RIP Gardner Dozois (1947-2018)

Heard on Sunday night that editor Gardner Dozois died unexpectedly in hospital – he was 70 years old. I’m still trying to process it – Gardner e-mailed me just 3 weeks ago to ask for a new short story, and now he’s gone. He came close a couple of years ago, and I remember thinking, “Please hold on, please hold on, I need you, Gardner!” – and he did. For a little while longer at least. For which I’ll always be grateful.

I can’t speak as to how he was in person – there are a lot of moving tributes around about what a lovely man he was, but I never met him in person, and now I never will. I also, shamefully, can’t speak about his own writing, which was accomplished and award-winning in its own right. But I can remedy that by reading him now.

What I can say about Gardner is that he meant a hell of a lot to me. He was my most strident champion in short fiction. He first contacted me about ten years ago, asking to reprint one of my stories in his seminal Year’s Best Science Fiction anthology series. Since then, he’s included me in every volume, sometimes doing me the honour of reprinting not one but two in the same volume. I only skipped one year – I got fed up with short fiction for some reason and published barely nothing, and it was the realisation that I missed a volume in Gardner’s anthology, I think, that made me realise how ridiculous I was being, so I started again.

Gardner’s reviews in Locus meant the world. He covered the short fiction world extensively, and praise from him meant you’d done your job properly. Years earlier I must have submitted stories to him at Asimov’s Science Fiction and got my rejections, though sadly I didn’t keep the rejection slips. Then he had mentions of stories worthy of note at the back of his Year’s Best anthologies, and cover the field in his lengthy introductions. I remember standing at the KLCC Kinokuniya in Kuala Lumpur around 2008, enjoying the aircon and spending a good half-hour just browsing the latest volume (and searching for mentions of my name…).

Gardner was the first person to see what I was doing with Central Station, as the individual episodes began to appear in various magazines. He talked it up in his reviews, reprinted the stories in the Year’s Best, and expressed constant enthusiasm to me about the project long before I could even envision finishing it. When it came to selling the book, he was, very kindly, the first person to blurb it, and his name I think is inextricably linked with the book – most recently, it’s right there above mine on the cover of the Romanian edition.

For a long time I couldn’t sell a new story to Clarkesworld for love nor money, but Gardner, as their reprint editor, still bought two of my stories for the magazine, keeping my presence there.

And he asked me for new stories. I got to write for Rip-Off!, an original audio anthology (later published in print as Mash-Up); and for Old Venus, which he co-edited with his friend George R.R. Martin. And then Gardner sold a new anthology called The Book of Swords to Penguin Random House, and he remembered – somehow! – my Gorel of Goliris stories, and he wanted a new Gorel story for the anthology. I’ve not written one of those for years – had detailed notes left on the hard drive but lost my enthusiasm and thought I’d never complete the work I planned – until Gardner came calling. So I exercised some forgotten muscles (for all that my story for Old Venus, really, was a Gorel in all but name), and wrote him the first new one in years, “Waterfalling”.

The anthology was pretty successful – it’s been coming out in a whole variety of translated editions, too – and he asked me for another story for a follow-up anthology, The Book of Magic. I wrote another Gorel story (it was my good luck charm at this point!), but it was only when I was writing a third story for Garnder that I realised he had, by the simple act of his request, allowed me to finish the Gorel mosaic/fixup novel arc I’d planned nearly 10 years ago. Suddenly Guns and Sorcery, my silly pulp tribute to C.L. Moore and swords and sorcery, was finished (nearly 100,000 words in 10 years), and it was all thanks to him – and at first I didn’t even realise!

He’d asked me for a new one just 3 weeks ago. I was just about to start writing it… I don’t really know what happens now. He was an amazing editor, a defining force, and my knight in shining armour. He knew my work better than I did. There is no one else like him. The world of science fiction is poorer for not having him, but God damn it, I needed you, Gardner!

Rest in peace.

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