Jerry Pournelle, 1933-2017

A few years ago I stumbled upon Fred Pohl’s weblog. Born in 1919, for a few years there before his death in 2013 Pohl was a living breathing window back to the “Golden Age” of science fiction. He knew men like Asimov and Heinlein personally. He was a witness, a participant, to history. It was great to have someone like him on the internet.

Today we lost another piece of history. This evening I learned that Jerry Pournelle¬†passed away in his sleep. I have had a few interactions with Pournelle over the years, and it was really strange in light of the fact that I read many of his books as a child. His collaborations with Larry Niven, in particular,¬†The Mote in God’s Eye, were always great in my opinion (each author had their own strength, and together they were better).

One thing about Pournelle’s science fiction is that their politics and sociology always struck me as unrealistic when I first encountered them. I believe in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction he identified himself as a “13th century liberal.” As in, he was on the side of the nobles against King John. Even if tongue-in-cheek that had at the time seemed a ridiculous assertion (Pournelle’s right-wing politics was in the news in the 1990s when he was associated with Newt Gingerich).

But over the years I’ve come to realize that my teen years in the 1990s were excessively suffused with The End of History. Pournelle was older and had a longer view of things. I didn’t necessarily end up agreeing with Jerry Pournelle in all his views, but as I got older I began to realize that there was a lot I didn’t understand.

7 thoughts on “Jerry Pournelle, 1933-2017

  1. I’m sorry to hear of his passing. I was at a Mars society panel of science fiction authors he was supposed to be at last night, and they announced he wasn’t feeling well and so decided to stay home.

  2. This makes me very sad. Jerry’s views on the space program have always struck me a crucial counterpoint to the standard narrative. I’ve agreed and disagreed with him on all manner of scientific topics, but I’ve never failed to be stimulated by his blog’s summaries of current scientific work. My best wishes to Roberta, Alex, and the rest of the Pournelle clan. Jerry will be sorely missed by many.

  3. Rest in Peace JP.

    I read Mote in God’s Eye (I think I found out about it through Steve Sailer’s blog) last year in Tehran. I found it a very long but an insightful book (my book club followed through with it this year as it is a seminal piece in “Contact Fiction”).

    I guess we are growing old when our literary idols start dying.. 2017 isn’t as bad as 2016 but of course the generation is turning; I’m surprised when I find myself in the company of people born in the 90’s and naughties, 30’s is definitely a very strange decade!

  4. I guess we are growing old when our literary idols start dying..

    I am a little bit older than you and Mr. Khan. The big one for me was when my father died. He was such a robust, powerful man when he was alive – he was the toughest, grittiest SOB I had ever known – it was a shock when I saw him become frail and then I got a big dose of a sense of mortality when he died. It was almost like God said to me, “You are next.”

  5. Once could make the claim that Jerry was a blogger before there was the web. I first encountered him as a diarist in his byte columns, circa 1979 or so. When Byte went online as BIX, he was there, eventually publishing on the web.

    I wonder how many early bloggers, especially in the technology sphere, were influenced by Jerry’s early work. Certainly to be a blogger in the late `90s you had to be an early adopter, since hosting platforms were primitive. Such people tend to be tech-curious.

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