At Readercon (more on which anon) I discovered, to my delight, that a new collection of short stories by Gardner Dozois, one of the convention’s guests of honour, had just been published. When the Great Days Come (Prime Books, 2011) collects most of Dozois’s significant short fiction over his 40-year career.
Now, Dozois is best known as an editor. He edited Asimov’s Science Fiction between 1987 and 2004, and continues to edit the Year’s Best Science Fiction series of anthologies. He’s won 15 Hugos for his editing. But his friend (and frequent collaborator) Michael Swanwick likes to point out that Dozois is a better writer than an editor. Though not a prolific one, especially during the years he edited Asimov’s, what stories he has published — I count 56 of them in the shorter lengths1 — are beautifully crafted and are often filled with a terrible purpose. (The world comes to an end on more than one occasion.) He’s won Nebulas for two of them — “The Peacemaker” and the heartrending “Morning Child,” both of which are reprinted in this book — but none of his stories are a waste of reading time. (An argument could be made against “A Cat Horror Story,” but that one is still fun.)
Of the 18 stories in When the Great Days Come, all but three have appeared in previous collections. Those three are “When the Great Days Came,” a disaster story from the point of view of a rat; “Counterfactual,” a brilliant alternate history story of an implacable Confederacy; and “Recidivist,” which reminds me of some of the themes of his early work (its protagonist curiously shares a name with the protagonist of “Solace,” also reprinted here).
The other 15 stories have been reprinted in earlier collections, sometimes more than once, but this is not a problem for most of you, because you’re not going to be able to find his earlier collections, which are long out of print and hard to find used. The Visible Man (Berkeley, 1977) was his first collection; Slow Dancing Through Time (Ursus/Ziesing, 1990) collected his collaborations with other writers to that point. Subsequent collections tended to collect the important stories from previous volumes, making each a sort of best-of volume that added the most recent work: this was the case with Geodesic Dreams (St. Martin’s Press, 1992), Strange Days (NESFA Press, 2001 — hey, it’s still available new! BUY IT!) and Morning Child and Other Stories (ibooks, 2004), and it’s the case with When the Great Days Come as well. For some of the really good stories, this is their third or fourth appearance in a Dozois collection, but that’s a small price to pay to get something with the power of “A Special Kind of Morning” — a story regularly cited for the quality of its prose, published when Dozois was in his early twenties — back in front of readers.
Only one collaboration, “Ancestral Voices” with Michael Swanwick, is included, making Slow Dancing Through Time the only other collection with no overlap with this one (if you can find that one, grab it too: it’s a gem). I’m also perplexed that the mighty 1995 novella, “The City of God,” also co-written with Swanwick, remains uncollected, here or in any other Dozois collection. Otherwise, almost everything Dozois has written in the last 20 years is included here (as I said: not prolific) along with some of the strongest stories of the first half of his career.
Which is to say that you should grab this book — it’s only five bucks for the Kindle edition, and the trade paperback and hardcover editions are reasonably priced as well — and see what his writing’s all about.
(Photo of Dozois at Readercon by Ed Gaillard. CC licence.)
- As for novel-length fiction, he published one solo novel, Strangers, in 1978, as well as a collaboration with George Alec Effinger, Nightmare Blue, in 1977 — both now out of print, neither of which I’ve seen. More recently, he teamed up with George R. R. Martin and Daniel Abraham for Hunter’s Run (2008), an expansion of the novella Shadow Twin (2005).