I’ve been putting this off, but Gardner Dozois died Sunday. I heard about it while I was at Balticon: both the best and worst place to be to learn such news. Best because I was surrounded by people who knew who Gardner was, and what he meant. And worst because sf conventions are work for me, and after hearing, I wasn’t much good at selling books.
There have already been many people writing about Gardner, who he was, what he did, his awards and honors, his importance to the field of speculative fiction, and its importance to him. I don’t need to rehash that. Instead, I want to write about the Gardner I knew.
I first met him at my second interview for the editorial assistant position at what was then called Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (and Analog Science Fiction and Fact: the two magazines shared me). During that interview, he remarked that he had a story from me on his desk, and wondered what my career goal was. I told him honestly that I wanted either his job or Stan’s (Stanley Schmidt, the editor of Analog, also had one of my stories under consideration). Neither one of them bought those stories; it took me three more years to write something worthy of Analog, and I never was able to sell a story to Gardner.
I remember attending science fiction conventions with my bosses: Gardner and Stan and Sheila Williams and Tina Lee (the managing editors of the two magazines). Stan was very quiet: much more comfortable in small groups, the early-to-bed sort. Gardner, on the other hand, was loud, gregarious, the center of attention in crowds (the larger the better). And something in me said that, in addition to his remarkable editing work, it was this connection with the fans that kept him winning Hugo Awards. I watched Gardner (actually, I remember sitting at his feet in more than one room party, listening with a crowd to his stories), and I thought “if only Stan could be this close to his fans, perhaps he might win the awards, too.” I tried to emulate Gardner on Stan’s behalf, though of course that was impossible, and it wasn’t the reason. But Saturday night at Balticon, I was up late in a room party, sitting on a bed surrounded by people, telling stories of the past, and I flashed back to my early conventions with Gardner, except that now I was in his position, telling the stories. Actually, I had a similar memory/feeling at the World Fantasy Convention in 2010. After a late night telling war stories to younger fans, I ran into Gardner at breakfast, and told him of that feeling of doing what he’d done. He laughed at me and said “you’re getting older.” Then Rusty Hevelin walked up and said, “Don’t worry about it, kid. I’m still telling stories of the 1950s.”
Early in 1992, Isaac Asimov came into the office, as he had done every Tuesday for probably ever. I looked forward to his visits, but we hadn’t seen him in several weeks. This particular Tuesday, the receptionist called to tell me Isaac was in the lobby, and I ought to come to him (he usually just came back to the office). He was weak, had snuck out of his apartment over his wife’s objection. Gardner came out front as well, looked at Isaac, and told me to take him home. So I was the last of us to see Isaac alive: he died a few weeks later.
After six years working at the magazines, I left to start my own magazine. I still saw Gardner at conventions, and made sure he got copies of my magazine to consider for his Year’s Best anthologies, but we weren’t really in close contact.
Then, last year, when Susan died, Gardner posted a note wondering what he had left to live for. Darrell Schweitzer and I convinced him that a collection of Susan’s fiction would be a fitting tribute, and that he ought to put it together. We published it last July, and Gardner made the trek to Readercon in Massachusetts to be present at the book’s debut. He spent a lot of the weekend sitting at my Fantastic Books table in the dealers’ room, talking about and signing the book for customers. In between, we got to spend time together, chatting and reminiscing, and I really enjoyed re-connecting with him, this time almost as equals (well, not of equal stature, but now I was publishing a book he had produced). A few months later, Gardner came to Philcon for Saturday, and again spent several hours with me at the table.
After the collection was published, Gardner found the manuscript to Susan’s unpublished novel, The Red Carnival, and asked if I’d be interested in publishing it. Sight unseen, I said of course. For him, and for Susan, I would have published it even if the book wasn’t worth publishing, but it totally is (I still don’t know why Susan didn’t put in the effort to get it into print). Gardner worked with Christopher, his son, to get me an electronic copy of the manuscript, and as I was editing it, I discovered there was a missing page. It was a fairly important page, since it contained the end of one scene, a scene break, and the beginning of the next, but that original page was lost. Eventually, I was able to convince Gardner that he had to write the missing page, so in some small degree, The Red Carnival is a collaboration between Gardner and Susan. I’m pleased that Gardner got to see finished copies of the book in circulation, since we were able to publish it in March (on the first anniversary of Susan’s death).
But now Gardner’s gone, and I miss him.