Jerry Pournelle, RIP

10 Sep

Jerry Pournelle was one of the true greats of SF.


I do not think that can be denied. We live in an age where we argue over what is and what isn’t science-fiction, with arguments over how many elements from other genres can be introduced before a book loses its SF sheen. And yet, Jerry Pournelle was definitely one of the greats, a man who helped shape the ‘hard SF’ genre in many – many – ways.

I never met him. I wish I had, before his untimely death. Pournelle was an influence on my writing, one of the writers who introduced me to hundreds of concepts and technologies that would inform my own work. And he was also instrumental in shaping my attitude to progress and the enemies of progress, the enemies of humanity itself. For this, I will be forever grateful.

Pournelle had no time for the belief that technology was evil. He believed, firmly, that technology solved problems. His books were true SF in the sense that they celebrated the greatness of the human spirit and a ‘can-do’ attitude to advancing forward, rather than mourning a mythical past and advocating a return to the soil. Pournelle’s characters faced problems and overcame them through imaginative use of technology and science, as well as a willingness to think outside the box.

He taught his readers about both the wonders waiting for us – in space – and about those who would drag us down. He had no hesitation in painting both bureaucrats and social engineers – the term Social Justice Warriors didn’t enter the mainstream until later – as unrelenting enemies, men and women who prefer to tie us down rather than let us reach for the stars. He had a jaded attitude towards modern-day law enforcement, recognising its flaws as well as its unquestioned advantages; he understood the dangers of relying too much on a government that literally could not handle all of its responsibilities. He understood, all too well, that the nihilism that infests so much of our society was – is – something that had to be fought.

He also understood, in a way that many modern-day writers and politicians fail to grasp, that there are no perfect solutions. A military vet himself, Pournelle understood the realities and limitations of modern war – and, perhaps more importantly, knew that history never really ends. Civilisation has to be defended. Victory comes at a price, one that has to be paid; defeat comes with a steeper price, one that cannot not be paid if one loses. He also understood the importance of grasping the nettle and making changes, sometimes, when it is clear that events are moving out of control. The Higher Education Bubble, among others, bears mute witness to the refusal of politicians to realise that there is a problem and deal with it. But they know that any substantial movement to fix the problem will cost votes …

It didn’t take long for his detractors to come out of the woodwork and accuse Pournelle of racism. I don’t believe he was, not in the conventional sense. His work praised and promoted those who work to better themselves and reach for the stars, while slamming those who preferred to wallow in squalor. Those who upheld civilisation, in ways big and small, were his heroes, from the street kid who moves into space to the millionaire who devised his own society. ‘God helps those who help themselves’ could easily have been his motto.

As a writer, Pournelle expanded our minds; as a social commenter, he helped us understand the problems facing the human race. He codified the ‘Iron Law of Bureaucracy’ and the political axis, taught us about the ‘Voodoo Sciences,’ doing all three in a manner designed to teach rather than confuse. He understood and helped others to understand too. There is no greater praise that I can offer.

The SF community owes a great deal to Jerry Pournelle. And his passing marks the end of an era.

Rest In Peace.


4 Responses to “Jerry Pournelle, RIP”

  1. Ryan September 10, 2017 at 7:16 am #

    I am truly sorry to hear that Jerry Pournelle has died. He was a great author. He co-authored one of my favorite books of all time, “Fallen Angels” Larry Niven & Micheal Flynn were the other two authors. I would recommend everyone to read it who believes in real science, and not feel good pseudo-science.

  2. David Graf September 11, 2017 at 1:04 am #

    I didn’t even know he had died. What a loss!

  3. Eric September 12, 2017 at 12:27 am #

    Pournelle Base lives on!

  4. georgephillies September 12, 2017 at 2:49 am #

    Sad news indeed. George

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