As many of you may or may not know, the writer, editor, and reviewer Gardner Dozois passed away yesterday (May 27th). Of course, anyone involved at all in the field of Science Fiction knows that he was a lot more than that. He was the center. If the field had a heart, he would have been it. People who were closer to him personally will have to talk about Gardner Dozois the man. I can only speak to his effect on me.
I actually “met” Gardner online back in the early 1990’s, in the relatively early days of what was almost but not quite the internet. Before FB and Reddit there was Genie and Delphi, “bulletin board” sites where you logged in through an analog modem to argue and chat with friends. A lot of the sf/f field hung out on Genie, but on one night a week a smaller, very lucky group came together on the sf/f board on Delphi. Membership varied, but at one time or another there was Janet Kagan, Pat Cadigan, Lawrence Person, Jack L. Chalker, Eva Whitley, Mike Resnick, Susan Casper and yes, Gardner Dozois. And me. I wasn’t the only nobody there, of course, but on the other hand there weren’t any nobodies there. It was a friendly group and everyone felt welcome. I certainly did. At the time I had only sold one story, several years earlier, to Amazing SF, and while I was still working hard, I was beginning to think that was it. And even though talking business was generally frowned on, it was there that Gardner broke the news that he was taking a story of mine, “Laying the Stones,” for Asimov’s SF. Now imagine yourself drowning, not for a minute or two but for months, years, and somebody finally throws you a lifeline.
For me, that somebody was Gardner Dozois.
It was the same for a lot of other people who Gardner plucked from the slush pile and helped make their starts. He was unfailingly enthusiastic and generous as an editor. Not in the sense that he would take a second-rate story, of course—he was picky. It was more that he loved the field and it showed, and you knew when he chose a story from you it was because he enjoyed it, and believed his readers would too. He made you want to be a better writer, just to know you passed that test and belonged in that place you wanted to be.
I don’t pretend to know what, if anything, happens when our time on earth is up. I have my beliefs, as I’m sure you have yours. I still think of Susan and Janet and Jack and now Gardner holding court and swapping stories and wit for as long as it suits them.