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.