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Being Gardner Dozois

Title Being Gardner Dozois
Released 2001
Publisher Old Earth Books
ISBN 1882968190

Gardner Dozois: When I was a little kid—oh, I guess I was about four, maybe five, somewhere in that vicinity—we had a big hurricane come through Massachusetts. And my mother, who is a very imaginative woman but never received any formal education, and as a result was always prone to get things wildly wrong, somehow misinterpreted something that she heard on television or on the radio to understand that the moon had fallen down out of its orbit and was going to destroy the Earth. And her reaction to this—which remember was in the middle of a hurricane, which even at the time never really made any sense to me—was to bundle me up and rush out into the storm, and rush down to the seaside. We stood there at the seaside, watching enormous waves crash into the rocky foreshore. And she was hysterical, and, of course, I had just been told by mother that the world was coming to an end, and so I believed it.”

* * *

being_gardner_dozois.jpgGardner Dozois's place in the history of SF is assured. He is one of the most famous science fiction editors in the entire history of the field, perhaps second only to the legendary John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction from 1937 until his death in 1971. Strangely enough, another trait Dozois shares with Campbell is that both men had a writing career that was subsequently overshadowed by their editorial career.

That is where the similarities disappear, however. Campbell was a staunch believer that humans were It as far as the Universe was concerned; he oftentimes would reject stories or demand rewrites on perfectly serviceable stories because they portrayed humans as being inferior or fallible.

Dozois, on the other hand, tends towards the opposite extreme. His characters are intensely self-examining, often wrapped up in their own thoughts and feelings, oftentimes tending to lean towards dysfunction. Many of his earlier stories dealt with the breakdown of the mind when faced with unexplained or inexplicable circumstances. Dozois has a fascination with situations that cause absolute change in people.

Which sort of brings me to this book. Being Gardner Dozois is a book-length interview (conducted by Michael Swanwick) in which Dozois examines every single story he has ever written. It is obvious, then, what with the book weighing in at a mere 248 pages, that Dozois is not as prolific an author as, say, Georges Simenon.

Nonetheless, Dozois covers everything—from his earlier stories that (mostly) dealt with intense psychological issues of the main characters, to his popular collaborations with Jack Dann, Michael Swanwick and Susan Casper in the '80s (they regularly sold to “the slicks” like Penthouse and Playboy, and called themselves The Fiction Factory) to his more recent solo work of the '90s. Dozois discusses some of the issues he had with trying to maintain a balance between “a simple story, simply told” and the ever-present threat of purple prose.

In this retrospective work, Dozois seems slightly unkind towards his younger self. The fiction of his younger days was absolutely top-notch stuff. Go pick up a copy of his collection Morning Child and Other Stories and read “Machines of Loving Grace” and “Chains of the Sea.” And then go read his seminal 1978 novel, Strangers. Strangers is one of the very few novels I've ever read in one sitting, and at the end of it I started it all over again, just to see how he had done it.

I suppose it was inevitable that Dozois-The-Author would be overshadowed by Dozois-The-Editor. But after reading his fiction and reading Being Gardner Dozois, it's obvious that his editorial choices are a result of being a reader first and knowing what works and what doesn't. It is also obvious that he is an astute observer of human beings, and of the craft of writing. Being Gardner Dozois is, perhaps, better than a “How-To” book on writing; it centers around a professional author examining the creative thought processes that went into the creation of fiction. If you write or have written or want to write, there is a great deal of wisdom in these pages.

That's not to say that the book is perfect. By its very nature, it has an extremely selective audience—it not only assumes that you are familiar with Dozois the editor and author, but it also goes into great detail about his fiction. A familiarity with his work is not required (because there is a lot of interesting stuff in the book outside of his own work) but it is helpful. At the end of the book, Dozois (who tends to be self-deprecating throughout) claims that “there's about five people in the world who are going to want to read this book. Maybe that's overestimating it.”

4 Stars

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>it centers around a professional author examining the creative thought processes that went into the creation of fiction.

Interesting that we both did reviews of this type back to back.

I don't know anything at all about Dozois, but any time someone successful talks about writing (or fiction, or language) it entices me greatly.

By Philip J Reed, VSc
November 19, 2006 @ 5:15 pm

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