Jerry Pournelle, R.I.P.

 

Jerry PournelleAlex Pournelle reports that his father, Jerry Pournelle, has died. Jerry Pournelle (to whose name we can now, sadly, append [1933–2017]) was a technologist, author of science fiction and fact, political operative, computer and technology journalist, and one of those people who more than deserved Robert Heinlein’s designation as a “fair witness”.

Jerry Pournelle played a key part in developing the strategy which became President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. He opposed both Gulf Wars, arguing that the money spent on them could be better spent on developing energy independence, including deployment of solar power satellites.

He invented the “Iron Law of Bureaucracy”.

His best-known novels (some co-authored, mostly with his friend Larry Niven) are The Mote in God’s Eye, Lucifer’s Hammer, Inferno, Footfall, Janissaries, and King David’s Spaceship.

In his last blog post, dated 2017-09-07, he wrote that he had just returned from DragonCon and was feeling ill.

Jerry Pournelle was one of the great visionaries of our time, a formidable fictioneer, and an observer whose eyes penetrated the spin and nonsense surrounding many issues in the public discourse. “Well, let’s work out the numbers…”.

He will be sorely missed.

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There are 86 comments.

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  1. Randy Webster Member

    He and Larry Niven did a two volume set of essentially political commentary, which I had, but can’t find on my shelf anymore. It had Jerry’s two-axis political alignment theory in it. Do you remember it?

    • #1
    • September 8, 2017, at 4:51 PM PDT
    • Like
  2. harrisventures Inactive

    As I read his last blog post a few days ago, I admired his deference to his friends. He did not want to burden anyone…

    Back from DragonCon with both a cold and the flu. Was supposed to go to the Mars Society meeting in Irvine, but I didn’t feel up to it and would have been a burden on Larry who generously offer to drive me.

    He had been ill for some months now. He will be missed.

    • #2
    • September 8, 2017, at 5:04 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  3. Kozak Member

    One of my favorites was a comment he had where he went to an alternative energy expo. and one of the devices was a bike hookedup to a generator, with a board on the front where you could kneed dough to make bread cooked by the peddler.

    His comment was ” all it needed was a Black guy on the bike with a White guy in a uniform with a whip behind him, to show the reality of where their fantasy land of energy policy would end up”….

    • #3
    • September 8, 2017, at 5:04 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  4. Seawriter Member

    Just . . . [CoC]

    Seawriter

    • #4
    • September 8, 2017, at 5:08 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. Boss Mongo Member

    Well said, John. RIP.

    • #5
    • September 8, 2017, at 5:08 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  6. The Reticulator Member

    I used to read his Chaos Manor column in Byte, and kind of lost track of him since those days. But I knew he was still around. I just now checked his Wikipedia page, which says he was an intellectual protege of Russell Kirk. Wish I knew more about that.

    • #6
    • September 8, 2017, at 5:19 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker Post author

    Randy Webster (View Comment):
    He and Larry Niven did a two volume set of essentially political commentary, which I had, but can’t find on my shelf anymore. It had Jerry’s two-axis political alignment theory in it. Do you remember it?

    I think this is the chart in the “All Ends of the Spectrum” appendix he wrote for the first volume of the Imperial Stars anthology.

    Publisher Jim Baen said of this article, “My point is that for this column Jerry Pournelle is guilty. Guilty as sin. Of modesty.”

    Read the whole thing.

    • #7
    • September 8, 2017, at 5:28 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    Omg. Rest in peace.

    • #8
    • September 8, 2017, at 5:53 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Percival Thatcher

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I used to read his Chaos Manor column in Byte, and kind of lost track of him since those days. But I knew he was still around. I just now checked his Wikipedia page, which says he was an intellectual protege of Russell Kirk. Wish I knew more about that.

    I continued reading his Chaos Manor stuff on his website, but drifted away in recent years.

    Requiescat in pace.

