BIOLOG: Gregor Hartmann
by Richard A. Lovett
Many science fiction writers write a lot of stories when they are young, fail to sell them, set writing aside to pursue rent-paying careers, then come back years later to find the success that had previously eluded them.
Not so Gregor Hartmann. Of the thirty stories credited to him by the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, nine were published between 1975 and 1991 and all the rest were after 2015. I.e., even after his initial success, he too faced a twenty-four-year pay-the-rent intervention. But when asked if his science fictional career shows an unusual bimodal distribution of sales, he offers an alternative analogy. “It’s like a bathtub career,” he says. “Up at both ends and flat in the middle.”
Like many other authors, his interest in the field began at a young age, fed by a mix of Heinlein juveniles and Isaac Asimov’s Lucky Starr series. “On Saturdays my mother would take me to the Louisville public library and I would go the fiction room and fill a grocery bag with any book that had a rocket ship on the spine,” he says. “I read my way through the whole room.” In sixth grade, he adds, “I wrote a science fiction play about space dogs fighting space cats.”
In college, though, he focused on another form of writing: journalism, in which he majored in at the University of Kentucky. “Our college newspaper was the seventh largest daily paper in Kentucky at the time,” he says.
From there, his career diversified. Initially he went to California, where he was a reporter for the now-defunct Fremont Argus—an experience he describes as very good training for a short-story writer. “You get a lot of life experience, plus, every day is different as you’re going from subject to subject.”
Next, he moved to Nagoya, Japan, to teach English. Previously, he’d studied German and Spanish, so he jumped at the chance to have a job in which, on the side, he could learn a very different language.
Back in the States, he continued to study Japanese by doing the very Analog thing of reading the Japanese edition of Scientific American. Then, in 1989, he says, “I became a full-time freelance translator. I’ve been doing that ever since.”
He translates technical documents, “mainly patents and the occasional scientific paper.” That made him very, very cognizant of how scientists and engineers think, as well as a quick study in a wide range of scientific fields. It also made him a natural for writing science fiction, rather than fantasy. “Analog was a pretty natural match for me,” he says. “It’s easy for me to sprinkle science and technology into a story and make it sound like I know what I’m doing. I don’t have to use old standards like antigravity or something; I can make something [else] up and make it sound pretty convincing.”
The most direct influence of his study of Japanese, however, is that it made him more aware of status and hierarchy. “The way the Japanese language works,” he says, “is you conjugate verbs according to social status. Like, if we’re speaking Japanese, you and I would have to suss out each other’s relative social status, then one of us would go up, and one would go down. I’ve used that sometimes in stories.”
Hartmann is a writer who really polishes his prose, seeking to make his characters and their world as authentic as possible. “I go through a lot of drafts,” he says, “[maybe] fifteen or twenty. I wish I could just bang it out like some people do, but that doesn’t seem to be my forte.”
Meanwhile, he’s got a new interest. “My main sideline right now is studying Mandarin,” he says.