Home Technology News Jerry Pournelle, Science Fiction Novelist and Computer Guide, Dies at 84

Jerry Pournelle, Science Fiction Novelist and Computer Guide, Dies at 84


Jerry Pournelle, a prolific writer of science fiction novels and witty guidance columns for pc users, died on Sept. 8 at his residence in Los Angeles. He was 84.

The cause was heart failure, his son Phillip mentioned. Dr. Pournelle had just returned from Dragon Con, the annual convention in Atlanta for fans of science fiction, fantasy and other genres. In his final blog post, written the day just before his death, he talked about obtaining contracted a cold and flu on the trip.

Dr. Pournelle, whose several degrees included a Ph.D. in political science, worked in the aerospace business for years and advised the federal government on military matters and space exploration. But science fiction fans knew him as the author of novels like “Janissaries” (1979), about soldiers abducted by space aliens, and “Starswarm” (1998), about a boy becoming raised on a remote planet by an uncle and a pc system named Gwen, which his dead mother had left behind.

Dr. Pournelle also wrote quite a few books with other authors. Larry Niven was a preferred collaborator. Their performs integrated “The Mote in God’s Eye” (1975), an outer-space saga “Lucifer’s Hammer” (1977), about humanity’s try to regroup soon after a cataclysm “Inferno” (1976) and “Escape From Hell” (2009), associated stories inspired by the hell envisioned by Dante and “Footfall,” which created it to the prime of The New York Times’s paperback greatest-seller list in Might 1986.

Dr. Pournelle was also known to several through lively columns for Byte magazine in which, beginning early in the home-computing age, he talked about individual computers and the computer software for them. Significantly of any given column was about his personal experiences at “Chaos Manor” — his name for his home, and for the column — trying out new application items and wrestling with bugs, glitches and viruses.

He named some of his computers — Zeke and Bette amongst them — and his columns, although effectively informed, had been filled with humor and a dash of snark. In a single, intended for the August 1998 issue of Byte (the magazine ceased print publication the month just before, so Dr. Pournelle posted it on his website alternatively), he complained that Bill Gates’s Microsoft was no longer bothering to fix flaws in Windows 95 due to the fact it wanted clients to purchase Windows 98.

“Probably it is just tough to get vibrant young folks to perform on tedious stuff like fixing bugs when they can be adding new features and bringing in a lot more sales,” he wrote. “Probably Gates is no longer truly in control of his organization, and people do what they want to do, and no one particular desires to repair bugs.”

He applied that exact same curmudgeonly tone to his endless blog posts on politics, public concerns, motion pictures, science, technologies and virtually any other topic imaginable.

Jerry Eugene Pournelle was born on Aug. 7, 1933, in Shreveport, La. His father, Percival, was a radio marketing executive and later general manager of many stations. His mother, Ruth, was a teacher and worked in a munitions factory throughout Planet War II.

When Dr. Pournelle was a boy the family moved to rural Tennessee, where the college he attended was small, to say the least.

“We had two grades to a space and four teachers for the whole eighth-grade school system,” he recalled in a 2013 interview.

But he supplemented the schoolhouse learning by reading the family Encyclopaedia Britannica. Dr. Pournelle, taking benefit of the G.I. Bill following serving in the Army in the course of the Korean War, would ultimately acquire numerous degrees from the University of Washington.

He spent years functioning in the aerospace business, such as at Boeing, on projects which includes studying heat tolerance for astronauts and their spacesuits. This side of his profession also identified him operating on projections associated to military tactics and probabilities. 1 report in which he had a hand became a basis for the Strategic Defense Initiative, the missile defense program proposed by President Ronald Reagan. A study he edited in 1964 involved projecting Air Force missile technologies requirements for 1975.

“I when told Mr. Heinlein” — the science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, an early mentor — “that after I got into advance plans at Boeing I probably wrote far more science fiction than he did, and I didn’t have to put characters in mine,” Dr. Pournelle recalled in February in an interview with the podcaster Hank Garner.

His knowledge at projecting the future was also evident in his novels.

“The iPhone is a pocket pc,” he once noted, “and we had pocket computers in ‘Mote in God’s Eye’ in 1972.”

Dr. Pournelle’s 1st novel, “Red Heroin,” appeared in 1969 under the pen name Wade Curtis. The books kept coming at a steady pace for the next 40 years.

Dr. Pournelle was an early adopter of private computing. In 2011, when The Instances published an write-up about an English professor, Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, who was hunting for the 1st writer to have written a novel on a word processor, Dr. Pournelle argued that he deserved those bragging rights for the 1981 book “Oath of Fealty,” which he wrote with Mr. Niven.

The year ahead of that book came out, he started writing his Byte column, which he continued in an on-line version of the magazine soon after the print edition ended in 1998, and then on his own site.

Dr. Pournelle would often tell would-be writers searching for guidance that the key to becoming an author was to create — a lot.

“And finish what you create,” he added in a 2003 interview. “Don’t join a writers’ club and sit around possessing coffee reading pieces of your manuscript to folks. Create it. Finish it.”

He definitely wrote, and completed, fairly a bit himself. His Byte columns had been on the lengthy side, and his frequent blog posts had been, too. There seemed to be practically nothing Dr. Pournelle was not willing to hold forth about, his views normally conservative with a touch of the libertarian. (He wrote the preface for his pal Newt Gingrich’s book “Window of Chance,” published in 1984.)

In addition to his son Phillip, Dr. Pournelle is survived by his wife, the former Roberta Jane Isdell, whom he married in 1959 a daughter, Jennifer Pournelle three other sons, Alex, Frank and Richard and four grandchildren.

Although Dr. Pournelle wore many hats, he had a license plate that focused on the storytelling side, Phillip Pournelle stated it read, SCIBARD.

In the 2003 interview, Dr. Pournelle mused about the art of the science fiction writer.

“As far as I’m concerned,” he stated, “we are not any various from the old storytellers, the old bards back in Bronze Age time who would go from campfire to campfire, and they’d see a warrior sitting there and say, ‘You fill my cup up with that wine you have got there and chop me a piece of that boar you are roasting and I’ll tell you a story about a virgin and a bull that you just wouldn’t think!’ ”

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