David G. Hartwell and I talked on the phone for about an hour Tuesday afternoon, between 3 and 4, Eastern time. I was returning his call. Once our small business was done, the conversation roamed free. David talked about the coming snowstorm and that day’s fuel-oil purchase and the pending sale of the house and how he looked forward to our having dinner at ICFA – where we met, 20 years ago, when I was an unpublished grad student, and David introduced himself to me in a hallway and thanked me for writing a paper on C.M. Kornbluth, and invited me to send it to The New York Review of Science Fiction, and welcomed me to the party.
On the phone Tuesday afternoon, David also talked about his family: Kathryn’s health, Peter’s schooling, Liz’s lunch. “There’s pasta if you’re hungry,” he yelled when Liz got home from school in mid-call, “or pickles, if you just want a snack. I’ll be off the phone in a minute.” Twenty minutes later, he still was talking, about science fiction: not the writing, not the industry, but the community.
He told firsthand anecdotes about Campbell, Delany, Merril, Russ, Sturgeon. He said Lester del Rey bought him a drink, after one contentious panel, because Lester loved newcomers who could tell Lester he was wrong, and back it up with evidence. He said his friend Philip K. Dick, like any other chronically ill person, sometimes required hospitalization, but in between episodes (in other words, mostly) was a brilliant thinker, a loving dad, a sane and solid citizen of the field.
“I love telling 50-year-old gossip,” David said, and I replied, “May we still be telling it 50 years from now.” He said, “Indeed!” and kept going.
Like many other small towns, David said, postwar science fiction could be insular, clannish and deplorably tolerant of wrongdoing, but mostly and more importantly, it could be remarkably tolerant – even welcoming – of eccentricity, of divergence from the norm. Even in the mid-20th century, David continued, science fiction was a haven for gay and bi and trans people, for people in open marriages or triads or even more complex domestic scenarios, for people with physical and mental disabilities, for shameless exhibitionists and unapologetic recluses, for anarchists and socialists and Birchers and libertarians and Weathermen and CIA operatives, for cosplayers and gamers and creative anachronists and people who crafted wholly spurious biographies for themselves that were accepted and therefore became sort of true, for channelers and Scientologists and orthodox Jews and pre-Vatican II Catholics and Mormons and New Agers and heretics and atheists and freethinkers, for Ph.D.’s and autodidacts, for writers of COBOL and speakers of Esperanto, for Forteans and CSICOPs, for astronomers and astrologers, for psychics and physicists, for basically anyone who was smart and passionate and willing to pitch in somewhere – though talent certainly helped, and curiosity, and a zeal for argument, and a sense of humor.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed this conversation,” David said, at the end, and I agreed, and we pledged to continue it, wherever and however we could.
Yesterday David was carrying some books downstairs in his home in Pleasantville, New York. He fell and hit his head, suffering massive brain trauma, and did not recover. He died today, at the age of 74. Locus Online has a lengthy obituary here, and io9 has a fond look back at his many accomplishments, David G. Hartwell Kept Restoring Our Faith In Science Fiction.
Andy Duncan is the author of The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories and Beluthahatchie and Other Stories. His short fiction has been awarded the Nebula Award and the World Fantasy Award. He is an Associate Professor of English at Frostburg State University.