    • #9
    • September 8, 2017, at 6:14 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. GFHandle Member

    Years ago, in the 300 baud days of telephone jack modems, I got called an “a-hole” in a public forum by Mr. Pournelle for pointing out and then maintaining that there is, Fowler to the contrary, no rule against starting an English sentence with “And” or “But.” (Mrs. Pournelle very kindly sent me a note of apology, saying the Great Man was suffering from a bad cold and was out of sorts). Still, I continued to enjoy his writing in Byte about word processors and such. I don’t read much science fiction, so I can’t say anything about his fiction. As a devoted C-64 and then Amiga owner, I found his dismissive attitude toward Commodore annoying though–not all of us could afford the sort of gear he recommended, and to this day I maintain that the Amiga was the greatest computer ever developed.

    He was a talented and interesting man. R.I.P.

    • #10
    • September 8, 2017, at 6:17 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  11. Judge Mental Member

    Vaya con Dios, Wade.

    • #11
    • September 8, 2017, at 6:51 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  12. She Thatcher
    She

    I loved Chaos Manor. And I loved BYTE, in the days when every issue was at least half an inch thick.

    Jerry Pournelle was a pioneer in, and a proselytizer for, an entirely new field in whose infancy I was also lucky enough to find myself, something that came to be called “end-user computing.” It sustained me, career-wise and financially, for over three decades. Bless his heart. RIP.

    • #12
    • September 8, 2017, at 7:28 PM PDT
    • 18 likes
  13. Judge Mental Member

    I never read him in Byte, but I remember him from Infoworld, a largely forgotten weekly tabloid format newspaper, where he did a bi-weekly column of the same sort.

    • #13
    • September 8, 2017, at 7:36 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. She Thatcher
    She

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    I never read him in Byte, but I remember him from Infoworld, a largely forgotten weekly tabloid format newspaper, where he did a bi-weekly column of the same sort.

    I remember Infoworld, too! And PC Magazine. “Sad!” as I might tweet, if I were ever to do such an absurd thing.

    • #14
    • September 8, 2017, at 7:39 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. Randal H Member

    I can’t think of Jerry without thinking of Chaos Manor, CPM, and the S-100 bus. He was an occasional guest on the TWIT network as recently as 2015, and he appeared there at least once with Larry Niven. I enjoyed his libertarian viewpoint, which was a nice contrast to the frequently-left-leaning opinions of the host and other guests (John C. Dvorak being the other exception).

    • #15
    • September 8, 2017, at 7:48 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  16. Judge Mental Member

    Randal H (View Comment):
    I can’t think of Jerry without thinking of Chaos Manor, CPM, and the S-100 bus. He was an occasional guest on the TWIT network as recently as 2015, and he appeared there at least once with Larry Niven. I enjoyed his libertarian viewpoint, which was a nice contrast to the frequently-left-leaning opinions of the host and other guests (John C. Dvorak being the other exception).

    Speaking of Dvorak, let’s not forget Pournelle’s endless promotion of the Dvorak keyboard. I still don’t think I’ve ever seen one though.

    • #16
    • September 8, 2017, at 7:54 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  17. Randy Webster Member

    John Walker (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):
    He and Larry Niven did a two volume set of essentially political commentary, which I had, but can’t find on my shelf anymore. It had Jerry’s two-axis political alignment theory in it. Do you remember it?

    I think this is the chart in the “All Ends of the Spectrum” appendix he wrote for the first volume of the Imperial Stars anthology.

    Publisher Jim Baen said of this article, “My point is that for this column Jerry Pournelle is guilty. Guilty as sin. Of modesty.”

    Read the whole thing.

    I have left one volume of Imperial Stars. I was thinking there was a more non-fiction collection of essays. But that’s the chart I was thinking of.

    • #17
    • September 8, 2017, at 8:19 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  18. Fake John/Jane Galt Thatcher

    This world is somewhat diminished by his passing the next world is somewhat brightened by his arrival.

    • #18
    • September 8, 2017, at 8:49 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  19. JcTPatriot Inactive

    She (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    I never read him in Byte, but I remember him from Infoworld, a largely forgotten weekly tabloid format newspaper, where he did a bi-weekly column of the same sort.

    I remember Infoworld, too! And PC Magazine. “Sad!” as I might tweet, if I were ever to do such an absurd thing.

    Me too! I loved BYTE and PC Magazine and InfoWorld was a special favorite of mine. I used to leaf through my dad’s “EEE” magazine as a youngster.

