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David G. Hartwell Kept Restoring Our Faith In Science Fiction

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It’s actually impossible to sum up the huge contribution to genre publishing of David G. Hartwell, who died today according to Locus. He discovered countless great authors and industry professionals, and he edited Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune and Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. Hartwell is simply irreplaceable.

Many people recognized Hartwell as a senior editor at Tor, as the editor or co-editor of countless anthologies including a long-running Year’s Best series, or as the wearer of an endless succession of riotous ties at conventions. But his contributions to the genre go much deeper than that.


In the 1970s and 1980s, Hartwell worked as an editor at Signet, at Berkley/Putnam, and at Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster. In that last job, he was responsible for the influential Timescape Books imprint, and also for starting the Pocket Books Star Trek novel series. The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction notes that in addition to Book of the New Sun, Hartwell put out genre-busting books by Gregory Benford, Michael Bishop and Philip K. Dick, and it was “among the most intelligently edited series of modern sf titles.” Hartwell also published Mirrorshades, Bruce Sterling’s defining anthology of Cyberpunk stories.

From 1984 until now, Hartwell worked at Tor Books, where he has published more great novels than I can count. And yes, he also put out a ton of anthologies, many of which deserve a permanent place on any book-lover’s shelf. His anthologies about the resurgence of hard science fiction and space opera, which he co-edited with his then-wife Kathryn Cramer, not only identified important trends, but crystalized and shaped them as well.


Hartwell also published a literary magazine, The Little Magazine, from 1965-1988, and he helped to found the New York Review of Science Fiction. He helped to publish some of the most challenging, literary books, including authors like Molly Gloss, who once praised his “literary taste in science fiction.” But Hartwell always insisted that he didn’t want science fiction to be more like literary fiction—he just wanted it to be “better written,” which is “a different thing.”

As his friend, the author Michael Swanwick, wrote a few years ago:

Almost all editors begin as writers, whether successfully or not — and almost all writers begin by reading a bad work of fiction and thinking, “I could write better than this!” David Hartwell’s moment on the road to Damascus came when he read a bad science fiction novel and thought, “I could show the writer how to fix this!”


Hartwell also chaired the board of directors of the World Fantasy Convention and co-administered the Philip K. Dick Award (with Gordon Van Gelder.) And as a scholar of the history of science fiction and fantasy, Hartwell had few equals. He was one of those people who was always illuminating to listen to, whether in the dealer’s room of a convention or on a panel.

He was also a book reviewer for Crawdaddy, the music magazine that Paul Williams, the ground-breaking rock critic and Philip K. Dick scholar, published in the 1960s.


You could fill one hell of a bookcase with books that David G. Hartwell put together, or made better through his ministrations. And he was, as he told Locus, always an optimist about science fiction in spite of all the doomsaying.

Here’s Hartwell, from the introduction to The Science Fiction Century, one of his many anthologies:

Science fiction is a literature for people who value knowledge and who desire to understand how things work in the world and in the universe. In science fiction, knowledge is power and power is technology and technology is good and useful in improving the human condition. It is, by extension, a literature of empowerment. The lesson of the genre megatext, that body of literature that in aggregate embodies the standard plots, tropes, images, specialized diction and cliches, is that one can solve problems through the application of knowledge of science and technology. By further extension, the SF megatext is an allegory of faith in science.


David G. Hartwell restored our faith in the power of science fiction. He’ll be missed.

Top image: The Science Fiction Century. Bottom image: Cory Doctorow, via BoingBoing


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