Monday, May 28, 2018

The Gardner Dozois You Didn't Know You Knew

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I told Gardner he was wrong. Turns out he wasn't.

When he went into Pennsylvania Hospital for congestive heart failure, he told me that meant he was going to die.

"No, you aren't," I said. "Your doctor said he expects to have you in rehab by Monday and home ten days after that."

When SFWA announced they were giving him the Solstice Award for lifetime achievement in science fiction, he said, "They only give you those things when you're about to die."

"You're not about to die," I said. "They're giving a Solstice Award to Sheila Williams, too, and she's not about to die."

"No, Sheila's not going to die," he admitted.

Gardner was right on all three counts. God damn him for the first two.

When Gardner's son, Christopher Casper, accepted the Solstice Award on his behalf, only -- my god! -- eight days ago, he spoke about what a shy and modest man Gardner was. This was news, I'm sure, to a lot of the audience. They all knew Gardner as a larger-than-life Rabelaisian figure, a loud and entertaining man who, in Connie Willis's characterization, was prone to shouting "Penis!" in a crowded restaurant.

But that was all an act. He assumed the role to put people at their ease and to make him approachable. He really was shy. He really was modest.

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 second part of that mattered more than the first. I remember once he told me he'd picked up a story by a notoriously unlikeable writer for the Year's Best Science Fiction. "That's interesting," I said.

"Yeah," he replied, grinning. "The little shit wrote a really good story."

Gardner was himself an extremely fine writer. If you haven't read "A Special Kind of Morning," do yourself a favor and look it up. It's the apotheosis of science fiction war stories. He almost entirely gave that up when he became an editor because editing uses the same inner resources that writing requires.

He knew this would happen when he first became editor of Asimov's. But he felt it was a price worth paying because it enabled him to buy stories nobody else would. Some of them most readers now would be astonished to learn were ever deemed unpublishable. There were times when he risked losing his job to publish a story he admired.

He paid the price. He did it for the writers... and for the readers.

And now he's gone. The glory of his 15 Hugo Awards, the Solstice Award, the myriad other honors he received in his lifetime can now be credited to the myriad writers he published, reprinted, and promoted.

It's okay. They were never very important to him anyway.

All that mattered to him was the fiction.


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25 comments:

Marc Fabian Erdl said...

Danke!

Marc Fabian Erdl

Keith Ferrell said...

I have had BEING GARDNER out since the moment I heard the news, opening it here and there, trying not cry and then giving up and adding tears to his words and yours there, same as to his in the Avon NEW DIMENSIONS 1 where I first encountered "A Special Kind of Morning" and to STRANGERS and GEODESIC DREAMS and and and.
Now there are tears on my keyboard. Little in my career has meant more than selling a story to Gardner, but getting to know him back in the 90s did. Thank you for adding such eloquent and loving truth about a wonderful, wondrous man.

bookman50 said...

He was right about so many stories. Gardner's selections were always good reading. Sorry you lost a great friend Michael. Thanks for sharing.

Datlow said...

Sorry to correct you, Michael, but I published "Flying Saucer Rock and Roll" in OMNI January 1985

Quantum Harry said...

Thanks for this, Michael.

Barbara (via my Blogger account)

Kevin Cheek said...

My personal contact with Gardner Dozois was limited to a long, slow correspondence on Facebook Messenger. He once told me that in an alternate reality, he had gone into Chemical Engineering and never started writing. I responded that in that world, engineering would be far richer and stranger, and literature would be duller and vastly less inspiring.

I encountered him in The Best of New Dimensions with the story "A Special Kind of Morning." That was a pivotal moment, when it dawned on me that SF was every bit as much worthy of recognition Literature (capital "L") as the Melville, Hemingway, and Steinbeck my teachers we're striving to turn me on to. Good SF, that is.

I am deeply grateful he did not pursue a career in Chemical Engineering in our world, and I deeply mourn his loss.

Michael Swanwick said...

I've removed the reference, Ellen, and I feel bad for having goofed. That was before Gardner became editor of Asimov's, I believe, and he (and to a lesser degree I) talked up that story to every editor in the field. None of them would touch it. You were the only one who would print a story that controversial just because it was so brilliant.

Gardner always admired that quality in you.

Datlow said...

It was from the cancelled New Dimensions that Marta Randall edited. Dancing Chickens by Ed Bryant and All My Darling Daughters by Connie Willis were from that ill-fated antho. I couldn't take either for OMNI and DC was eventually published in Light Years and Dark ed. Mike Bishop when I pushed it on him and AMDD she published in her collection Firewatch. I reprinted both in Alien Sex, in penance for not being able to buy them for OMNI ;-).

Compared to those two, I don't know why no one else would publish Flying Saucer Rock and Roll.

Datlow said...

Don't feel bad-it's a tough time for us all and memories from 30 years ago are a looong time ago. (the only things I can remember are what I've published ;-) ).

Sandy said...

Oh, CRAP! I was anticipating saying hello to him on June 10th. I've known both of you since early in 1970 (amazing!), which was so long ago that you two resembled each other more closely then you did recently and I hadn't been introduced officially to either of you and had you both sort of confused in my mind. I've never written anything good enough for him to buy it, but he was always very supportive in his rejection notes. Yes, I understand what you wrote about him being shy. A few years after I first met him I got the chance to get him off in a corner and tell him how fantastic and wonderful a story I thought "Chains of the Sea" was and he seemed to be so happy to hear that.
Will June 10th be a gathering to honor Gardner?

