Colossus.

 

 Two ARCs sit on the bedside table, here in the Magic Bungalow. One waits for a blurb from the BUG, the other for a blurb from me. They represent my most recent interaction with the NY publishing industry. They were both sent by David Hartwell, of Tor.

On my brag shelf is an old copy of Northern Stars: The Anthology of Canadian Science Fiction. I haven’t noticed it for years. The first story in that anthology is “A Niche”: the first story I ever had published, the first to get reprinted. Northern Stars represents my very first interaction with the NY publishing industry.

It was edited by Glenn Grant and David Hartwell.

It would not be much of an overstatement to say that David is largely responsible for my current incarnation as an SF author. It would almost be an understatement to point out that I’m just one of a myriad people who can say this.

It was David who, having read the rough first half of a first draft that would later become Starfish, sent me an email that inspired me to keep writing when I was on the brink of junking this whole fucking pipe dream of authorhood and resigning myself to getting a Real Job. (Don’t try this at home, kids— it was Glenn Grant who took it upon himself to pass my scribblings along, and even then only because David had expressed an interest. Where are you, Glenn? Haven’t seen you for years. I still owe you.) It was David who accepted the completed manuscript back in 1996, after I’d flown across the country to attend my first con (okay, my second, if you insist on counting that Star Trek thing at the Royal York back in 1975). That was even more of a faux pas— you never thrust a manuscript at an editor during a con— but I didn’t know that, and he took it anyway. He then sat on it for eighteen months, waiting for exactly the right moment to phone with an offer: when I was sitting on the toilet with my pants around my ankles, in the worst possible psychological space for aggressive negotiation. To this day I wonder how he knew that.

David with Christian Sauvé and Karl Schroeder, since I can't seem to find a picture with he and I in the same shot. (Photo: Kathryn Cramer)

David with Christian Sauvé and Karl Schroeder, since I can’t seem to find a picture with he and I in the same shot.  David is the one with the understated tie. (Photo: Kathryn Cramer)

I was fortunate to come of age (authorwise) during the days of David’s Canadian initiative, back when everyone else in NY regarded Canada as little more than America’s Hat. We northern wannabes were overjoyed at his scouting efforts north of the 49th (and heartbroken when, a few years later, he headed off in the opposite direction on his somewhat-less-applauded Australia Initiative). He launched my career, showcased my stories in a half-dozen best-of collections, edited every one of my novels except for the Crysis tie-in. I wish he’d edited one less title, actually: some will remember that βehemoth was intended as a single book, and try as I might I could not prevail on the man to waive Tor’s tendency to split long novels into separate volumes. He did, however, let me add an Author’s Apology to each volume, warning potential buyers that they were only getting half a story for the price. It was a concession, and it cost, and it was more than most split-volumes got.

That one episode might just epitomize my relationship with David, and/or with Tor (it was always difficult to know where one ended and the other began, whether he was making policy or channeling it). He did not cave, but he could— bend. Enough to make enough of a difference, usually.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a relationship, professional or otherwise, that was so simultaneously rocky and cordial. We would— I guess you’d call it fight, except it wasn’t really. We would argue, passionately— I was usually the more hot-headed, big surprise— but while it was about things that mattered personally, it never seemed to get personal. There was never any question of us hanging out when he was in town— on patios or in hotels, with partners or one-on-one. We didn’t always butt heads; most of the time we just shot the shit, about everything from relationships to jellyfish, from politics to history. The man was a walking encyclopedia, he rubbed shoulder with giants; the man was a giant in his own right. And even at its most infuriating, there was always something— mitigating, I guess you’d say, about the relationship.

I remember buying him drinks not so long ago, on the rooftop patio at Hemingways. “I really like you, man,” I told him. “I respect you. But I don’t know if I can trust you.” He shrugged, and smiled, and we clinked glasses.

This morning I awoke to the news that David Hartwell had suffered a massive brain injury, and that while the heart continued to beat, the man was not expected to survive. As I write these words my facebook feed is alive with the news: with expressions of shock and sadness and regret, with sympathy for Kathryn and their kids. Making Light called it, then walked it back; Locus posted an obit and deleted it. SF is holding its breath, awaiting the inevitable.

He was in his seventies. He was winding down to retirement anyway. Nobody thought he was immortal.

Except we did. I did. It’s the dumbest thing, this obstinate Human refusal to internalize our own mortality. Down in my gut, I guess I just expected the guy to go on forever.

There was still so much to argue about.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday January 20 2016at 01:01 pm , filed under eulogy . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

10 Responses to “Colossus.”

  1. How anxiety-ridden would we be if we believed that every day might be our favorite person(s) last? I know I would shut down pretty quickly. Sorry for your loss as it is, PW.

  2. I very nice memoir Peter I especially like the following statement:

    “I really like you, man,” I told him. “I respect you. But I don’t know if I can trust you.” He shrugged, and smiled, and we clinked glasses.

    That was David to a T.

  3. As I started to read this post, I got a sinking feeling of the impending conclusion. I’m sad to read the news. David was great editor and will be missed :(

  4. Alan Rickman, Brian Bedford, David Bowie, Glenn Fry… David Hartwell. What a shitty fucking week.

  5. It was reasonable to expect a few more years, dammit!: emeritus years, with a memoir… He was a good friend: to me, to us, to the field, to the truth, to a world-wide community. I can’t think of anything that makes this any better than awful.

  6. Where am I? I’m in a state of shock, just like you. Thinking we should’ve expected this, and I suppose we did — but surely not just yet…

    I spent last night writing about David when I should’ve been sleeping — only to find I couldn’t log in to my WordPress site to post the thing! (Stupid WP…) So I dumped it on Facebook.

    Sorry I’ve been out of the whole SF loop for a while. Been kept busy with Burning Man stuff, and less fun things, like work. Hope we can get together more in the near future.

  7. Candas Jane Dorsey:
    It was reasonable to expect a few more years, dammit!: emeritus years, with a memoir… He was a good friend: to me, to us, to the field, to the truth, to a world-wide community. I can’t think of anything that makes this any better than awful.

    The alternative to dying suddenly is dying over a timespan of months to years, often in pain. Perhaps getting your entire self erased by dementia till you can’t recognize your own family. Being bed-ridden and shitting yourself wearing a diaper.

    Sudden massive brain injury followed by unconsciousness, followed by death. That’s a beautiful way to die That is, people in the know say so.

    It’s just life. Could be far, far worse.

  8. Can we at least agree that this mortality deal is bogus and needs to be redressed as soon as possible? Sending condolences.

  9. Cal:
    Can we at least agree that this mortality deal is bogus and needs to be redressed as soon as possible? Sending condolences.

    Absence of funerals would kill science, I believe.

  10. I don’t know the man nor much about him, other than that any time I saw a book I had not yet read, which said “edited by David G Hartwell”, I checked it out of the library, and as a rule, I read it with great enjoyment. Many editors and many publishing houses attempted to publish “the year’s best science fiction”, but the Only True One for me was the one edited by Hartwell. My condolences to his friends and family.