Review of "When the Great Days Come" by Gardner Dozois.
Updated: Jul 18, 2019
Nearly everything you see written about Gardner Dozois will start off one of two ways. The writer will acknowledge Dozois’s editing credentials, or the writer will acknowledge Dozois’s editing credentials and then talk about his skill as a writer. This will be an exploration of the latter.
Gardner Dozois is best known as the editor of Asimov and his Science Fiction anthologies. And rightly so, he’s been awarded Hugos and Nebulas for his efforts as such. He passed in 2018 and will likely always be remembered as an editor first, writer second. However, having read Dozois’s short fiction, I am caused to wonder if he wasn’t an even better writer than he was an editor.
Take, for example, his opening paragraph of “Chains of the Sea” ...
“One day the aliens landed, just as everyone always said they would. They fell out of a guileless blue sky and into the middle of a clear, cold November day, four of them, four alien ships drifting down like the snow that had been threatening to fall all week. America was just shouldering its way into daylight as they made planetfall, so they landed there: one in the Delaware Valley about fifteen miles north of Philadelphia, one in Ohio, one in a desolate region of Colorado, and one – for whatever reason – in a cane field outside Caracas, Venezuela. To those who actually saw them come down, the ships seems to fall rather than to descend under any intelligent control: a black nailhead suddenly tacked to the sky, coming all at once from nowhere, with no transition, like a Fortean rock squeezed from an high appearing-point, hanging way up there and winking intolerably bright in the sunlight; and then gravity takes hold of it, visibly, and it begins to fall, far away and dream-slow at first, swelling larger, growing huge, unbelievably big, a mountain hurled at the earth, falling with terrifying speed, rolling in the air, tumbling end over end, overhead, coming down – and then it is sitting peacefully on the ground; it has not crashed, and although it didn’t slow down and it didn’t stop, there it is, and not even a snowflake could have settled onto the frozen mud more lightly.”
That was the paragraph that made me buy that book. The stories in this book range from the lighthearted “Cat Horror Story” where cats gather round by moonlight to trade tales; to “Community” which is an exploration of a post-apocalyptic society; to more serious fare like the aforementioned “Chains of the Sea” which is in turns both dark and haunting. Dozois’s work is decidedly dark and so it might not be for everyone. Don’t read this book if you’re depressed or if you’ve lost faith in humanity, you’ll find little hope here and what brightness Dozois’s provides is always shaded by tragedy.
However, if you want to read a master, and Dozois was a master of science fiction’s short form, then you’ll want to pick this collection up. Read it with the daylight on.