Gardner Dozois started his career in science fiction as a (very good) writer, but quickly transitioned to the role that defined his life in the field, as an editor, taking over Asimov’s from 1984 to 2004, winning 40 Hugos, 40 Nebulas, 30 Locus Awards, and the best Professional Editor Hugo Award 15 times.
Gardner was the first editor to buy my work at professional rates (he wasn’t the first to publish my work in a professional forum — Scott Edelman beat him to the punch because Science Fiction Age had a shorter backlog and a faster turnaround than Asimov’s), and long before he’d published my work, he’d nurtured my career, including my stories in the copious honorable mentions appendices to his longrunning, definitive Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies, appending encouraging personal notes to the rejections I got from Asimov’s and, on a memorable occasion at Philcon, announcing during a panel that he viewed me as one of the best new writers in the field.
In a field where beginning writers are starved for attention, critical feedback and encouragement, Dozois stood out as an editor who never succumbed to the laziness of simply publishing works by known authors: he was an assiduous reader of the “slushpile” of unsolicited manuscript, which made him an encylopedic guide to emerging talents, long before people were publishable. Beginning writers, years before their first sales, often found themselves meeting Dozois at conferences, only to be treated to specific, encouraging words about the stories he’d rejected and their professional and artistic progress.
Dozois’s public persona was larger than life, hilarious and lewd: he was, famously, the man who would shout “penis” in a public place. But as his frequent collaborator and close friend Michael Swanwick writes in his moving obituary, Dozois in private was quiet, shy and thoughtful. This is unimaginable if you’d only ever encountered Dozois in large, public industry gatherings — but unmistakable if you ever had the privilege and pleasure of chatting with him one-on-one.
Dozois went into the Pennsylvania Hospital this week with a good prognosis. His doctors told him that he could expect to be home today and on his feet in less than two weeks. Instead, he died yesterday of systemic failure. He was 70 years old.
Eight days ago, Dozois’ son Christopher Casper accepted the Science Fiction Writers of America’s Solstice Award for lifetime achievement on his father’s behalf. Dozois apparently told his son to say that the award belonged properly to the writers that Dozois had published. Thankfully, Christopher defied his father and used the opportunity to remind us of Dozois’ shyness and modesty.
When Philadelphia Magazine named him one of “Philadelphia’s 100 Smartest People,” he said, “If that’s true, then God help Philadelphia!” When he was placed in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, he returned from Seattle to report that they’d placed his name and image on a brick which went into the Hall of Fame Wall. “So now I’m really just another brick in the wall.” And when he couldn’t make it to Pittsburgh for the Nebula Awards Weekend, he told Christopher to just say that the award properly belonged to all the writers he’d published.
Chris, of course, ignored this directive and spoke movingly of his father’s virtues instead. But here’s the thing. Any number of editors were capable of saying that the award really belonged to the writers. But Gardner actually meant it.
Gardner really loved science fiction. One of the greatest joys in his life was discovering a new writer of talent. There are a great many writers who are grateful to him for discovering them, praising them when nobody else did, and promoting their work. He would have told them that they had it backward: that he was grateful to them for writing what they did.
Anybody who was ever praised by Gardner Dozois should know this: He meant it. Not only did he like you personally, but he loved your work.
The Gardner Dozois You Didn’t Know You Knew [Michael Swanwick/Flogging Babel]
Gardner Dozois, 1947 – 2018 [Tor.com]