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by Gardner Dozois

The stories in this collection were published between 1970 and 2003, and thus represent a considerable chunk, perhaps a majority share, of not only my career but my life. Thirty-three years is a long time, longer than many unfortunate people even get to be alive, and, looking back across those three decades to the skinny, hungry, ambitious young kid in his early twenties who wrote the earliest of these stories, I sometimes wonder if we’re really the same person after all, if we really share anything except a tenuous continuity of memory, a belief that he was me that is based more on faith than evidence. Certainly when some critic asks me what was in my mind when I came up with a certain trope in one of those old stories, or what some bit of symbolism really means, why I chose some word or image instead of another, or sometimes even just what the specific inspiration for a story was, often I just can’t tell him—I’m not that kid anymore, really, just someone who remembers having been him. You’d have to go back in a time-machine and ask the kid himself. He could tell you—he had an elaborately worked-out reason for every image and word-choice. But I no longer can.

Oddly, what I often can remember are the places in which they were written. So I remember clearly the office where I worked as a reporter and features editor for an Army newspaper on a small Army base near Nuremberg, Germany, and how I’d sneak back to the office after duty hours and write on the old manual standup office-model typewriters they had there, which used long continuously scrolling rolls of yellow paper instead of regular sheets of typing paper, which made it uneasily like writing on toilet paper. I wrote “A Dream at Noonday,” the earliest story in the book, in that office, with an ear cocked all the while for some prowling insomniacal officer in the corridor outside, since I wasn’t supposed to be using office equipment after hours for my own private non-duty-related purposes, and it wouldn’t do to get caught—particularly if he paused to actually read the kind of fierce anti-war, anti-Army sentiments I was producing in stories like “A Dream at Noonday.” Oh-oh! But fortunately, no such unlikely night-stalking officer ever came in, all of them being either home snug in their beds or whooping it up at the Officer’s Club with the USO girls we enlisted men weren’t allowed to date. “A Dream at Noonday” was probably the first story where I punched through to a higher level, produced something a quantum jump better than what I’d been producing before, and, unusually for me, before or since, I wrote it all in one sitting, writing at a white-hot pace for hours, the yellow paper scrolling up out of the typewriter and spooling in piles on the desk, and when I’d typed the last word, I slumped against the typewriter, trembling and drenched with sweat, feeling that I’d actually become a writer at last.

I remember the little German farming village in which I started “A Special Kind of Morning,” pacing the deserted streets at four o’ clock in the morning as I plotted it, shaggy new beard and hair (for I was a civilian again by then) and long black raincoat flapping as I strode along almost at a run, no doubt scaring the bejesus out of any villagers I happened to meet... the tiny attic garret which I shared with two other expatriate ex-soldiers and whatever tourist-hippie girlfriends we’d managed to coax up there with us, the smell and hiss and blue-flame crackle of the small propane heater that was all that kept us from freezing solid in the bitter German winter, living for a month on a box of oxtail soup bouillon that a passing hitchhiker who’d crashed there for a night had given us, because we had no money to buy anything else, trying to work in an apartment that was almost literally too small to turn around in, small as a space capsule, full of other people strumming guitars and playing Steppenwolf or The Doors at full volume on a tiny plastic portable record-player (often at the same time), people kissing and making-out on the couch in one corner, while other people waved their hands and carried on even-more-passionate political or metaphysical/religious/cosmological conversations a few feet away, settling all the problems of the universe and unraveling all its mysteries... and I remember the somewhat larger but much more filthy and rundown sixth-floor walkup apartment on East 10th Street in the East Village in New York City in which I finished that story, having advanced from oxtail soup bouillon to living on a box of six frozen veal cutlets that could be purchased for ninety-nine cents a week (you eat a veal cutlet sandwich a day, and on the seventh day, you have a ketchup or mustard sandwich instead), typing throughout the night, silent enough in the apartment to hear the rustling of the tides of cockroaches washing over the dirty dishes in the pitch-black kitchen when you stopped typing for a minute, unless the trash trucks were howling and banging outside, or a police car was screaming by, or someone was getting shot. I wrote “Machines of Loving Grace” in the bathroom of that same apartment, sitting on the toilet and writing in longhand in a three-ring notebook throughout another freezing Manhattan night, describing the room around me, which was also the setting for the opening scene of the story, as accurately as I could, while dawn actually was just beginning to color the sky outside the streaked, dirty window. “A Kingdom by the Sea” was written in that apartment too, and in various all-nite eateries up and down Eighth Street and Fourteenth Street between the East and West Village, where I sat nursing a cup of coffee and scribbling in longhand in coffee shops packed with hippies and Jesus Freaks and transvestites and junkies.