    This site is difficult to use, but fun! https://archive.org/details/Infoworld-1980-12-31

    • #19
    • September 8, 2017, at 9:15 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  20. JcTPatriot Inactive

    Thank you John. How sad to hear it. I just finished The Mote In God’s Eye a couple weeks ago. I think I’ll start Lucifer’s Hammer next.

    • #20
    • September 8, 2017, at 9:16 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  21. Hartmann von Aue Member

    He also correctly predicted where Green Hysteria was going to lead, both in “Oath of Fealty” and “Fallen Angels”. Thanks for the notice, John.

    • #21
    • September 9, 2017, at 1:10 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  22. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    Pournelle was a great American, and his collaborations with Larry Niven made for masterful literature. My favorite of those was The Burning City.

    • #22
    • September 9, 2017, at 1:42 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  23. Randy Webster Member

    Mike LaRoche (View Comment):
    Pournelle was a great American, and his collaborations with Larry Niven made for masterful literature. My favorite of those was The Burning City.

    Was that in The Magic goes Away series?

    • #23
    • September 9, 2017, at 3:54 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Mike LaRoche (View Comment):
    Pournelle was a great American, and his collaborations with Larry Niven made for masterful literature. My favorite of those was The Burning City.

    Was that in The Magic goes Away series?

    Yes!

    • #24
    • September 9, 2017, at 4:35 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  25. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker Post author

    Here are reviews of some lesser-known Pournelle works and collaborations. I read most of the well known titles before I began reviewing every book I read, so these are selected only by the date I read or re-read them.

    • #25
    • September 9, 2017, at 5:17 AM PDT
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  26. Randy Webster Member

    My Niven/Pournelle collection takes up about two feet on the shelf, but the only two of those I have are Escape from Hell and Fallen Angels.

    • #26
    • September 9, 2017, at 5:22 AM PDT
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  27. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker Post author

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):
    He also correctly predicted where Green Hysteria was going to lead, both in “Oath of Fealty” and “Fallen Angels”.

    Few people saw the approaching age of sclerosis so clearly. The following is from A Step Farther Out, published in 1978.

    […] Merely continue as we are now: innovative technology discouraged by taxes, environmental impact statements, reports, lawsuits, commission hearings, delays, delays, delays; space research not carried out, never officially abandoned but delayed, stretched-out, budgets cut and work confined to the studies without hardware; solving the energy crisis by conservation, with fusion research cut to the bone and beyond, continued at level-of-effort but never to a practical reactor; fission plants never officially banned, but no provision made for waste disposal or storage so that no new plants are built and the operating plants slowly are phased out; riots at nuclear power plant construction sites; legal hearings, lawyers, lawyers, lawyers…

    Can you not imagine the dream being lost? Can you not imagine the nation slowly learning to “do without”, making “Smaller is Better” the national slogan, fussing over insulating attics and devoting attention to windmills; production falling, standards of living falling, until one day we discover the investments needed to go to space would be truly costly, would require cuts in essentials like food —

    A world slowly settling into satisfaction with less, until there are no resources to invest in That Buck Rogers Stuff?

    I can imagine that.

    But then, Jerry Pournelle frequently reminded readers of his blog that despair is a sin.

    • #27
    • September 9, 2017, at 5:24 AM PDT
    • 13 likes
  28. Phil Turmel Coolidge

    Through his columns in BYTE, I discovered that my dual passions for sci-fi and technology were not unusual at all — a key discovery for a nerdy kid in a very rural town. I tried to break away for the Pournelle/Niven panel at DragonCon this past Sunday, but didn’t make it. (I did manage to catch Niven live at a later one.) Now I regret not making more of an effort. He will be sorely missed.

    • #28
    • September 9, 2017, at 7:47 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  29. Kevin Creighton Contributor

    A significant portion of my worldview was created by his writings in “Galaxy,” collected in the anthology “A Step Farther Out.”

    We have lost a giant. He will be missed.

    • #29
    • September 9, 2017, at 1:36 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  30. Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… Inactive

    Awwww, John and all…So sorry to see this!

    • #30
    • September 9, 2017, at 1:37 PM PDT
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