Monday, November 15, 2010

Why I interviewed David Hartwell

My two part interview with science fiction editor David Hartwell starts tomorrow.

I thought it might be interesting to share an anecdote that illustrates why I spent several weeks obtaining the interview. I am telling the story from memory, from a public interview of Hartwell conducted during the last weekend of October at the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio.

From 1973 to 1978, Hartwell was the science fiction editor for Berkley/Putnam, where he edited Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, etc. (In the last years of his life, Heinlein would not allow his books to be edited, so don't blame Hartwell if you think Time Enough for Love, for example, could have stood a little editorial pruning and weeding.)

When Berkley/Putnam was taken over by another company, the management offered Hartwell a big hike in salary but asked him to edit fewer books, concentrating on potential best sellers. Hartwell refused (he's in it for the literature, not the money) and took a new job at Pocket Books.

Hartwell's boss told him he could take one writer with him, and then told Hartwell apprehensively that it could not be Frank Herbert. Hartwell replied that he wanted Gene Wolfe, and the puzzled publishing executive said "Who?" Hartwell explained that Wolfe was a real up and comer, and the executive said sure, take him away.

Within a few years, Hartwell published Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun, which established Wolfe as a star of fantasy and science fiction.

My point here is that Hartwell is an important talent spotter, and that RAW fans can take pride that Hartwell chose to publish five of RAW's books at Pocket Books, at about the same time that The Book of the New Sun was coming out.