Jerry Eugene Pournelle (/pʊrˈnɛl/; August 7, 1933 – September 8, 2017) was an American science fiction writer, essayist, and journalist. In the 1960s and early 1970s he worked in the aerospace industry, but eventually focused on his writing career.
Pournelle is particularly known for writing hard science fiction, and received multiple awards for his writing. In addition to his solo writing, he wrote several novels with collaborators, most notably Larry Niven. Pournelle served a term as President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
Pournelle was also known for his political views, which were sometimes expressed in his fiction. He was one of the founders of the Citizens' Advisory Council on National Space Policy, which developed some of the Reagan Administration's space initiatives, including the earliest versions of what would become the Strategic Defense Initiative.
Pournelle's journalism focused primarily on the computer industry, astronomy, and space exploration. From the 1970s until the early 1990s, he contributed to the computer magazine Byte. He created one of the first blogs, entitled "Chaos Manor", which included commentary about politics, computer technology, space technology, and science fiction.
Pournelle at NASFiC in 2005
|Born||August 7, 1933|
Shreveport, Louisiana, United States
|Died||September 8, 2017 (aged 84)|
Studio City, California, United States
|Pen name||Wade Curtis (early work)|
|Occupation||Novelist, journalist, essayist|
Pournelle was born in Shreveport, the seat of Caddo Parish in northwestern Louisiana, and educated in Capleville, Tennessee. He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Afterwards, he studied at the University of Washington, where he received a B.S. in psychology on June 11, 1955; an M.S. in psychology on March 21, 1958; and a Ph.D. in political science in March 1964. The thesis for his M.S. is titled "Behavioural observations of the effects of personality needs and leadership in small discussion groups", and is dated 1957. Pournelle's PhD dissertation is titled "The American political continuum; an examination of the validity of the left-right model as an instrument for studying contemporary American political 'isms'".
Pournelle served as campaign research director for the mayoral campaign of 1969 for Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty (Democrat), working under campaign director Henry Salvatori. The election took place on May 27, 1969. Pournelle was later named Executive Assistant to the Mayor in charge of research in September 1969, but resigned from the position after two weeks. After leaving Yorty's office, in 1970 he was a consultant to the Professional Educators of Los Angeles (PELA), a group opposed to the unionization of school teachers in LA.
Pournelle was an intellectual protégé of Russell Kirk and Stefan T. Possony. Pournelle wrote numerous publications with Possony, including The Strategy of Technology (1970). The Strategy has been used as a textbook at the United States Military Academy (West Point), the United States Air Force Academy (Colorado Springs), the Air War College, and the National War College.
Pournelle's work in the aerospace industry includes time he worked at Boeing in the late 1950s. While there, he worked on Project Thor, conceiving of "hypervelocity rod bundles", also known as "rods from God". He edited Project 75, a 1964 study of 1975 defense requirements. He worked in operations research at The Aerospace Corporation, and North American Rockwell Space Division, and was founding President of the Pepperdine Research Institute. In 1989, Pournelle, Max Hunter, and retired Army Lieutenant General Daniel O. Graham made a presentation to then Vice President Dan Quayle promoting development of the DC-X rocket.
Pournelle was among those who in 1968 signed a pro-Vietnam War advertisement in Galaxy Science Fiction. During the 1970s and 1980s, he also published articles on military tactics and war gaming in the military simulations industry in Avalon Hill's magazine The General. He had previously won first prize in a late 1960s essay contest run by the magazine on how to end the Vietnam war. That led him into correspondences with some of the early figures in Dungeons and Dragons and other fantasy role-playing games.
Two of his collaborations with Larry Niven reached the top rankings in the New York Times Best Seller List. In 1977, Lucifer's Hammer reached number two. Footfall — wherein Robert A. Heinlein was a thinly veiled minor character — reached the number one spot in 1985.
