His saga comes to a head in Williams College's David G. Hartwell ‘63 Science Fiction Symposium, Oct. 22-24. Over the course of the three days, academics in various fields will engage in unique discourse with prominent science fiction authors.
"I could go on and on about all the connections," Hartwell says when explaining how the symposium came to be. "It gets kind of crazy."
During his senior spring at Williams, Hartwell won an award for his science fiction collection. The small distinction would prove to be a victory for generations of science fictions fans to come.
"The genre was considered trash at Williams, but my professors were probably just glad I was reading a lot of something," he said.
In graduate school, Hartwell became a contributor for the science fiction column of the magazine Crawdaddy! He shared a love of Phillip K. Dick's works with his dear friend Paul S. Williams, the godfather of rock criticism. Williams went on to become the executor of Dick's literary estate, while Hartwell serves as administrator of the illustrious Phillip K. Dick award.
Hartwell's specialized knowledge of the speculative genres opened up several opportunities for him. He worked at Signet, Berkley Putnam and eventually Tor.
Early into his time at Tor, a mutual acquaintance brought the manuscript of squash teacher Paul Park, as Hartwell explains " basically because it was the type of book only I would publish."
That book, "Soldiers of Paradise," was to be the first in Park's richly esoteric "Starbridge Chronicles." Along with Park's literary career, Hartwell launched a lasting friendship - tinged with a few strange coincidences.
"Paul's father [the late professor Emeritus of Physics David Allen Park] taught me freshman year," Hartwell says.
Several key figures of the close-knit science fiction community will have a reunion of sorts on the Williams campus. As Paul Park puts it, "It's as much as a writing conference as a small convention of old friends."
A particular focus of the symposium is how readers can understand science fiction in the context of environmentalism.
Kim Stanley Robinson has been a recipient of the Phillip K. Dick award, as well as Park's friend for 25 years. Robinson authored the "Mars Trilogy," an epic about terraforming.
As he explains, "The changing of Mars to become more earthlike can really be brought to bear on how we impact the planet."
Robinson employs his particularly developed layman's understanding of science in books like "Three Californias" and his "Science in the Capital" series.
"I specialize in what you might call plausible, realistic science fiction," he says.
The air quotes are all but visible in his voice. Yet his works ring true, especially in the light of current events. The National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists and Writers Program, defunct during the partial government shutdown, awarded Robinson the opportunity to spend two months on the continent in 1995. His book "Antarctica" draws heavily on his experiences and touches on sustainability themes.
Robinson is thrilled to reconnect with his hero and Clarion writing workshop teacher, Samuel "Chip" Delaney. Delaney's work will be the focus of a directed Q and A and lunch with Comparative Literature Professor Christopher Bolton, Political Scientist Mark Reinhardt and Critical Theorist Christian Thorne.
Yale professor of fiction and screenwriting John Crowley will lead students in stage design. Terry Bisson will feature in a student fiction writing seminar during the week.
Robinson is also looking forward to meeting Elizabeth Kolbert, journalist, author, and winner of an award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science for magazine writing. Along with Bisson and relative newcomer Paolo Bacigalupi, Kolbert and Robinson will round out A Panel Discussion on Climate Change and Science Fiction.
Just as the participants in the David G. Hartwell ‘63 Science Fiction Symposium are linked by their craft and common interests, speculative fiction and the sustainability discussion exist in a timely harmony.
"Environmental awareness and activism is not a matter of reduction or deprivation," Robinson says. "All our work translates these issues into how it relates on the personal and political level."
The full schedule for the David G. Hartwell ‘63 Science Fiction Symposium is as follows:
Tuesday, Oct. 22, at 4 p.m. in Griffin Hall, Room 3: Readings by Samuel R. Delany, Kit Reed, Terry Bisson and Paul Park.
Wednesday Oct. 23, at 1:10 p.m. in Griffin Hall, Room 6: Samuel R. Delany and critical theory faculty members from Williams will lead a directed discussion of a series of Delany's stories, including "The Tale of Gorgik," "The Tale of Old Venn," (both from "Tales of Nevèr on") and "The Game of Time and Pain" (from "Return to Nevèr on").
Wednesday, Oct. 23, at 7:30 p.m. in the Paresky Center: A Panel Discussion on Climate Change and Science Fiction, featuring Elizabeth Kolbert, Terry Bisson, Kim Stanley Robinson and Paolo Bacigalupi. The panel will be moderated by David Hartwell.
Thursday, Oct. 24, at 4 p.m. in Griffin Hall, Room 3: Readings by Paolo Bacigalupi, John Crowley, Kelly Link and Kim Stanley Robinson.
The symposium is sponsored by the Williams College English, American Studies, Environmental Studies, African Studies and Theatre Departments, as well as the Comparative Literature program and The Lecture Committee; The Margaret Bund Scott Fund; and the Oakley Center. All events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit english.williams.edu or call