You only have one chance to make a good first impression on someone. I hope I did so the first and only time I ever met David Hartwell; I know he made a good impression on me. It was at the 2013 conference at McMaster University in honor of Robert Sawyer; I was presenting a paper there and David was one of the guests. After Robert’s keynote address, I had the chance to meet David, as well Robert Charles Wilson and Élisabeth Vonarburg. I remember chatting with one of the Roberts, maybe both of them, along with some other guests when he walked up to our little circle with a drink in his hand and a big smile on his face. I had never seen a photo of him, but seeing his name tag sent a shudder of recognition as I realized that one of science fiction’s finest living editors had just strolled up to me. Semi-nervously, I extended my hand. “Mr. Hartwell, it’s a pleasure to meet you, thanks for coming! The Ascent of Wonder is one of my favorite anthologies!” He shook my hand vigorously and sincerely responded “Thank you, that’s very kind of you!”
The first and now I know, only time. I’m glad it was a chance to let him know how important he was to me and many others as an editor and anthologist. That is how he made a first impression on me, long before I met this gracious gentleman that September afternoon. He and Gardner Dozois carried on the tradition begun by Judith Merril and Terry Carr of providing competing annual anthologies of the year’s best science fiction; if a story was selected by both editors, it was usually a good sign of exceptionally high quality. Furthermore, together with his wife Kathryn Cramer, Hartwell edited both the aforementioned The Ascent of Wonder and The Hard SF Renaissance, which together provide the definitive survey of the subgenre of hard science fiction, that is very much core to the genre as a whole. While I have a few quibbles about some of their selections, whether it’s because I question whether or not they constitute hard science fiction or because of their overall quality, both books are essential not just as story compilations but for the discussion and thematic analysis provided by the editors (and by Gregory Benford in the introduction). And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
By sad coincidence, I had met Hartwell just one day after the death of one of my closest friends. She had helped to mentor me as a writer and scholar, and through the example of her own kindness and resilience, had encouraged me to be a better person as well. In the days after learning about her passing, as I sadly scanned the Internet for news about her, I found that I was far from alone, that there were so many others whom she had helped and had been touched by her in just the same way. Those who had David Hartwell for an editor must have also known what that felt like.