In 1994, Pournelle's friendly relationship with Newt Gingrich led to Gingrich securing a government job for Pournelle's son, Richard. At the time, Pournelle and Gingrich were reported to be collaborating on "a science fiction political thriller." Pournelle's relationship with Gingrich was long established even then, as Pournelle had written the preface to Gingrich's book, Window of Opportunity (1985).
Years after Byte shuttered, Pournelle wrote his Chaos Manor column online. He reprised it at Byte.com, which he helped launch with journalist Gina Smith, John C. Dvorak, and others. However, after a shakeup, he announced that rather than stay at UBM, he would follow Smith, Dvorak, and 14 other news journalists to start an independent tech and politics site. As an active director of that site and others it launched, Pournelle wrote, edited, and worked with young writers and journalists on the craft of writing about science and tech.
In 2008, Pournelle battled a brain tumor, which appeared to respond favorably to radiation treatment. An August 28, 2008 report on his weblog claimed he was now cancer-free. Pournelle suffered a stroke on December 16, 2014, for which he was hospitalized for a time. By June 2015, he was writing again, though impairment from the stroke had slowed his typing. Pournelle died in his sleep at his home in Studio City, California, on September 8, 2017.
From the beginning, Pournelle's work has engaged strong military themes. Several books are centered on a fictional mercenary infantry force known as Falkenberg's Legion. There are strong parallels between these stories and the Childe Cycle mercenary stories by Gordon R. Dickson, as well as Heinlein's Starship Troopers, although Pournelle's work takes far fewer technological leaps than either of these.
Pournelle was one of the few close friends of H. Beam Piper and was granted by Piper the rights to produce stories set in Piper's Terro-Human Future History. This right has been recognized by the Piper estate. Pournelle worked for some years on a sequel to Space Viking but seems to have abandoned this in the early 1990s, however John F. Carr intends its completion for release in 2018.
In 2013, Variety reported that motion picture rights to Pournelle's novel Janissaries had been acquired by the newly formed Goddard Film Group, headed by Gary Goddard. The IMDb website reported that the film was in development, and that husband-and-wife writing team, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, had written the screenplay.
Pournelle began fiction writing non-SF work under a pseudonym in 1965. His early SF was published as "Wade Curtis", in Analog and other magazines. Some of his work is also published as "J.E. Pournelle".
In the mid-1970s, Pournelle began a fruitful collaboration with Larry Niven; he has also collaborated on novels with Roland J. Green, Michael F. Flynn, and Steven Barnes, and collaborated as an editor on an anthology series with John F. Carr.
Pournelle wrote the "Chaos Manor" column in Byte. In it Pournelle described his experiences with computer hardware and software, some purchased and some sent by vendors for review, at his home office. Because Pournelle was then, according to the magazine, "virtually Byte's only writer who was a mere user—he didn't create compilers and computers, he merely used them", it began as "The User's Column" in July 1980. Subtitled "Omikron TRS-80 Boards, NEWDOS+, and Sundry Other Matters", an Editor's Note accompanied the article:
The other day we were sitting around the Byte offices listening to software and hardware explosions going off around us in the microcomputer world. We wondered, "Who could cover some of the latest developments for us in a funny, frank (and sometimes irascible) style?" The phone rang. It was Jerry Pournelle with an idea for a funny, frank (and sometimes irascible) series of articles to be presented in Byte on a semi-regular (i.e.: every 2 to 3 months) basis, which would cover the wild microcomputer goings-on at the Pournelle House ("Chaos Manor") in Southern California. We said yes. Herewith the first installment ...
Pournelle stated that
This will be a column by and for computer users, and with rare exceptions I won't discuss anything I haven't installed and implemented here in Chaos Manor. At Chaos Manor we have computer users ranging in sophistication from my 9-year-old through a college-undergraduate assistant and up to myself. (Not that I'm the last word in sophistication, but I do sit here and pound this machine a lot; if I can't get something to work, it takes an expert.) Fair warning, then: the very nature of this column limits its scope. I can't talk about anything I can't run on my machines, nor am I likely to discuss things I have no use for.