“Chains of the Sea” was largely written in my cramped two-room apartment in an equally run-down but somewhat cleaner brownstone building in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia (which, oddly, is only a few blocks away from where I’m living now, after having skipped around to live in other parts of the city in the thirty intervening years), or in my girlfriend’s larger but even more dilapidated apartment on South St. when I was over there to visit, back when South St. was still a slum where only the poorest of hippies, black folk, and bohemian artists lived, interspersed with a few sad-looking old Jews left over from when the neighborhood had been a de facto Jewish ghetto. Less gentrified then than it is now, the most common sound to be heard in my own neighborhood in Fairmount, when I stopped typing late at night and raised my head from staring at the typewriter keys, was the howling of feral dogs. The only other sound would be the tap-tap-tap of my manual portable typewriter when I started typing again; this neighborhood didn’t even get the crashing garbage trucks, the screaming police cars, or the gunshots. The rooftops outside my window, across the alley, were strung with tripwires to catch “roof rabbit”—the stray cats that ghosted along the roofs in the hours before dawn. Along about two or three in the morning, a small brown mouse would come out of a hole in the baseboard and rummage through the trash in the kitchen; I worked in the bedroom, at a typewriter set up on the dresser, and if I poked my head into the next room, the mouse would vanish, only to reappear instantly the moment I went back to work. Occasionally, my cone-shaped old Italian landlady would come up the stairs and scream up at me to stop typing and shut off the light and go to bed like a decent person. Once she went into my apartment while I was gone and replaced all my 100-watt bulbs with 25-watt bulbs, because she said that the 100-watt bulbs were using up too much electricity and costing her money (I moved a short while later).

I remember finishing “Chains of the Sea” there late one night and tapping the manuscript into a neat pile, and sitting back in the chair, filled with the feeling that I had just reached a significant milestone in my career, that I’d finished a story unlike anything anyone else was doing in the genre, and that it was good, right at the Cutting Edge of the field at that moment, that I had the wheel of the genre in my hands and could steer it where I willed—a feeling of confidence in my own power and abilities that I’d never felt before, and rarely have felt since. Too jazzed to sleep, I went down into the silent winter streets and headed out through a frozen world toward the apartment where my girlfriend (now my wife) lived. There was nobody else around, not even a police car or a taxi, and I began to jog down the broad Benjamin Franklin Parkway (modeled after the Champs Elysees), breath steaming in puffs from my mouth and streaming raggedly away behind me. Everything was frozen, everything was covered in ice. The fountains in Logan Circle were frozen into glittering stalactites. Steam erupted from grates in the sidewalk as I passed, and the stars were clear and cold above. Filled with exultation, I jogged the entire way, two miles through the empty streets of the sleeping city. In that moment, if only for that moment, I knew that I was going to live forever.