Laurie Mann said...

Thanks, Michael. And now we have to change the title of our In Memoriam panel for Confluence in July to include Gardner. That could wind up being a very lengthy panel this year.

Nancy Kress said...

A wonderful tribute, Michael, and every single word is true.

Michael Bishop said...

Really feeling Gardner's loss. Thanks, Michael, for this remembrance. Wish I had something even quasi-Insightful to say about him beyond the fact that he as a true original, as writer, editor, and person, and that I always admired the hell out of him for being so damned good at being those three important things.

Peter D. Tillman said...

Thanks, Michael. It's just settling in, that he's really gone. A Giant has fallen.

The only time I ever met him was briefly, in the hotel hallway, at BuBONICON in ABQ years ago. Nothing of substance. He was late for a panel, I think.

Mark Pontin said...

It's a great loss.

Steven Tadlock said...

I can't recall which of the "Year's Best" I first discovered. I know I've read them all, since then. Gardner Dozois introduced me to worlds of wonder by fresh, new voices who eventually became welcome, familiar standards. His gifts as both writer and editor will be missed. He cannot be replaced but I sure hope someone will try.

Maureen Breen said...

Dear Writers,
Please invent new verb and noun tenses for us to talk about people after they die. What has passed is the person's life here. What remains in the present tense are our feelings of love, appreciation, respect and admiration. The verbs are not to be past tense when we speak of our friends whose lives have passed from our present tense.

Gumball said...

A number of years back, my wife and I were at a con attended by Gardner Dozois. He was sitting next table over from us with some friends, close ones as the one woman kept calling him “Gardie” like she knew he didn’t like it and it was an old joke. Later, after I added him on Facebook, he did a “ask me anything” thread. I told him the story and I asked him how many people get to call him “Gardie”. I also told him I was writing at the time and I said I looked forward someday to writing a story good enough to submit to him. He publicly answered “not many” to my query. He privately messaged me that he eagerly looked forward to reading my story, and that I should make it a good one! If it contained dinosaurs, all the better, because dinosaurs always made good covers. I mourn the passing of Gardie, a class act and himself “one of the good ones”.

HANNAH'S DAD said...

It's only a tiny part of what he did, but every winter since about... Years Best #4 I think, I've looked forward to that big slab of good reading arriving just in time to dispel some of the winter gloom. They were a fine fixed point in my life.

Gregory said...

THE BEST OF ... the "Year's Best"collections. & so much more. I wonder who could possibly replace him at that...

Mitchell Hellman said...

Though I've always admired and appreciated Gardner's work as an editor, and especially enjoyed his own stories, what I'll always remember about him was his bright-eyed glee whenever he said and/or did something outrageous during the various Balticon and Disclave parties he attended. He was a walking, talking case of Tourette's, but was never mean-spirited and always hilarious. Anyone who has ever heard "Dirty Old Man" by The Fugs can't help but think of him when they hear it.

Keith F. said...

I was an intern at Asimov's in the summer of '95, in the Conde Naste building (aka "the Death Star") off of Times Square. It was my first job out of college, and I had just moved to New York City with enough money to pay rent for two months. I think the only reason Sheila took me on was because I was a big fan of James Patrick Kelly. I remember it was a steamy summer, and the best lunch in the neighrborhood was a hip chinese take-out place called "Rocket to Asia", which I could only afford once a week, and where I would go with the intern from Ellory Queen.

Once a month or so, Gardner would trek to New York and come to the office to meet with Sheila. He lugged along with him the previous months' accumulation of the rejected slush pile stories - many hundreds of rejected slush pile stories.

It was my job to package & mail replies to every single rejected submission. Gardner explained to me the three diffeent versions of Asimov's rejection letter:

Version 1 was a personalized response to established writers and friends - basically saying, "Sorry, I can't take this one."

Version 2 was a form letter meant to encouarge the writer to try again, "not bad, just not this time."

Version 3, said Gardner, was the "f*** off" letter. It was delicisouly harsh, listing to the writers a number of possible reasons why their stories were rejected. It ended something like this: "Lastly, your story might not have been rejected because of bad grammar or a tired trope, but simply because it didn't rise above the hunderds of other submsissions we received this month." - Ouch!

The volume of submissions was staggering, and these were all stories printed (typed?) and physically mailed to Asimov's. In the summer of '95, almost half of the "f*** off" rejectinos had the word "Virtual" in the title. Gardner, I belive, looked through every last story that was submited to Asimaov's. It's hard to fathom how much time he devoted to finding the gems.

Unfortunatley, I had to leave the internship by the end of the summer, in order to take a paying job. I really wish I would have found a way to make it work. Shelia was really patient with me. And even though I only met him a few times, Gardner was very generous with me, joking with the new intern who made photocopies and stuffed the letters.

Dario said...

Lovely, Michael. I only knew Gardner a little from his week at Clarion West 2002 and a smattering of correspondence over the years, but admired and liked him a great deal. I'm so very sorry you and Marianne lost so dear a friend. A brilliant man, and an outstanding human being. I just posted a few words about him myself. --Dario

TheOFloinn said...

in rehab w/ stroke. only just now learned of this. devastated beyond measure. remeber once at philcon, a friend was lamenting not selling a story to Gardner and I said noworries i never sold him one either. as was his wont Gardner nearby turned about and "oh, then you haven't gotten my letter yet."

Michael Swanwick said...

Best reminiscence so far, Mike.