The Nine Billion Names of Science Fiction

I was saddened to learn that Gardner Dozois died over the weekend. I’d seen him on several occasions, at various conventions, but only ever spoke to him once. Many of the online tributes to Gardner speak of his shyness, but I was always wary of introducing myself to him. His was a Big Name and I was virtually unknown.

I was forced to overcome this shyness one evening at Worldcon in Chicago a few years back. I was sitting in the SFWA suite, and Allen Steele pulled me out of a conversation I was having—literally took my arm and said, “You need to come with me right now.” I followed him into the back rooms of the suite, and Allen introduced me to Gardner, saying, “This is the guy I was telling you about.” I spent the next hour our so sitting in a room with Gardner, and Mike Resnick, and others, listening to them talk, just listening, and it was wonderful.

I was present for an amazing “panel” discussion that included Gardner, and George R. R. Martin at Capclave back in 2013. It was standing-room only, and I stood near the back for two hours, laughing harder than I’d laughed in years. Gardner told stories from his days in the army, and the refrain across the convention the following day went something like: “IF YOU DO (X) YOU WILL DIE.” You had to be there.

Gardner’s annual Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies were my crash course in modern science fiction, writing, and storytelling. I came into the field with a very narrow list of authors that I’d read. The stories in Gardner’s anthologies gave me what felt like a graduate degree in science fiction, to say nothing of countless hours of enjoyment.

I don’t read much science fiction these days. Don’t get me wrong. I still love it. But my interests have shifted over time. It means I don’t read many of the bright new writers coming into the field. That skews my perspective. When I saw the news of Gardner’s passing, I thought of the ending of Arthur C. Clarke’s story, “The Nine Billion Names of God.” For me it seems like star after star is winking out of the science fiction world.

I have to remind myself that Gardner himself was a supernova. He was a nursery for new stars. And while his star may have winked out, there are thousands that he helped create that still shine brightly, and will continue to do so for generations to come.


  1. Very true, and poetically stated. I recently did a round-up of “new” writers for and wrote a little about Gardner as part of it.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.