In Memoriam: Jerry Pournelle

Jerry PournelleFormer SFWA President Jerry Pournelle (b.1933) died on September 8.

Pournelle had a PhD in political science and worked with politicians throughout his various careers. He worked in the aerospace industry and consulted with various politicians on space related technology. While working towards his PhD, Pournelle published science fiction using the pseudonym Wade Curtis. In 1973, Pournelle served as the President of SFWA.

In the 1970s, Pournelle began publishing under his own name, starting with A Spaceship for the King. This began his long running military science fiction series. He collaborated with Larry Niven on The Mote in God’s Eye, Inferno, Lucifer’s Hammer, and other novels. While Niven was his most frequent collaborator, the two also collaborated at times with Steven Barnes and Michael Flynn. Pournelle also collaborated with Dean Ing, Roland J. Green, Charles Sheffield, and S.M. Stirling.

In addition to his solo novels and collaborations, Pournelle edited several anthology series including There Will Be War, Imperial Stars, and War WorldHe co-edited Nebula Award Stories Sixteen with John F. Carr.

He had a long-running column in Byte Magazine which looked at computers and software from a user’s point of view rather than a programmer’s point of view.

Pournelle won the first John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1973. He also won the Prometheus Award and Seiun Award for Fallen Angels, co-written with Niven and Flynn, and was honored with the Heinlein Society Award and the National Space Society’s Heinlein Memorial Award.

Cat Rambo, President of SFWA, had this to say: “I frequently interacted with Jerry, sometimes agreeing, other times not so much, but always knowing our arguments were motivated by a mutual love of SFWA and the genre. As someone seeing behind the scenes of the Emergency Medical Fund (Jerry was one of the stewards), I came to realize how much generosity lurked in him, each time brought out by an applicant’s situation.

“I will definitely miss Jerry and think of him with fondness.”

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Photo courtesy of “null0” [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

18 Responses

    1. Chris Barber

      Back in the 80s he took part in getting Piper’s works back in the limelight. At one time he was going to write a sequel to Space Viking but other projects kept getting in the way.

  1. Keith Henson

    I first met Jerry in the aftermath of starting the L5 Society in 1975. The next year Jerry invited me to speak at MidAmerican in Kansas City. I had the hot information from the Summer Study that year so most of the audience attention was on me (or rather the information I had).

    Met Heinlein there and eventually, he became a member of the L5 Board. Jerry almost became the third president of L5, probably for the best, it didn’t work out that way. My guess is that we would have lost a couple of books if he had. (The guy who did get it lost his house.)

    I think the best Byte column Jerry wrote was after 4160-volt wires dropped into the 120-volt lines for his house and he reported on what had survived and what blew up.

    Was looking forward to seeing him at LosCon. Will definitely miss him.

    Keith Henson

    1. Mike Peppard

      I was the first thing I read after opening the magazine. It’s what made me get the second and more lucrative major in MIS and use accounting as a credits dump. What a writer.

  2. William Alan Webb

    Ah man, this sucks. Jerry was one of my literary idols. I looked forward to seeing him at DragonCon and then Harvey washed me out. I will really miss him on the boards. Damn.

  3. Michelle Rose

    I met him at WorldCon 51. Irascible bloke. Rather contemptuous in some of his remarks at the various panels I attended featuring him. (On NASA: “Those sonsabitches sold us out!”) He razzed Niven something fierce at his GoH speech, but Larry just grinned a lot. My takeaway: he did not suffer fools gladly and mourned his many periods of writer’s block. I truly enjoyed his CoDominium stories and the Mote universe he created with Niven. The man was a serious scientist, albeit a stunningly rabid libertarian. Yes, he was the only one in SF permitted to write in the milieus created by H. Beam Piper and he was the prime mover behind getting Piper’s works republished. I read Byte magazine a lot in the 80’s. It’s odd that his column was just as layered, just as detailed as any of his novels. Fare thee well, Jerry. We hardly knew ye.

  4. Don Hawthorne

    I was privileged to work for and with Jerry and John Carr in the 1980’s. We produced the anthologies “There Will Be War” and created the “War World” series which continues to this day.
    Jerry had hired me to do maps for an upcoming project, and we hit it off, and I stayed on to become one of “J.E. Pournelle and Associates”… I still have my business cards…
    One day, helping him to sort books from his Olympean collection of classic science fiction, Jerry asked me, “Can you _write_ anything?”
    I said I’d love to give it a try. I left something on the desk Friday afternoon, and when I came back in Monday morning, Jerry and John both declared they “liked the hell out of it”.
    To this day, it remains my favorite review.
    Next to a brief stint in my own father’s printing business, they were the best bosses I ever had.
    Jerry was as mercurial as any other genius, but people forget how fascinating and entertaining mercury can be, and even while it is splashing around all over the place, it is unfailingly shiny and bright.
    I am thinking now about how Jerry looked the night he gave the eulogy for Robert Heinlein at the SFWA banquet in Los Angeles. He was subdued, he barely used the microphone, you had to strain to hear his words, but as always, those words were worth the effort.
    Heinlein had been Jerry’s mentor and his friend; he had helped set Jerry on a career path that would define his life, and Jerry was acknowledging that he would never see or speak to him, again.
    Now I understand, fully.
    Now I know exactly how Jerry felt.
    I have missed our conversations, Doc; perhaps we will be able to have them again, one day.
    Until that next cup of coffee and discourses on the Way of the World…
    Rest in Peace.

  5. Larry King

    I’ve been reading Dr. Pournelle’s books since I found The Mote in God’s Eye in the library as a kid.

    The timeline at the beginning of the book was so mysterious! That’s probably why, decades later, I put together a website with timelines and other studies of Pournelle’s future history stories. I was very gratified when I received email from Pournelle himself with compliments on my website. I’ve met him in person at various conventions (and once randomly at an airport) and often read his blog. Yet I am suprised at how overwhelming his death feels. I think that’s because his personality was so strong and vivid that when you read one of his books, you can hear the author’s voice at all times.

    Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei.

  6. Earl Tower

    I never formally meet Dr. Pournelle. I did have the privilege and pleasure of hearing him speak a few times, and exchanging a few emails while I was in the service. Through the years, his works were things I read avidly and often.

    In my view, he was one of the last of the Old Guard; those science fiction writers who also contributed to the American victory in that challenging era from World War Two till the end of the Cold War. God bless him and his family.

  7. Dennis Brothers

    I met Jerry at the first Hackers Conference, in 1984. We hit it off, and spent a well-lubricated evening chatting about anything and everything.

    We kept bumping into each other at conferences, and had many enjoyable conversations. I’ve been a faithful reader of his Chaos Manor blog, and was shocked to learn of his death there – I thought he was unkillable. I will miss him.

    I’ll hoist one to his memory this evening.

  8. Janet Morris

    Jerry was generous and caring to Chris and me, a soul with deep beliefs and principles. We shared a fascination for ancient history and classical thought as well as science fiction and government. On panels we shared with him, we always found his contributions of exceptional value. We continually try to be as kind to emerging talents as he was to us. Jerry was an original, with a legendary body of work, and we will miss him.

  9. Jeff Draper

    One of my favorite writers. I continually re-read all of the novels that I have by Jerry and have wanted more of his work to be published. His Co-Dominium and Janissaries series will always be incomplete because he created worlds begging to tell more.

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