Saturday, September 09, 2017

RIP Jerry Pournelle

J. Lamplighter Wright recalls Jerry Pournelle's last public performance at Dragoncon, where he gave out the Dragon Award for Best Science Fiction novel.
What Mr Pournelle did not tell you is that when he went up to hand out the award, he got a standing ovation. Everyone stood up...even Larry Niven. It wasn't a big crowd, but it was a wonderful moment. I also noticed that, unlike everyone else who seemed to be reading the names, I could have sworn that Pournelle had his list memorized. He recited them smoothly while looking out at the audience.
I'm so pleased to hear that he was publicly celebrated to the very end, as he deserved. My favorite memory of Mr. Pournelle was talking to him after the publication of Riding the Red Horse. At almost the last possible moment, he had agreed to let me use "His Truth Goes Marching On", a story which had appeared in the first volume of There Will Be War, which Riding the Red Horse was consciously designed to imitate. I thought that would be a fitting symbol of the torch being passed from the one series to the next, since I had been unable to obtain the rights to the original anthology series.

Then, at absolutely the last possible moment, I happened to see an article written by him in an old issue of The General, which combined strategy, wargames, and game design. Excited to have discovered it, I shot him an email asking him for permission to republish it, which right he graciously granted. This is the introduction I wrote for it.
Editor's Introduction to:


by Jerry Pournelle

Science fiction's gain was the game industry's loss.

There are few, very few, readers of this anthology who do not know of Jerry Pournelle, the science fiction writer. Nearly everyone has heard of the author of Jannissaries and The Mote in God's Eye, the editor of many anthologies, the techno-savvy Byte columnist, the SFWA president, the Lord of Chaos Manor, even the aphorist who coined the 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.

But there are not very many who know of J.E. Pournelle, Ph.D., wargamer, and particular fan of the classic Avalon Hill game Afrika Korps. In the early 1970s, Jerry was also an occasional contributor to the Avalon Hill house magazine, The General, in which he introduced new rules for Waterloo, conceived an clever device for counter concealment that anticipated Fifth Frontier War's Fleet rules by a decade, and penned an astute article explaining how to draw upon the timeless Principles of War for the purposes of designing better wargames.

Alas, it is a lesson that few designers in the industry have taken to heart. These little-known facts may be reasonably cited as evidence that Dr. Pangloss was wrong, and we do not, in fact, live in the best of all possible worlds. After all, we narrowly missed living in a world where J.E. Pournelle designed Halo: Combat Evolved!
But the best part was yet to come. Not long after the publication of Riding the Red Horse, Jerry called me up and said, "You know, maybe it would be a good idea to revive There Will Be War. Would you have any interest in bringing that back into print?"

I did my best to remain calm, refrained from mentioning that obtaining the rights to publish There Will Be War had always been my original desire, and informed him that we would be extremely pleased to do so. I am very sorry that we were unable to get the last two original volumes, Vols VII and VIII, out before his death, but they will be released later this month, and at least Jerry was able to see his flagship anthology fully revived with Volume X last year. As I said before, working with him was both an honor and a privilege.

Please feel free to post your remembrances of Dr. Pournelle and his work here. Beginning tomorrow, Castalia House will honor Jerry Pournelle by making the first volume in his classic military science fiction anthology, There Will Be War Vol. I  a free download on Amazon for three days. Also, Chaos Manor has set up a Well-Wishing Page in case you wish to offer the Pournelle family your condolences.

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Blogger wreckage September 09, 2017 10:00 AM  

I just remember "The Mote in God's Eye", and then for years I didn't read much Scifi. It was only after the Castalia House blog brought both Castalia House and indie authors to my attention that I returned to the genre in a big way, and only in the last month or so that I started into short stories again.

I am sad that he's gone, and especially so that the There Will Be War was still on my "to read, but not yet" list when I heard of his passing.

Blogger wired216 September 09, 2017 10:02 AM  

Godspeed to a great mind. You will not be forgotten.

Anonymous Causal Lurker September 09, 2017 10:03 AM  

I was privileged to meet Dr. Pournelle and Larry Niven at Balticon, some years back. They were amused that my question was about which one was responsible for the reference to Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" in the middle of "Footfall" (Niven) - "at last my digits are whole again.
What does that mean?" Silly aliens, don't you know it's better to surrender first, if you're not sure to kill all the monkeys at the first pass? I was fascinated by his biographical recap in another session, and finally grasped the true meaning of his attachment to the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. Wisdom was needed to couple with that knowledge - truly vital observation and lesson.

