Because it’s the end of January and I have too much fiction to do right now to take the time for another long post about anything, so…
He was a presence in my growing understanding of the professional side of science fiction for almost 40 years. He was the first book editor whose name I knew. I collected a slew of his Timescape imprints from Pocket Books, regarding the label as a mark of excellence in a volatile field that was often untrackable in terms of what was good and what was not. Because of David G. Hartwell, a number of authors came to my attention whose work I have continued to follow to this day.
I was fortunate to know him. A little. Somehow. We crossed paths enough times to be acquaintances and he was always—always—-gracious and, more importantly, interested.
The first time I saw him was in L.A. in 1984, at L.A.Con II, in a party shortly after the news had broken that Pocket Books had pulled the plug on Timescape. Among the other problems, apparently, was the fact that David kept buying books that wouldn’t sell. By sell, I mean they would not make bestseller lists. Her had this arcane idea, apparently, that a good book ought to be published, regardless of the numbers it might (or might not) generate. Odd notion, that, in an era dominated by the quest for the next blockbuster. But David kept acquiring and championing books that did not have that kind of potential. Anyway, I saw him in a hotel corridor, his hair sprayed with red and pink highlights. (In contrast, I recall his tie was relatively tame.) We spoke briefly. I was just a fan and a wannabe writer at that time. We talked a bit about the books and publishing. A few minutes. He said, finally, “Yes, well, the books are out there now.” He had won one over the corporates. The books had been published, despite the disapproval of the suits.
We said hi to each other in Atlanta in ’86 and by then I was, with some temerity, trying to write novels. We connected again in 2000, in Chicago, where we spent a couple of hours talking at the Japanese party at worldcon. I remember that especially because it was the quietest party I’d ever attended at a worldcon—-or any con, for that matter—and David spoke knowledgeably about Japan and fandom there. In the midst of our conversation, a number of our hosts,in kimonos, stopped at the same time, producing a variety of small cameras, and snapped pictures of us, as if by pre-arrangement. By then Allen Steele had joined us, so they were getting pictures of two famous SF personalities and one semi-obscure one.
A few years later I was involved with the Missouri Center for the Book. I’d just become its president and we were trying some new events, and one idea I came up with was what I called the Genre Forums. We would do a public panel with a number of writers in a given genre, with a Q & A afterward. The first one we did was science fiction, of course, and I had Robin Bailey come in from Kansas City, Carolyn Gilman, who lived in St. Louis then, Nisi Shawl from Seattle, and myself. At the last minute, David called Robin. He had seen a notice for the event. He was coincidentally going to be in St.Louis for a family wedding that weekend and wondered if this was something he should attend. Robin called me to see if I wanted David on the panel. Rhetorical question. We had a small audience, unfortunately, because it was a first-rate panel. My partner, Donna, said it was the best panel she had ever seen, and by then we had both seen enough to judge. His presence, his knowledge, his erudition graced our discourse with a sensibility difficult to describe, but it was wonderful.
After that he began soliciting work from me. We never connected on a project, but we had several fine conversations afterward. He was, I learned, a wine lover and I was able to introduce him to one.
Of course, he’s famous for the outré ties. He possessed an antic quality that leavened his profound seriousness. He had been instrumental in many careers.
He bridged the tail end of the Golden Age and the present. Elder statesman of the field seems a bit pompous, but in many ways it was true. For a long time he ran the New York Review of Science Fiction—where I finally sold him a few things—and through that facilitated a high-minded, ongoing discussion of the workings, the objectives, the ongoing assessment of science fiction and, indeed, literature.
Here is the Locus obituary for more detail.
David took me seriously. I am glad I knew him, sorry I didn’t know him better, and feel the world has lost a gentle, intelligent, wise light.
I should be working on my novel. Instead, I’m bingeing on Elementary, working on my end-of-year ruminations.
