by James Patrick Kelly
Here’s a bar bet for the next time you hang out with your science fiction pals. Who has won the most Hugo Awards www.thehugoawards.org? Some might want to put their money on Connie Willis www.sftv.org/cw, who has eleven silver rocket ships. Connie has compiled an amazing record, having won in all four fiction categories, novel, novella, novelette, and short story. However, she hasn’t collected as many Hugos as Michael Whelan www.michaelwhelan.com, who has won for Best Artist thirteen times. Yet Michael isn’t the champ either. That distinction goes to Gardner Dozois, who won fifteen Hugos for Best Editor http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Award_for_Best_Professional_Editor over the course of his storied career. Asked in a 1999 interview with Jayme Lynn Blaschke www.sfsite.com/11b/gd93.htm what winning so many Hugos meant to him, he said “. . . quite a lot actually. It’s the recognition that my peers and fellow readers of SF are enjoying what I do with the magazine.”
When Gardner died unexpectedly last year, I asked Sheila if I might devote this column to an appreciation. She was already way ahead of me, and said this entire issue would be a tribute to Gardner, who was editor here at Asimov’s for almost twenty years. It’s funny that, although this column about all things digital started while he occupied the editor’s chair, Gardner never had a website. I bugged him from time to time over the years about this, but he resisted. He was humble about his many accomplishments. Far too humble, in my opinion.
So we proceed with no official start point for exploring Gardnerspace, although we can look to two excellent encyclopedia entries. One is on the indispensable Science Fiction Encyclopedia http:// sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/dozois_gardner and the other is on the omnipresent Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gardner_Dozois. Then there is the obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer www.philly.com/philly/obituaries/gardner-dozois-70-acclaimed-science-fiction-editor-20180529.html, his hometown paper.
In the days after his death was announced, tributes poured in. Gardner knew pretty much everyone in science fiction and his fans, famous and otherwise, were legion. Let me recommend just three of these, offered by his closest friends. What his sometime collaborators Michael Swanwick www.floggingbabel.blogspot.com/2018/05/the-gardner-dozois-you-didnt-know-you.html and Jack Dann www.preview.mailerlite.com/g9a4p3/904246527189320965/f4f6/?platform=Hootsuite wrote brought tears to my eyes. Included in Jack’s appreciation was a link to the edition of the Coode Street Podcast www.jonathanstrahan.com.au/wp/2014/12/26/episode-214-jack-dann-and-gardner-dozois-live-in-dc/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ps_publishing_weekly_newsletter&utm_term=2018-06-05, recorded in 2014, in which Jack and Gardner reminisced and joked about their long friendship. George R.R. Martin weighed in www.georgerrmartin.com/notablog/2018/05/29/goodbye-gargy with a farewell that also included a link to the Howard, George, and Gardner Show www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvdsmhQYTyc&t=657s, a panel featuring him and Gardner and Howard Waldrop http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Waldrop from the SF convention Capclave www.capclave.org in 2013. These pals spent an hour and fifty-eight minutes telling ribald and (mostly) true stories about one another and their literary careers. Somehow, these archival recordings seem to take a little of the sting out of our loss.
* * *
I made a bit of a living in the 1980s conducting writing workshops in high schools throughout New Hampshire, and I always took the most talented and driven student writers aside to urge them to keep at it. By way of encouragement, I told them about a writer pal of mine who wrote a story when he was only seventeen that sold to Worlds of If www.archive.org/details/ifmagazine. His name? Gardner Dozois. Credit for buying Gardner’s first story goes to Frederik Pohl www.frederikpohl.com, who, like Gardner, had an extraordinary career as a writer and an editor. In the decades that followed, Gardner published three novels. Two were collaborations: 1975’s Nightmare Blue www.baen.com/nightmare-blue.html with George Alec Effinger and 2007’s Hunter’s Run www.harpercollins.com/9780061373305/hunters-run with George R.R. Martin and Daniel Abraham, and one was the brilliant and heart-breaking solo effort Strangers www.sfsite.com/12a/st165.htm, published in 1978. However, it was in the short form where he made his reputation as one of the best of his generation: sixty-two stories and counting, with new work still to come as I write this. Most were solo efforts, but Gardner definitely liked to collaborate, not only with Jack Dann and Michael Swanwick, but with his wife Susan Casper http://sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/casper_susan and Jack C. Haldeman II http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_C._Haldeman_II. Gardner sometimes used to muse about what his writing career would have been had he not become editor of Asimov’s. During his long tenure here he published just twelve stories; the demands of editing cut into what was already a slow and careful writing process. And yet the quality of what he did publish over the course of five plus decades is very high indeed. His writing awards include two Nebulas, in 1984 for “The Peacemaker,” reprinted in this issue, and in 1985 for “Morning Child” www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/morning-child. He also won a 2007 Sidewise Award www.uchronia.net/sidewise, given to works of alternate history, for “Counterfactual” www.uchronia.net/label/dozicounte.html. In addition to his wins, he was nine times a finalist for the Nebula and five times for the Hugo—in all four fiction categories. If you haven’t yet read him, you can start right away with Gardner’s page on excellent Free Speculative Fiction Online www.freesfonline.de/authors/Gardner_Dozois.html, that points to a good, but limited selection of his work. For the completist, Baen Books offers a Gardner Dozois Commemorative Bundle www.baen.com/gardner-dozois-commemorative-bundle.html: a treasure trove of stories and novels, solo and in collaboration, across six books for a mere thirty dollars. Not included in this set, but highly recommended, is Michael Swanwick’s bravura book length interview, Being Gardner Dozois www.goodreads.com/book/show/410180.Being_Gardner_Dozois, in which Gardner talked about how he came to write many of his best-known stories. Part autobiography, part master class in the craft of writing short fiction, it makes a fine reading companion to the Baen bundle.