He introduced to readers "my friend Ezekiel, who happens to be a Cromemco Z-2 with iCom 8-inch soft-sectored floppy disk drives"; he also owned a TRS-80 Model I, and the first subject discussed in the column was an add-on that permitted it to use the same data and CP/M applications as the Cromemco. The next column appeared in December 1980 with the subtitle "BASIC, Computer Languages, and Computer Adventures", Ezekiel II, a Compupro S-100 CP/M system, debuted in March 1983. Other computers received nicknames, such as Lucy Van Pelt, Pournelle's "fussbudget" IBM PC, and he referred to generic PC compatibles as "PClones". Pournelle often denounced companies that announced products without delivering them, sarcastically writing that they would arrive "Real Soon Now", later abbreviated to just "RSN". As part of a redesign in June 1984, the magazine renamed the popular column to "Computing at Chaos Manor", and the accompanying letter column became "Chaos Manor Mail". After the print version of Byte ended publication in the United States, Pournelle continued publishing the column for the online version and international print editions of Byte. In July 2006, Pournelle and Byte declined to renew their contract and Pournelle moved the column to his own web site, Chaos Manor Reviews.
In 2011, Pournelle joined journalist Gina Smith, pundit John C. Dvorak, political cartoonist Ted Rall, and several other Byte.com staff reporters to launch independent tech and political news site, aNewDomain. Pournelle served as director of aNewDomain until his death.
After 1998, Pournelle maintained a website with a daily online journal, "View from Chaos Manor", a blog dating from before the use of that term. It is a collection of his "Views" and "Mail" from a large variety of readers. This is a continuation of his 1980s blog-like online journal on GEnie. He said he resists using the term "blog" because he considered the word ugly, and because he maintained that his "View" is primarily a vehicle for writing rather than a collection of links. In his book Dave Barry in Cyberspace, humorist Dave Barry has fun with Pournelle's guru column in Byte magazine.
In a 1997 article, Norman Spinrad wrote that Pournelle had written the SDI portion of Ronald Reagan's State of the Union Address, as part of a plan to use SDI to get more money for space exploration, using the larger defense budget. Pournelle wrote in response that while the Citizens' Advisory Council on National Space Policy "wrote parts of Reagan's 1983 SDI speech, and provided much of the background for the policy, we certainly did not write the speech ... We were not trying to boost space, we were trying to win the Cold War". The Council's first report in 1980 became the transition team policy paper on space for the incoming Reagan administration. The third report was certainly quoted in the Reagan "Star Wars" speech.
He is sometimes quoted as describing his politics as "somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan". Nevertheless, Pournelle opposed the Gulf War and the Iraq War, maintaining that the money would be better spent developing energy technologies for the United States.
Pournelle is also known for his Pournelle chart, a 2-dimensional coordinate system used to distinguish political ideologies that he initially delineated in his dissertation. It is a cartesian diagram in which the X-axis gauges opinion toward state and centralized government (farthest right being state worship, farthest left being the idea of a state as the "ultimate evil"), and the Y-axis measures the belief that all problems in society have rational solutions (top being complete confidence in rational planning, bottom being complete lack of confidence in rational planning).
Pournelle suggested several "laws". His first use of the term "Pournelle's law" appears to be for the expression "one user, one CPU." He has also used "Pournelle's law" to apply to the importance of checking cable connections when diagnosing computer problems. His best-known "law" is "Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy":
In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.
He eventually restated it as:
...in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representatives who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.
This can be compared to the iron law of oligarchy. His blog, "The View from Chaos Manor", often references apparent examples of the law. Some of Pournelle's standard themes that recur in the stories are: welfare states become self-perpetuating, building a technological society requires a strong defense and the rule of law, and "those who forget history are condemned to repeat it."
As noted by James Wheatfield, "Jerry Pournelle delights in setting up complex background situations and plots, leading the reader step by step towards a solution which is the very opposite of politically correct and ... defying a dissenting reader to find where in this logical chain he or she would have acted differently."