A long-time fan of his writing to include "Strategy of Technology" and TWBW series, I applied many of his overt and implicit ideas into my professional work. I gained opponents but made better analysis and products. Even found ways to work Kipling quotes and ideas into unlikely tech places, because The Gods of the Copybook Headings have your name on their list.

Thank you, sir. We lesser lights can only learn and apply to best best of our abilities, and pass on the lore to our successors with all respect and love.

Blogger AdognamedOp September 09, 2017 10:05 AM  

I had no idea who Pournelle was until I saw references to "Lucifers Hammer"here. And then I recall my ole man reading that book on the recliner and handing it off to me back in my early teens. "Here,Read this". It was good. It was post apocolyptic shit before that shit was even a thing. RIP JP. That's all I know

Blogger Mr.MantraMan September 09, 2017 10:13 AM  

"LH" for the win.

Anonymous Stickwick September 09, 2017 10:20 AM  

Dr. Pournelle's passing is a tremendous loss to the SF community.

It's consoling that his last days were marked by his honored participation at Dragoncon and that the manner of his passing was so peaceful. He was bright, sharp, and active to the last moment, and will be remembered that way.


Anonymous Kyle Kiernan September 09, 2017 10:22 AM  

My favorite concept from him was the Pournelle axis which taught me that most political commentary was blind to at least one dimension of the conflicting viewpoints and worthless to watch the news and debate because no one actually discussing the actual reality.
Ironically, just last week I noticed an article on one of my wifes Enquirer tabloids on N. Korea including mention of Dr. Pournelle and his Thor concept system, suggesting this was in orbit and usable on Korea. We should just in memory of his life.

Blogger M. Bibliophile September 09, 2017 10:56 AM  

I never met the man, but I grew up one county over. He and Larry Niven were my favorite SF authors growing up; I must have read Mote five or six times in High School and even did a book report on it one year. After I enlisted, I discovered his standalone stuff: West of Honor remains one of my favorites and dear to me for helping succinctly answer the question of what is the difference between commissioned and noncommissioned officers (what v. how). When I left active duty and joined the Guard, I would introduce his work to friends by mentioning that he had been a Redleg too and writes some really fine stuff.

One thing I remember about Chaos Manor was his perpetual reminder to "remember, despair is a sin," no matter how bad things got in the world. I regret that I didn't read more of his work, especially There Will Be War, until recently, but he is one of the men I look forward to meeting once it's my turn to join the boys on Fiddler's Green. In the meanwhile, I think I'll read the Falkenberg series again and remind myself that however crappy the world looks, despair is a sin, so quit moping and go do something!

Blogger Silly but True September 09, 2017 10:57 AM  

RIP Jerry Pournelle. My brother and I were introduced to his works through our dad.

America lost a national hero. Much more than a sci fi writer, his contributions to our culture and security will never be matched.

Blogger Cataline Sergius September 09, 2017 10:57 AM  

Reading between the lines, it was Con-Crud that finally got the old fellow, probably combined with a preexisting condition.

In a lot ways Jerry Pournelle was an improved version of Robert Heinlein. Doctor Pournelle was frankly a more developed thinker and he didn't have a later period that needed to be swept under the carpet.

I think what is most impressive is the breadth of his work. Lucifer's Hammer was a political science novel that put Alas Babylon in bargain bin. The Mote in God's Eye was high epic science fiction. The Children's Hour was low space opera but thoroughly enjoyable regardless. The Spartan's series was the best military science fiction in it's day and good how to manual on fighting a politically driven insurgency (*as opposed to a religious one which I don't think he ever got around to doing.*). The Heorot books are some of the best developed hard science fiction that I've ever read.

It says something about the man that when he passed, yesterday my gut reaction was, "such a shame. He was only 84."

Anonymous Brick Hardslab September 09, 2017 11:36 AM  

He was a great man and author. We occasionally exchanged emails and whether we agreed or not he was always polite and reasoned and a gentleman.

Anonymous Monica September 09, 2017 12:02 PM  

A great author he was! May his memory be a blessing.

Blogger Quadko September 09, 2017 12:42 PM  

Peace and mercy to his soul, and comfort for those who love him.

Another hero has fallen, may he be greatly rewarded.

Anonymous Russell Newquist September 09, 2017 1:01 PM  

Dr. Pournelle gave me my first break of any kind in the writing biz by choosing to reprint one of my stories in "There Will Be War: Volume X."

I never met him in person, but he did influence my career in one other notable way. When TWBWX came out, he politely asked me, via Vox, to change my picture on Amazon. He didn't like that I'd used a martial arts photo of myself for an author's photo.

While I didn't actually agree with him, when a scifi grandmaster who just published your first story asks you to change your headshot, you say yes.

