David Geddes Hartwell (10th July 1941 – 20th January 2016)

Joseph Prinz, AP Canavan & David G Hartwell ICFA 2013

(Photo by Ellen Datlow at ICFA 2013.  Joseph Printz, AP Canavan and David G Hartwell)

David Geddes Hartwell  (10th July 1941 – 20th January 2016)


I can’t quite wrap my head around the idea that David is gone.  Part of the reason is I was secretly convinced he would go on forever.  He seemed invincible, indefatigable, and impervious to the passage of time.  When I think of the genre, David is just part of that concept.  He is just there.  The genre is the wrong shape now because there is a hole where he stood.  The landscape has shifted and I can’t seem to reorient myself at the moment to comprehend the genre without him in it.

I first met David nearly 10 years ago at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA).  At the time I had just started my Ph.D. in Fantasy literature and had no idea just how important and influential David was.  Even now I find it hard to grasp David’s impact on the field and the legacy he created.  To me, then and there, he was the man that ran the conference book room, bummed cigarettes from me, and managed to make what he wore into a martial art.  Over the course of the next few years he became a friend, although I don’t think he ever forgave me for starting to alphabetise (but never quite finishing) the books in the book room.  We talked about, discussed, and heatedly debated fantasy and science fiction.  He good-naturedly bemoaned my lack of knowledge about the history of the field, always encouraged me to read more, and was never short of a recommendation, or fifteen, of books I HAD to read.

David was an editor at Tor in New York.  He was, along with Kevin Maroney, the New York Review of Science Fiction.  He was a critic, a reviewer, an editor, a collector, and a passionate consumer of great stories.  His knowledge and understanding of SF fandom, literature and history was unparalleled in my experience.  He also had a doctorate in Medieval Literature, even if he was sometimes shy about admitting to it.  He was passionate about poetry.  He used to sing ‘Teen Angel’ late at night after a few drinks.

A few years ago I spent the summer at his house in Pleasantville, NY.  For nearly three months I lived in Hartwell’s basement.  The whole house was crammed to the rafters with boxes of books, manuscripts, and correspondence with authors like Philip K. Dick, James Tiptree Jr. and Joanna Russ.  He had boxes of fanzines and newsletters stretching back to the 1950s.  There were boxes of classic SF magazines and pulps like Galaxy and Astounding. He even had a letter from Kurt Vonnegut thanking him for a review he had written of Slaughter House Five for Crawdaddy fanzine.  None of it was in any order whatsoever.

I was there that summer to help him sift through and sort those mountains of boxes and endless reams of paper into something slightly more manageable and organised.  It was like an Aladdin’s cave of treasures for someone like me.  I discovered first editions of books that he had forgotten that he had.  Letters that he thought he had lost.  Hand-annotated, typewritten manuscripts from famous and influential authors.  Pictures, notes, and memories.  All of them randomly stuffed into the hundreds of boxes that were stacked up in every room of the house.  It was the history of the genre in a tangible form.

In the evenings, he would come in from work, grab a beer, steal a cigarette from me, and then sit out on the back deck and tell me about his day at Tor.  Or he would talk to me about some aspect of fantasy writing or SF.  Or he would tell me a story about Philip K. Dick.  Or George R.R. Martin.  Or Ursula K. LeGuin.  Or Frederick Pohl.  Or any one of the great SF and Fantasy writers he had worked with, or knew, or had been to conventions with.  And he seemed to know them all.

He took me to Readercon that year and I worked his table in the book room there.  We sold books, and back issues of magazines and fanzines.  He wheeled and dealed and then headed off to sit on a panel, lead a discussion, or schmooze across the foyer.  He introduced me to the other booksellers, and introduced me to ‘Chip’ or as I had previously been aware of him, Samuel R. Delaney.  Everyone knew David, and he knew everyone.

That summer wasn’t all roses though.  David didn’t believe in air-conditioning and I ended up with heat-stroke and recurring heat-exhaustion.  We were also dependent on my cooking skills for most of the summer.  And, at times, he wasn’t always the easiest person to get along with.  But now, in light of what has happened, I am glad I was there.  I am glad I got to spend that time with him.  To listen to him.  To have him as a friend.

I can’t imagine going to ICFA and not seeing him there.  Not seeing him in the book room.  Not seeing him sauntering down the hall with his camera around his neck.  Not seeing him outside the banquet taking photos of everyone so that he could help us capture those memories.  Not having those quiet moments out by the pool when we would talk about our troubles, our worries, and happier things.

The loss of David G. Hartwell to the fields of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, is staggering.  The loss of David G. Hartwell to fandom is overwhelming.  But it is the loss of David as a friend that I feel most keenly.

David, I will miss our talks.  I will miss you stealing smokes.  I will miss your jokes and stories.  I will miss your truly terrible outfits that came close to physically making my eyes bleed.  I will miss you my friend.

I am so sorry for his family who are grieving him.  My thoughts and best wishes go out to them.

Rest in Peace David.


One response to “David Geddes Hartwell (10th July 1941 – 20th January 2016)

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