a Chinese restaurant at two long tables, one for the Analog winners and one for the Asimov’s people. The Analog table was quietly discussing the latest NASA space launch or something—I remember they were scribbling equations on their napkins.
Meanwhile, at our table, Gardner had taken a plastic toy penis out of his pocket, wound it up, and set it wobbling all over the table while making hysterical (and obscene) comments that had us all holding our sides with laughter. And afterward, I remember one of the Analog writers muttering enviously, “Next year I guess I’m going to have to write a story for Asimov’s.”
Because everybody wanted to watch and listen to Gardner. He was, as Michael Swanwick said, “a one-man carnival,” and I am so going to miss all those uproarious dinners and panels and Nebula banquets and conventions and afternoons in the bar I got to spend with him.
I’m also going to miss the other Gardners I knew: the brilliant editor who did so much for Asimov’s and who founded The Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies. And the award-winning writer Gardner whose stories, “The Peacemaker” and “Morning Child” and “Apres Moi” were true classics.
And the quiet, reflective Gardner who emerged when there weren’t a lot of people around. When that happened, he talked knowledgeably and thoughtfully about science fiction and writing and the field he loved so much.
But most of all, I’m going to miss his wonderful flair for humor. Being funny is a true gift, and one that’s in short supply in our sorry world. It’s impossible to ever communicate just how entertaining somebody was—you truly do have to have been there, and you end up saying weakly, “It was so funny!” But in memory of Gardner I have to at least try to show you how killingly comical he could be.
We were at a party at some Worldcon, and we were having a lively discussion about pickup lines. Or, rather, the guys (Gardner was there, and the very handsome Michael Cassutt, and James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel, among others) were trying to come up with the perfect pickup line, one that would work on any woman, and the women (Nancy Kress and Sheila Williams and Pat Cadigan and I) were trying to explain to them that the fact that men believed there was such a thing as a one-size-fits-all pickup line was a big part of the problem and indicated just how little they knew about women.
Well, anyway, the pickup lines the guys came up with ranged from the merely awful—“What’s your sign, baby?” to the truly appalling—“Your eyes are more beautiful than the Pleiades!”—and the only decent one in the bunch was Gardner’s, “Hi. My name’s Michael Cassutt.”
When we asked Gardner if that was the line he usually used, he said, “No, I usually go with my tried and true one.”
And Gardner said, “Ah, come on. How bad could it be? How long could it take?’”
Which I think was the point at which I spewed a mouthful of Pepsi all over Sheila Williams (something she has never forgiven me for, even though she admits I couldn’t help myself and it was funny).
It was funny, like so many moments with Gardner—the time he and Howard Waldrop got to reminiscing about their time in the army or the time Gardner read us all terrible lines from the slush pile that he’d collected from when he was an assistant editor at Galaxy and Worlds of If.
Or the time he taught us all to sing Emily Dickinson’s “I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed” to the tune of “Hernando’s Hideaway,” or the dinner where Gardner assigned everyone parts from the Algonquin Round Table and insisted on being Dorothy Parker, or the time (at another dinner) that the waiter got so flummoxed by Gardner’s hijinks that he quit halfway through the meal, or the time (at yet another dinner) that Gardner made me laugh so hard I snorted a piece of lettuce up my nose and nearly had to go to the emergency room.
I can’t believe all those rollicking (and life-threatening) times are over. In fact, I refuse to. He’s not dead. He’s simply holding court somewhere else, making the angels—or Satan himself—laugh.
Mark Twain said he’d choose heaven for the climate but hell for the company. I feel that way, too. Wherever Gardner’s gone, that’s where I want to go, too. And I’ll know I’m headed for the right place when I hear him reading some awful passage from the slush pile (possibly from that first story of mine), or singing, “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” to the tune of the theme from Gilligan’s Island. Or when I hear the sound of uncontrollable laughter.
And I can’t wait to sit down on the nearest cloud or chunk of not-yet-cooled lava and listen to him again. Gardner, I love you and miss you so, so much. See you on the Other Side, sweetie!