Earlier today I was at the memorial service for David Hartwell. It has been a week since he died, and in that week I have read a number of tributes, some heartbreaking, some funny, from his family and people who knew him for decades. I knew David for less than twenty years. I can't remember when I met him, but it must have been some time after my wife and I moved to upstate New York in 1997, since that's when I started attending ReaderCon in Boston, and I'm pretty sure that I met him there.
I say I'm "pretty sure" because I literally can't remember meeting him. It just seems as though he was always there, a permanent and essential part of the fabric of the science fiction world. Our first encounter was probably a conversation at his table in the ReaderCon dealer room. That led to other conversations, including a fascinating couple of hours in a hotel lobby in Chicago during the Nebula Awards weekend in 2004. There were no velvet ropes around David Hartwell, no secret password to be ushered into the Presence of the Editor. Even a decade ago he was probably the most influential editor in the field, but he was perfectly happy to spend two hours or more reminiscing about science fiction and science fiction writers to a guy who had only just sold his third story. He knew everyone and he was willing to talk to everyone.
He bought my first novel, A Darkling Sea, as well as my second, Corsair. He picked several of my short stories for his Year's Best anthologies and other collections. Evidently he liked my stuff — and that mattered a great deal to me. When he died, I was about two chapters away from the end of a novel I was going to send to him. Now I find myself wishing I'd written faster. I wanted him to see that book. Not simply as an editor with purchasing authority, but as a reader. I wanted to know what David Hartwell would think of that book. I wanted him to like it.
People are usually very utilitarian beings. We value others for what they can do for us. But what I regret most right now is that I didn't get to do something for him. Not sell him a book, but write a book he would enjoy. I suspect I am not the only SF writer feeling that regret right now.