Beowulf's Children is a science fiction novel by American writers Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes, first published in 1995. It is a sequel to The Legacy of Heorot. The book was published in the United Kingdom as The Dragons of Heorot in 1995. The novel concerns the actions and fate of the second generation of colonists on the planet Avalon.Burning Tower
Burning Tower is a fantasy novel by American writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. It is a sequel to The Burning City, set some years after that novel concluded. It was published in 2005.Capleville, Tennessee
Capleville was an unincorporated community in Shelby County, Tennessee, United States, just north of the Mississippi border. It is located 0.5 mi. east of the Memphis International Airport, starting 1 mi. west of the intersection of State Routes 176 and 175, and heading east along State Route 175 (Shelby Drive) crossing U.S. Route 78. The area has been incorporated into the City of Memphis and since has become a large industrial center due to its proximity to the airport and Lamar Avenue (U.S. Route 78) which becomes a divided freeway after State Route 175.
Local landmarks include Emerald Park, Fox Meadows Park, McFarland Park, Mooney Park, Walter K Singleton Park and Wilson Park. Although its current buildings were not erected until after 1971, the Capleville Methodist Church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.Capleville is the childhood home of author Jerry Pournelle.Escape from Hell (novel)
Escape from Hell is a fantasy novel written by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. It is a sequel to Inferno, the 1976 book by the same authors. It was released on February 17, 2009.The novel continues the story of deceased science fiction writer Allen Carpenter (who spelled his name "Carpentier" on his novels) in his quest to help other damned souls in Hell. Like the first book, “Escape from Hell” extensively references Dante's Inferno. Jerry Pournelle, one of the book's co-authors, described the book as "Dante meets Vatican II."Fallen Angels (science fiction novel)
Fallen Angels (1991) is a science fiction novel by American science fiction authors Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Michael Flynn published by Jim Baen. The winner of 1992 Prometheus Award, the novel was written as a tribute to science fiction fandom, and includes many of its well-known figures, legends, and practices. It also champions modern technology and heaps scorn upon its critics - budget cutting politicians, fringe environmentalists and the forces of ignorance. An ebook of this text was among the first released by the Baen Free Library.
The novel takes aim at several targets of ridicule: Senator William Proxmire, radical environmentalists and mystics, such as one character who believes that one cannot freeze to death in the snow because ice is a crystal and "crystals are healing." It also mocks ignorance in journalism, which greatly helps the main characters (for example, one "expert" cited in a news article believes that the astronauts must have superhuman strength, based on a photograph of a weightless astronaut easily handling heavy construction equipment) and the non-scientific world in general. Several real people are tuckerized into the book in a more positive light, including many fans who made donations to charity for that express purpose and a character called "RMS" (presumably Richard M. Stallman) who leads a network of hackers called the Legion of Doom, connected by a series of BBS systems.Footfall
Footfall is a 1985 science fiction novel by American writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. The book depicts the arrival of members of an alien species called the Fithp that have traveled to our solar system from Alpha Centauri in a large spacecraft driven by a Bussard ramjet. Their intent is conquest of the planet Earth.Higher Education (novel)
Higher Education is a 1996 science fiction novel by Charles Sheffield and Jerry Pournelle. The book is part of the Jupiter series and was published through Tor Books.Inferno (Niven and Pournelle novel)
Inferno is a fantasy novel written by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, published in 1976. It was nominated for the 1976 Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel.John F. Carr
John Francis Carr (born December 25, 1944) is an American science fiction editor and writer.Larry Niven bibliography
This is a complete bibliography by American science fiction author Larry Niven.Lucifer's Hammer
Lucifer's Hammer is a science fiction post-apocalypse / survival novel by American writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, first published in 1977. It was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1978. A comic book adaptation was published by Innovation Comics in 1993.Oath of Fealty (novel)
Oath of Fealty is a 1981 novel by American writer Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, published originally by Phantasia Press, then by Timescape Books, with numerous reprints. Set in the near future, it involves an arcology, a large inhabited structure, called Todos Santos, which rises above a crime-ridden Los Angeles, California, but has little beyond casual contact with the city. The novel popularized the phrase "think of it as evolution in action," which occurs elsewhere in Niven's books. The novel anticipated the building of the Los Angeles Subway. It was included in David Pringle's book Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels.Playgrounds of the Mind
Playgrounds of the Mind is a collection of short stories by American writer Larry Niven, published in 1991. It is the sequel to N-Space.