In the Blaschke interview mentioned above, Gardner said, “There’s an unbridled part of my ego that would really prefer being as well-known for my writing as I am for the editing. I would like to pop up on all those lists of the best science fiction writers over the last half of the twentieth century and all of that. Be talked about for my writing in all the encyclopedias. But it didn’t happen that way, and I suspect won’t happen that way at this point.” I’d like nothing better than to prove my friend wrong, and the way to do that is to keep mentioning his work and pointing at all the things that he did so well.
* * *
Just a glance at Gardner’s page on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?198 is enough to make one realize the enormous impact he had on SF publishing over the last four decades. In addition to thirty-five annual Year’s Best Science Fiction http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Year%27s_Best_Science_Fiction anthologies, he also edited two Best of the Best www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/gardner-dozois/best-of-the-best anthologies, drawing from the first twenty years of the series and The Very Best of the Best www.file770.com/dozois-shares-toc-for-his-very-best-of-the-best-collection, which looks back over all thirty-five years. The impact of these books cannot be overstated. For many readers and fans, they were a kind of report card on our genre. I can tell you from personal experience that not only the tables of contents, but also the list of honorable mentions were pored over by writers of all levels of accomplishment. Although competing “Best of the Year” volumes have come into print over the years, Gardner’s books were the gold standard, in part because of their size, seven hundred pages of fiction chosen by an editor who seemed to have read everything.
But his bibliography includes not only these important volumes but also twenty-one reprint anthologies edited with Sheila in the Isaac Asimov’s Magazine series, titles like Isaac Asimov’s Aliens www.goodreads.com/book/show/3100847-isaac-asimov-s-aliens and Isaac Asimov’s Father’s Day www.goodreads.com/book/show/1111852.Isaac_Asimov_s_Father_Day. There were also twenty-two in what some call his Exclamatory Series, co-edited with Jack Dann, so named because the title of each of these books ended with an exclamation mark, for example: Unicorns! www.goodreads.com/book/show/1989921.Unicorns and Dinosaurs! www.goodreads.com/book/show/707518.Dinosaurs. More recently, he and George R.R. Martin have co-edited a series of well-received anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award winning Dangerous Women http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dangerous_Women_(anthology), and Old Venus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Venus and Old Mars http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Mars, both Locus Award winners. And this list of new and reprint anthologies is by no means complete. There are as many as forty more still available for your reading pleasure.
Perhaps readers of this column best remember Gardner as the editor of Asimov’s from 1986 to 2004. But did you know that he was also on staff at the very beginning of this magazine? In the Coode Street Podcast Gardner recounted how George Scithers, Asimov’s first editor, who had never edited a magazine before, invited him to be his associate editor. “For about a year and a half I worked on the first four or five issues of Asimov’s, so I actually was in on the launch. Then it became clear that my relationship with George wasn’t really working out that well because he was buying the stories I told him to reject and rejecting the stories I told him to buy.” Some ten years later, Shawna McCarthy http://sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/mccarthy_shawna resigned as Asimov’s editor and Gardner applied for her job. In a 2011 Guest of Honor interview at Readercon www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FheeuGt5gk, he recounted how he tried to make himself presentable by cutting his shoulder length hair and putting on his “shabby suit.” Amazed that he was offered the job, he didn’t expect it would last. “I was certain I didn’t really fit in well with the corporate ambiance . . . and I knew my time was short. In a way this was a good thing because I said ‘I’ve got nothing to lose. They’re going to fire me anyway.’ So I let the writers take risks and I took risks with what kind of stories I published.” Dozens of Hugos later, it was obvious that those risks had paid off, not only for him but for the many award-winners who appeared in these pages.
* * *
Reader, I was one of those winners. I am proud to say that Gardner bought thirty-three original stories from me, and reprinted my work many more times. We were friends well before he became editor at Asimov’s; indeed, he was one of the first pros to notice me, and that notice was a validation I sorely needed. His many kindnesses and encouragements over the years helped motivate me to do my very best for him and this magazine. On hearing of his death, my first thought was that science fiction was broken. It isn’t, of course. We must go on without him, alas. That’s what he would want.
But it isn’t going to be easy.
Copyright © 2019 James Patrick Kelly