Some years later, long since having come to the conclusion that I was wrong about that, I was living in a different Philadelphia neighborhood, in a three-room “railroad” apartment—so called because it’s laid out in a line, like a string of railroad cars—on Quince Street with my wife and young son, and, eventually, almost a dozen cats. I’d almost died, and been hospitalized for a stretch (so much for immortality)—but ironically, after I was released from the hospital, I was filled with a surge of new energy, and in that crowded Quince Street apartment, I wrote “The Peacemaker” and “Morning Child,” and a dozen other stories, both solo and in collaboration with Jack Dann, Michael Swanwick, my wife Susan Casper, and others. When it got too hot inside the apartment to work, which was most of the time except for deep winter (we had one window-mounted air-conditioner, in the bedroom, but you had to lie directly under it, keeping as still as possible, for it to do you any good), I would go outside and drift around the neighborhood, sitting on benches or on the white marble steps of old brownstones to write a few pages in longhand in my three-ring notebook, before moving on to sit somewhere else. Sometimes people would come to the door and yell at me to get off their steps, thinking, with excellent justification, that I was a vagrant—as, in a way, I suppose I was. In Spring, the cherry trees that lined Quince Street (no one ever commented on the incongruity of this) would bloom, covering the sidewalk with a deep drift of petals, like pink snow in May. In winter, whenever there was a real snowstorm, the narrow streets, almost too small to get a car down without scraping the Trinity houses on either side, would prove to be too narrow to plow as well; sometimes the snow-drifts would sit there for months, until they finally melted away to patches of dirty black-and-gray city snow as the season turned. In summer, our cat Spooky, who had assumed the role of Ruler of the Neighborhood after our tomcat died, would sit out in the fenced-in square of concrete we called our “backyard,” lounging around idly with all her cat buddies, seven or eight of them, male and female, from blocks around, just sprawling there in whatever shade they could find, looking like they would call for mint juleps or iced tea—or a plate of iced mice?—if they could figure out a way to get the humans to understand them. Occasionally, if she had kittens then, Spooky would go up to passing strangers on the sidewalk and yap at them until they agreed to go into the apartment and admire her babies.

A few years after that, we’d moved eight or nine blocks away, to a small but more expensive and classier-looking apartment on Spruce Street, a few streets below Independence Hall, on the cheap edge of Society Hill, just before the area where the really rich people lived. We were down to two cats by then (we gained one more later, but managed to hold the line at three), our son had just moved away to go to college in New York, freeing up a room to use as an actual office, I was working as the editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, and I even had a home computer, although I’d still hang on to using a typewriter (now an electric typewriter, at least) for a number of years to come. More importantly, we had central air conditioning now, which meant that I didn’t have to lose three or four months of work every summer when it became too hot inside to do anything other than crouch stunned under the window unit. Perhaps this is why, in spite my hugely increased workload as Asimov’s editor, I still managed to write a fair number of stories (for me), in our Spruce Street place, including “Ancestral Voices,” written with Michael Swanwick, and a number of other stories not included in this collection.

For the last couple of years, we’ve been living in a small house (the first one I’ve ever owned, and probably the last) in the Fairmount district, which is tucked away at the top of a low hill just behind the Art Museum. It used to be a hardcore Blue Collar working-class neighborhood called Brewerytown, mostly composed of Ukrainians (there’s still a big Ukrainian cultural center here, as well as a VA lodge) and Irishmen and a sprinkling of Polish people and other nationalities, but now the breweries are all closed and turned into townhouses and condos, and a tide of young professionals, rent-refugees from the very area of Center City where we used to live, and where property values have been skyrocketing, is washing in, taking over houses one by one as the old folks die and their kids decide they’d rather stay out in the suburbs than return to their childhood homes. So it’s a neighborhood in transition. The curb is crowded with SUVs, but you can still hear church bells ringing and carillons chiming every morning from the half-dozen churches within as many blocks, and wizened old clerks in tiny hole-in-the-wall grocery stores where the shelves are lined with cans of beef stew and peas and other basic stuff stare in bewilderment at yuppies asking for bottled water and brie. Here I wrote “,” and, most recently, “Fairy Tale,” sometimes upstairs in the office at the very keyboard I’m sitting at now, sometimes sitting on an old office chair in the basement and writing in longhand while one of the cats (we were down to one, but just got two more) peers at me puzzledly from the stairs and meows, as if to say, “What the hell are you doing down here? Why aren’t you upstairs watching TV? Or, to do something useful, giving me something to eat?”

So, perhaps it’s an odd way to review your career, by the places where you’ve lived. Probably not very satisfactory to the critics. The most disgruntled among them will just have to get that time-machine and go back and ask that bright-eyed young twenty-year-old kid about his work. Doubtless he will be able to answer questions about it much more satisfactorily than I can.

If you see him, say hi for me.

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