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Best Science Fiction Books by David Hartwell

By / January 22, 2016 / no comments

Science fiction is a genre shaped by its editors. Hugo Gernsback gave 20th century science fiction its pulpy, space operatic birth. John W. Campbell gave us the sharp-edged hard sf that is still how many people perceive the genre today. The editor who best deserves to complete that triumvirate is David Hartwell, who has died, aged 74.

David Geddes Hartwell was born in Salem Massachussetts in 1941, and gained a PhD in Medieval Literature from Colombia University. But even before he started that PhD he had founded and edited The Little Magazine, a small literary magazine that ran from 1965 to 1988 and that was startlingly important as a venue for American poetry in that period.

In publishing, where he had perhaps his greatest influence, he worked for Signet, for Berkley Putnam, for Pocket Books (where he created the influential Timescape imprint), and finally was Senior Editor at Tor from 1995 onwards. In that time he was responsible for bringing into print many of the major writers of the last 40 years. Among the books he edited were Timescape by Gregory Benford, The Shadow of the Torturer and its sequels by Gene Wolfe, No Enemy But Time by Michael Bishop, Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer and The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford, major award-winners all.

He also ran, for a period, his own small press, which published some of the major works of science fiction criticism, including The Jewel-Hinged Jaw by Samuel R. Delany.

In 1988, under the Dragon Press imprint, he founded The New York Review of Science Fiction, which is still published monthly to this day and which is recognised as one of the leading review magazines in the genre.

Although he didn’t do a huge amount of criticism himself, he produced Age of Wonders in 1984, a survey of science fiction in which he coined the now-famous observation that “the golden age of science fiction is twelve”.

He was responsible for editing a constant succession of often massive anthologies that helped to define our understanding of the fantastic. These included The World Treasury of Science Fiction, The Science Fiction Century, The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF (with his wife Kathryn Cramer), The Hard SF Renaissance (with Cramer), The Space Opera Renaissance (with Cramer) and Twenty-First Century Science Fiction (with Patrick Nielsen Hayden). He also edited 18 annual editions of Year’s Best SF (11 of them with Cramer).

On top of all of this, he was one of the key movers and shapers behind the World Fantasy Convention and the World Fantasy Awards, he was a regular attendee at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (where he organised and manned the book room), and he was a familiar figure at science fiction conventions around the world. He was a Guest of Honour at the 2009 World Science Fiction Convention, and has won the Hugo Award for Best Professional Editor or Best Editor, Long Form, three times; having been nominated for Hugo Awards an astonishing 41 times in total.

Known for his garish ties and colour-clashing outfits, Hartwell is universally remembered for being friendly, outgoing, enthusiastic, who was keen to share his love of science fiction with everyone he met. Personally and professionally the whole world of science fiction is poorer for his loss.

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