Blogger will stroock September 09, 2017 1:16 PM  

I loved Janissaries, Falkenburg's Legion and Footfall.

Anonymous DJF September 09, 2017 1:16 PM  

One of the things that Mr Pournelle advocated was X programs. That is actual experiments to see what worked and what didn’t. He supported the DC-X which was a low cost experiment to see if SSTO could be accomplished though he wanted more units since X craft were suppose to fail on occasion . Instead of some grand program with massive costs it used off the shelf parts to get off the ground.

The competitor which took over was the LM X-33 which was one of those grand programs with the everything worked out on paper but had major unknowns so that they had to develop new tech at the same time as they were building it. The new tech did not work out so the whole project failed and never left the hanger

Blogger Ken Prescott September 09, 2017 1:27 PM  

Dr. Pournelle's works helped me make the transition from stupid-a$$ teenager to slightly less stupid-a$$ young man to a (hopefully) intelligent mature adult.

Blogger Jon D. September 09, 2017 1:48 PM  

Great man and great writer. Will be missed.

Anonymous Quartermaster September 09, 2017 1:59 PM  

I exchanged a number of emails with him in the earlier days of his blog. It was enjoyable and many times wished that I could have met him. I am poorer for not having been so privileged.

Blogger Lovekraft September 09, 2017 2:50 PM  

It's time I cracked open "Footfall" by Pournelle and Niven.

Blogger DonReynolds September 09, 2017 3:29 PM  

I was never keen on the Avalon Hill game "Afrika Korps". It was much too confining, but I did play Blitzkreig for days at a time, with much the same group of war gamers from the late 60s until the mid 80s. Most of the group gradually drifted into Dungeons and Dragons, which did not appeal to me.

Anonymous Hammerman September 09, 2017 4:14 PM  

I loved Janissaries. We lost one of the best of the old guard.

Blogger Cataline Sergius September 09, 2017 4:43 PM  

Footfall is one of the few books of his that I found questionable and it wasn't because of the way it was written. It was because the cover was a massive spoiler.

It pretty much gave away half the book. Even Michael Whelan hated it and he was the guy that did it.

Blogger Southern Man September 09, 2017 4:58 PM  

Why do they write that "even Larry Niven" stood? Is there bad blood there? What gives?

Blogger michaeloh59 September 09, 2017 7:11 PM  

My comment at unz:
Perhaps 7-8 years ago I commented on Jerry’s blog, criticizing a silly Israel First rant posted by one of Jerry’s friends. He responded that he got lots of that sort of commentary and defended his friend’s rant. He added that he didn’t normally post such nonsense as mine, but he thought it best to make an example of me. He concluded with the observation that he did not include my name even though I had included it, which I took to be a rather gentlemanly put down. But that was OK- after all nobody else got the personal attention of Jerry Pournelle that day!

Blogger Eskyman September 09, 2017 7:29 PM  

I'll miss him greatly. He combined hard science with wonderful flights of fancy, and he was an actual "rocket scientist."

Recently I re-read Lucifer's Hammer for the umpteenth time, and was planning to re-read Footfall; then Vox went & disrupted my plan by giving away Throne of Bones, which I'm enjoying greatly right now.

When I finish that (already I can tell that it has one great fault: it isn't long enough) then perhaps I'll get back to Footfall.

I do hope that the book Dr. Pournelle was working on with Larry Niven gets finished- but I'm sad that he couldn't have finished it himself. I'll sure miss him.

Rest in peace, Dr. Jerry Pournelle: a giant among men has left us.

Blogger VD September 09, 2017 7:39 PM  

Why do they write that "even Larry Niven" stood? Is there bad blood there? What gives?

Larry Niven was his frequent writing partner. He might have been expected not to stand, as to a certain extent, celebrating Pournelle is celebrating him. But he stood to make it clear that they were all celebrating Jerry Pournelle, the man, not the writer or his books.

Blogger Stephen St. Onge September 09, 2017 8:15 PM  

        I first met Jerry when he was a speaker at the first "Future of Freedom" conference.  Later, I saw him frequently at the Los Angeles Scientifiction Society, and frequently e-mailed him till about twelve years ago.  Quite a few of my letters were posted on his website.  We argued from time to time, but looking back, he was almost always right.

        One thing I'll mention that others haven't: his wacky sense of humor.  I remember him, me and others sharing lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Airplane!   A discussion of "The Waitabits", by Eric Frank Russell, and his quotation of the last line, with relish: "Yuck!"  Him and Larry at a con, probably Worldcon, wearing matching buttons that read "Not Larry Pournelle" and "Not Jerry Niven."  Me asking him to sign a book, and him personalizing it "To Peasant Scum" (I was wearing a name tag with that on it.  And finally, a night when the LASFS was debating whether to adopt a resolution affirming "Yvingi is a louse!"  One person tried to defend Yvingi by saying the meeting wasn't even a kangaroo court.  Jerry, beer in hand and small smile on his face, promptly refuted that argument by hopping down the center aisle, proving we were a kangaroo court.  IIRC, the motion passed.