Many of the stories are set in Niven's Known Space universe. There are also excerpts from his The Magic Goes Away novel series, as well as several stories from his The Draco Tavern setting (an alien bar) and other sources.The Best of Larry Niven
The Best of Larry Niven is a collection of science fiction and fantasy stories written by Larry Niven and edited by Jonathan Strahan, first published in hardcover by Subterranean Press in December 2010. The pieces were originally published between 1965 and 2000 in the magazines The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, If, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Galaxy Magazine, Knight, Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, Vertex: the Magazine of Science Fiction, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, Omni and Playboy, the anthologies Dangerous Visions, Quark/4, Ten Tomorrows, and What Might Have Been? Volume 1: Alternate Empires, the novel The Magic Goes Away, and the collections All the Myriad Ways and The Flight of the Horse.The book contains twenty-five short stories, novelettes and novellas, one novel, and one essay by the author, together with an introduction by Jerry Pournelle.The Burning City
The Burning City is a fantasy novel of social and political allegory by American writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. It is set in an analogue of Southern California in an imaginary past shortly after the sinking of Atlantis about 14,000 years ago in the twilight of a civilization then struggling and now vanished for lack of a crucial natural, and essentially non-renewable resource upon which almost all of its economy and technology depended. The vanishing resource is not oil but mana, something vital to the technology of magic and the metabolism of the supernatural. As mana becomes scarce gods sleep and finally die, unicorns get smaller and finally turn into hornless ponies, and magic becomes less and less effective and finally vanishes.
The book was published in 2000, and was followed by a sequel, Burning Tower in 2005. It is part of the same timeline as The Magic Goes Away.The Gripping Hand
The Gripping Hand is a science fiction novel by American writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, published in 1993. A sequel to their 1974 work The Mote in God's Eye, The Gripping Hand is, chronologically, the last novel to be set in the CoDominium universe (though in 2010, Pournelle's daughter released an authorized sequel). In the United Kingdom, it was released as The Moat around Murcheson's Eye (sometimes misspelled "The Mote around Murchison's Eye").
The Gripping Hand is set in the year 3042 (twenty-five years after the events of The Mote in God's Eye) and revolves primarily around two characters of the first book, Captain Sir Kevin Renner (ISN, Reserve) and His Excellency Horace Bury, Imperial Trader Magnate. It also resolves many of the conflicts and tension remaining from the preceding novel, but much of the plot cannot be understood without reading The Mote in God's Eye. A crucial plot element of the book is the idiom "on the gripping hand" (OTGH), a three-armed variation of the idiom "on the other hand" similar in meaning to "on the third hand", but with the added sense that the third-mentioned consideration is the most important one. The saying is native to the alien Moties, who have three arms, one of which is stronger but possesses less finesse. The idiom has also gained some use among fans of the book.The Legacy of Heorot
The Legacy of Heorot is a science fiction novel by American writers Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes, first published in 1987. Reproduction and fertility expert Dr Jack Cohen acted as a consultant on the book, designing the novel life cycle of the alien antagonists, the grendels.This is the first book in the Heorot series. It concerns the establishment of the first human colony on Avalon, fourth planet of Tau Ceti.The Mote in God's Eye
The Mote in God's Eye is a science fiction novel by American writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, first published in 1974. The story is set in the distant future of Pournelle's CoDominium universe, and charts the first contact between humanity and an alien species. The title of the novel is a wordplay on the Biblical "The Mote and the Beam" parable and is the nickname of a star. The Mote in God's Eye was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards in 1975.