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.