The Passing of a Giant: David G. Hartwell, 1941-2016

The Passing of a Giant: David G. Hartwell, 1941-2016
David Hartwell and Skylark, Boskone, 2006, courtesy of Cory Doctorow.

There are many legends who loom large in the science fiction world. You know their names: blockbuster authors with passionate fan bases, who land television shows or movie deals. But then there are the people responsible for that success: the editors and professionals who toil behind-the-scenes in the publishing industry and science fiction fandom. David G. Hartwell was one of them, a giant in genre circles. He died yesterday following a fall in his home in New York. He was 74 years old.

Hartwell was born on July 10, 1941.He took to the science fiction early after discovering the genre in the fifth grade, when he read his first Tom Swift novel. With the help of several librarians, he graduated to anthologies and more challenging novels. After high school, he attended Williams College in Massachusetts, where he graduated with his bachelor’s degree in 1963. from. From there, he studied at Colgate University, where he earned his Master’s Degree in 1965, and completed his PhD in Comparative Medieval Literature at Columbia University in 1973.

It was while at Columbia that a friend recommended him for a job as a consulting editor for Signet Publishing, and, two years later, to Berkley Press, where he became the editor-in-chief of their science fiction line. He later worked at Pocket (where he pioneered the line of Star Trek tie-in novels) and Arbor House before joining Tor Books in 1983, where he remained for the rest of his career.

From the 1980s, Hartwell became an influential editor and anthologist. At Pocket, he founded the Timescape imprint, editing books by multiple grandmasters of the genre, including Jack Vance, Roger Zelazny, Larry Niven, and Gene Wolfe. He was the force behind the long-running Year’s Best SF anthology series, as well as major canonical anthologies such as The Hard SF Renaissance, The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF, The Space Opera Renaissance,  The World Treasury of Science Fiction, and Twenty-First Century Science Fiction. In 1985, he published a nonfiction survey about the genre, Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction.

He helped to found the New York Review of Science Fiction in 1988, a magazine of critical reviews and essays of the field, published under his personal imprint, Dragon Press. In addition to critical coverage of the field, the publication sponsored readings in the New York City area.

Alongside his work in publishing, Hartwell was a bookseller, managing his own bookstore, and was a frequent fixture in the book rooms of regional science fiction conventions such as ICFA, the World Fantasy Convention, ReaderCon, and numerous other conventions that he helped administer. It is these gatherings for which he’s most fondly remembered, often attending clad in fantastic, color-clashing outfits.

Over the course of his career, he was nominated for numerous World Fantasy, Hugo, and Locus awards for his editing and anthologies, winning Hugos in 2006 (Best Professional Editor), 2008 (Best Editor, Long Form), and 2009 (Best Editor, Long Form). In 1988, he earned the World Fantasy award for Best Anthology for his work on The Dark Descent.

Beyond his professional work in the field, Hartwell was a fountain of knowledge for historians and fans alike. During one of our conversations, he told me that he entered the field during the last year one could comprehensively read everything published in the genre, just before publishing output ticked up from 31 books per month to 32. His insight and knowledge of the field provided a new level of critical thinking that helped us define and understand science fiction’s depth and complexity. He is an individual who cast a long shadow in the genre, one who will continue to inform and entertain us, even in death, for decades to come.

Hartwell is survived by his partner, Kathryn Cramer, who he married in 1997, and their two children, as well as two children from a previous marriage.