I’m not sure if these serve much, if any, purpose. I’ve never seemed able to sustain a journal or diary before. Blogging (such a clutzy name for it, but we seem stuck with it now; certainly some examples of the “art” fit the nomenclature) for whatever reason, seems suited to my temperament in this regard. On the other hand, I never tried using my past journal attempts for editorializing.
Be that as it may, it’s one method of tracking…progress?
I’ve been working on a new novel. I’ve mentioned that before, of course. As of today, I’m about a third of the way through and I feel it’s going well. I still have one more in the alternate history trilogy I’ve been writing the last several years, but this new one—a full-blown science fiction work involving interstellar travel, aliens, fey physics, and immortality—has my more immediate attention and the enthusiasm of my agent. I finished the first draft in the summer, before we went on a short vacation, long overdue, to see friends in Pittsburgh. No telling how long it will take me to finish it, because I’m taking my time with it.
I’ve had less free time this past year to work on it, but that can’t be helped. Besides graduating to full-time employment at Left Bank Books, which I’m thoroughly enjoying, the situation with Donna’s parents has continued, consuming time and emotional energy. Without going into detail, I’ll just say that Donna has been magnificent in her attention to detail and the execution of her responsibilities toward them. As always, I feel privileged to be part of her life. Matters have reached a point now where she need not spend so much time.
What I had taken to be signs of stress turned out to be an ear infection she has been suffering for an unknown length of time. It never got to the point of actually hurting, so it went untreated till recently. She’s doing much better now.
All that to say that circumstances, once again, are changed, and I’ve had to accommodate the new dynamic. I am. I’m working at an acceptable pace and I am pleased with the product. We are starting to take more time for ourselves again.
I underwent surgery last March to repair a rupture tendon in my right arm. I have scrupulously followed doctor’s orders and the recovery has been satisfactory. I’m back at the gym. I’m about 20% down from where I was before the injury, but I’m not complaining—I’m 61, after all, and in fair shape, but I am realistic about what I can do. I tire more easily. Aches and pains don’t go away as fast. Still, I worked out this morning and did incline presses at 90 lbs per hand. It will do.
The year has been a mix of up and down. One of my musical heroes (Chris Squire) passed away, leaving me sad in the way people a few years older must have felt about John Lennon’s passing. You will find my thoughts in the previous post, under the link Passing of Giants. There were other deaths that bothered me, made me feel the world that informed me has shrunk considerably, but none quite so trenchant as that one.
On the high side, though, Harlan Ellison came to St. Louis to attend our local convention, Archon, somewhat at my instigation, and it was, as I wrote, a Peak Experience. That I can say that Harlan is a friend is one of the most unlikely claims I ever expected to be able to make. The visit was anxiety-laden, of course, as he’s not in the best of health and there were…concerns. But it all came off well and he had a great time, which was all I hoped for. Several of his friends came from all over to see him at the convention. It was magical.
I’m not reading as much as I’d like. Yeah, I know, I work at a bookstore, what do I mean I don’t have time to read? Well, I work for a successful bookstore, so no, there’s no reading on the job. I’ll outline my year’s reading over on the Proximal Eye. I have read some very good books, though, and I’ll take quality over quantity any day.
All in all, 2015 was much better than 2014. Things are happening. I am grateful for the people in my life. My lifelong friends are still among the best and we have added new friends, some unexpectedly, who have added enormously to the quality of our lives. (You coworkers at the store, I’m referring to you. Thank you all.)
I’m not saying as much as I have in the past. I expect the reports filed over the course of the next 12 months to be filled with positive developments. We don’t make resolutions, but we have Intentions. 2016, should we manage to achieve even half of what we have in the works, will be incredible.
But it already begins thus. The various elements surrounding us have already promised to aid in great things. And, again, I go forward with the best partner anyone could ask for.
So I’ll leave it brief this year and a bit less detailed. I’ll leave it with a hope everyone has a better year going forward and a thank you to everyone who has made the year just past as good as it was.