21 April 2004

Gardner Dozois Steps Down

Locus Online reports that Gardner Dozois is stepping down as editor of Asimov's after 19 years, with Sheila Williams taking over and Dozois remaining as a Contributing Editor.

I'm stunned. While I haven't found Asimov's to be the most compelling of the magazines for the past few years, nonetheless it's still a force within the field, and a major market for short fiction. Dozois became editor right around the time I started reading SF, and his editing of the magazine and of the Year's Best Science Fiction series has shaped my sense of the literary possibilities of the genre more than any other influence. The first five years or so of his editorship of Asimov's (then called Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine) provided one issue after another of diverse, challenging, and entertaining stories. Most of the best writers of the '80s and '90s benefitted from his support.

Dozois's own writing has been overshadowed by his editing, though early stories such as "A Dream at Noonday" and "A Special Kind of Morning" remain as some of the best work of their time. I hope that with his new freedom, Dozois will be able to cultivate his own writing and that his new work will demonstrate the same sensitivity and skill he showed when he was younger.

Some people have said that Dozois did not create a specific "voice" for Asimov's in the same way John Campbell created a "voice" during the heyday of Astounding/Analog and H.L. Gold created a "voice" for the early years of Galaxy. I don't think this is true at all -- Dozois built on the strengths of Asimov's in his first years, creating a place for fiction that aspired to be evocative and subtle, fusing the best elements of traditional science fiction, fantasy, and horror with a mature approach to characterization and style. He inherited a magazine that had been edited brilliantly by George Scithers, Kathleen Moloney, and then Shawna McCarthy (just look at the history), but there was a consistency and rigor to Dozois's magazine that was thrilling -- it was difficult to predict what the next issue would feel like, difficult to know if favorite authors would be continuing in styles they had become known for or would try something new and different, and so each issue was a great surprise, and a remarkable number of issues felt like they were moving SF in directions it had previously not explored.

At the moment, I can't think of any great magazine editor who has maintained the energy and excitement of their best years. To his credit, Dozois did not close his mind as many more dogmatic editors have done, turning their magazines into pathetic parodies of what they once had been. Plenty of good stories still appear in Asimov's each year, and now and then a great one. Perhaps it is greedy to ask for more. Certainly, it is unrealistic. I look forward to seeing not only what Sheila Williams, who has been with the magazine longer than anyone, is able to do now that it is hers to command, but also to seeing what Dozois is able to do now that he no longer has to claim responsibility for a periodical. I hope he will produce not only his own writing, but an occasional original anthology, because he still has, I expect, some (more) tremendous contributions to make to the world of speculative fiction. Anyone who values SF short stories owes him immense gratitude.