        I once told him, back in the 1980s, that I was surprised he'd never received a Hugo nomination as best editor, since I thought he was clearly one of the best.  He was that, a great writer, a great strategist, and an influential man.  I'll miss him, but I treasure my memories of him.

Blogger Thucydides September 09, 2017 8:17 PM  

I'll do my best to remember and implement his two best pieces of advice:

Despair is a mortal sin

Bending metal is better than paper studies (paraphrase of his extended observations on the X plane program(s))


Blogger rycamor September 09, 2017 8:36 PM  

"Mote in God's Eye" was a revolutionary thing to me about what science fiction could be, to really get inside the mind of an alien culture. That got me reading "Lucifer's Hammer" and "Footfall", but I have to admit that was about the time (late 90s) when I gave up on science fiction for a decade, and never picked up on Pournelle again, other than to read his blog now and then. What would you all recommend for his other best hard sci-fi, and his best nonfiction?

Blogger Wombat Rampant September 09, 2017 10:27 PM  

Is there a chance Castalia House or Baen will do a tribute anthology for Dr. Pournelle? I was pleased to see Baen do one for David Drake, but disappointed that they didn't do one for Pournelle.

Blogger Revelation Means Hope September 10, 2017 12:11 AM  

I just re-read Mote in God's Eye last week, and was amazed anew by how tightly crafted his stories were, blending culture, backstory, plot, and characterization superbly.

It is a good ending to die peacefully in your sleep at the end of a truly impactful life.

Blogger tz September 10, 2017 12:34 AM  

I remember him less for his fiction than for his Chaos Manor column in Byte Magazine and his online forum at BIX, the Byte Information eXchange, which was a BBS that was what we had before the internet.

That said, one of the last greats from that era has passed, who was far more a gentleman and great mind.

Worse, we have descended to the point where we cannot even stand on the shoulders of such giants. We are too weak to climb even if we would put forth the effort. Is there any great classical literature from after Rome was deeply into its dotage?

Each Generation's duty is to pass the baton to the next. The first evil is to not pass the baton. The far worse evil is not to grab it and run with it but do our own thing assuming we don't need their help and can do it better.

Anonymous Mr. Rational September 10, 2017 12:58 AM  

Stickwick wrote:Dr. Pournelle's passing is a tremendous loss to the SF community.
I note that we are mostly remarking on contributions decades in the past.  He was a giant, but had long since contributed almost everything he had in him.  Thus it is with all intellectual giants who live long enough.

While I subscribed to Byte, I always read the Chaos Manor column.  It has been a very long time since Byte was worth reading.

It's consoling that his last days were marked by his honored participation at Dragoncon and that the manner of his passing was so peaceful.
It was at Dragoncon where he caught the illnesses which killed him ("Con crud").  In short, he gave what remained of his life to have one more round with his fans.  No one should begrudge him this, but someone of such fragile health should be cognizant of what they are doing.

I have had one-on-ones with David Gerrold, Alexis Gilliland, and others.  I've lent my own laser pointer to Robert Zubrin.  I regret that I never had one with Dr. Pournelle, and now I never shall.  His works occupy positions of honor on my bookshelves.  That is all I have of him.

It is enough, because it has to be.

Anonymous Mr. Rational September 10, 2017 1:17 AM  

Lovekraft wrote:It's time I cracked open "Footfall" by Pournelle and Niven.
Seriously, don't.  It's a cheap crossover of "The Mote In God's Eye" and "Lucifer's Hammer".  They were phoning it in.

Hammerman wrote:We lost one of the best of the old guard.
We do not recognize our new giants until they have already demonstrated their stature.

tz wrote:we have descended to the point where we cannot even stand on the shoulders of such giants. We are too weak to climb even if we would put forth the effort.
What you mean "we", paleface?

People exist to write such works.  They will succeed if they have readers.  What have you done to encourage those who can write them?  Do your part, and they will do theirs.

But by all means do not accept mediocrity.  "The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water." — John W. Gardner

Blogger SirGroggy September 10, 2017 1:26 AM  

He was a good man.

Anonymous Quartermaster September 10, 2017 7:23 PM  

You beat me to it. It's shameful that he was disrespected at his last SFFWA convention. Dr. Pournelle was not celebrated enough during his life.

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