It is with great sadness that I report the death of Gardner Dozois, one of the greatest science fiction editors of all time. He was a friend who I hadn’t seen or spoken to in far too long. I learned today that he was exactly eighteen days older than me. I have to say that I’m surprised (and very pleased) that he made it to age seventy, almost seventy-one. He was always seriously overweight. Maybe it was his mighty heart that kept him going this long.
I met Gardner in 1976, at the first science fiction convention I ever attended, Philcon ‘76. I also was the principle speaker, a term Philcon uses which is analogous to guest of honor. Philcon claims to be the longest-running science fiction conference of all time, dating back to 1936, when nine fans attended, including Donald A. Wollheim and my friend, Frederick Pohl.
Why I had been invited to speak was a bit of a mystery to me. I had sold a handful of short stories that had received some notice and good reviews, but I was far from a household name. The galleys for my first novel were handed to me right there at the conference. (With instructions to read them and correct them that very weekend and return them to the editor! More on that later.) So not many people knew who I was.
I soon learned that Gardner had a lot to do with my invitation. Gardner then, and until his death, read everything when it came to short science fiction. He knew everything I had published, and even a few that were still being edited at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Galaxy. It was he who had vouched for me as someone who might one day make a name for himself in this profession.
So he took me under his wing and introduced me to Gods like Hal Clement, Robert Sheckley, Cordwainer Smith, and Jack Williamson, to name just a few. I was instantly accepted as a colleague, a fellow professional. My head was swimming, and it probably grew a few too many hat sizes. It was also Gardner who persuaded Isaac Asimov to hop on a train from Boston and come down to Philly … to introduce me. (Dr. A did not fly. The creator of the galaxy-spanning Foundation novels would surely have turned down a seat on the space shuttle!) Gardner had sent Isaac some of my stories to read. The Good Doctor told me he loved them. I could have died at that moment with no regrets. I had had it all. The first issue of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine was in the works, and George Scithers, the first editor (who I also met) bought two of my stories.
It was Gardner who saved my weekend from becoming a living hell. When I told him I’d have to be reading galleys all night, every night, he just laughed and took them from me. “Editors always need work to be done right now,” he said, tossing them into a drawer. “Let’s go find some parties.”
Gardner also took me and some others to see the Independence Hall, Ben Franklin’s house, and the Liberty Bell. We went out with a large group to eat the best cheese steak sandwiches in Philly. I’ve never had a better one. It was a memorable conference.
I mentioned his editorial work. I am embarrassed to say that, until yesterday, I hadn’t known just how much fiction he had written himself. He won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story twice, for “The Peacemaker” in 1983 and “Morning Child” in 1984.
His output of book reviews and other non-fiction was prodigious. As for the Hugo Award … well, he had at least fifteen of them for his work as the editor of Asimov’s from 1983 to 2004. He co-edited eight anthologies with George RR Martin. With Jack Dann he created thirty-eight themed anthologies, many of them with exclamation points, like Aliens!, Seaserpents!, Bestiary!, Dragons!, and Mermaids! (I had stories in Timegates and Clones, no exclamation points!) He put together twenty-five collections of the best stories from the magazine, like Isaac Asimov’s Mars, Isaac Asimov’s Cyberdreams, and Isaac Asimov’s Detectives, some of them co-edited with Sheila Williams.
But I think he will be best remembered for The Year’s Best Science Fiction series, beginning in 1984 and continuing right up to the 34th Annual Collection, published just last year, in July 2017. I’m thinking he probably has already handed his selections for stories published in 2017 to the publisher.
I had stories appearing in #2, 6, 7, 8, and 21. It was a thrill that never grew old to hear from him that he was buying something for TYBSF, and getting my copy to file on the shelf.
So there is a brief outline of Gardner’s many professional accomplishments. A person can be judged both by what he has achieved in life, and by how he has lived as a human being. My experience is that some people can’t be seen in a good light in both departments. Gardner was outstanding in both. I have never heard anyone say a bad thing about him, and I have heard many praise him. He was a mensch.
I feel I should really have more to say about him, but the sad fact is that I never had the chance to spend nearly as much time with him as I would have liked to. I don’t have any amusing anecdotes to relate. He was very much East Coast and I am solidly West Coast, so we didn’t meet each other often at conventions. In recent years I have hardly attended cons at all. Most of our interactions over the years has been through correspondence, and that was mostly business. The best I can say is, he will be missed. The world of science fiction will be a poorer place without him.
June 3, 2018