by wjw on January 20, 2016

1024px-David_Hartwell_2008Science fiction editor David G. Hartwell suffered a fall in his home on January 19th, while carrying a bookcase up the stairs, and suffered a “massive brain bleed.”   I’ve just received the word that he’s died.

I was never one of David’s authors, but I’ve known him for more than thirty years, and I deeply respected him as an editor, a spotter of talent, and an encyclopedia of the true history of science fiction, fantasy, and publishing.  He was at 74 the oldest living editor of science fiction, and as someone who wore so many hats over the years, and who knew and worked with practically everybody,  he was a living memory of all the times he witnessed.

He was nominated for over 30 Hugo Awards over the years, and won three.  He was a founder of the World Fantasy Award and the Philip K. Dick Award.  He was involved with small-press publishing with Entwhistle and Dragon Press.

When I met him David was editor of Timescape Books at Pocket, having previously worked as an editor at Signet and Berkeley.  (Later, after Timescape folded, David ended up at Tor, where he stayed for over thirty years.)

David was always willing to chat with me, even when I was a newbie, and— as he was one of those people you could listen to for hours— I listened to him for hours.  As an eyewitness to so much, he was able to relate the true history of the field, some of which was surprising.

(For instance, he was responsible for authors receiving royalties on tie-in books.  This wasn’t a move intended to benefit authors: it was to save the publisher money on advances by promising royalties that would never be paid, because tie-in books never made money.  But it turned out to be a terrible idea, for publishers anyway, because tie-in books started appearing on bestseller lists, and writing tie-ins became a profitable business, thanks in many parts to authors’ royalties.)

Authors acquire editors just as editors acquire authors, and I’ve talked to any number of David’s authors over the years.  Some report light editing or none at all, others report meticulous and opinionated edits that were startling in their comprehensiveness.

He was Gene Wolfe’s editor for years, and Gene followed him from one publisher to another.  That Gene Wolfe thought he was a capable enough editor to lay hands on his manuscripts is about the highest recommendation I can think of.

I can think of no more appropriate way for David to leave this earth than carrying a bookcase from one place to another.

My condolences to David’s family and friends.

[photo by Houari Boumedienne]

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