Jerry Pournelle Rip

Wherein I grieve the loss

I was in grad school with hardly enough time to get homework done when I engaged my favorite vice. I walked into a bookstore. In the SF section I didn’t see anything by my favorites, Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, etc. and looked through titles by guys I’d never heard of.

Exiles to Glory. Cool cover. Never heard of the author. I had neither money or time to read recreationally. The blurb was enticing, so I bought the book.

That was my first taste of Jerry Pournelle’s prose. It was my first real exposure to straight-up Libertarian SF and its unsubtle critique of nanny-state collectivism as practised by Washington politicians of both parties. This was not the same SF I had grown accustomed to. And I liked it.

I liked it a lot. And I soon returned to the bookstore and started scouring the shelves for anything/everything written by Jerry Pournelle. Then I discovered his collaborations with Larry Niven. And wondered–not to hard–who wrote the battle scenes and who wrote the sex scenes. Holy cow. Maybe I could have studied more in grad school, but I wouldn’t have remembered it as well as JP’s prose.

Oh, and I had another vice in addition to reading. It was micro-computers. You see, some fellas out west had started wiring up circuit boards to Intel 8080 chips and a few thousand bytes-worth of memory. You could use them to do stuff like play “pong” on your TV.

To satisfy this second vice I bought computer magazines, some Creative Computing, some Doctor Dobb’s, but mainly Byte magazine. At one time I had 20 years worth of Byte back-issues in my basement. The earliest of which were stained with drool over S-100 systems.

Each month I’d get my issue of Byte magazine and the first thing I’d turn to was my favorite column: Chaos Manor. Jerry Pournelle wrote SF and this column. He was annoying as heck. Someone would send him a few thousand dollars’ worth of gear, he’d play with it, then write reviews.

After grad school I was living in a tiny apartment near Washington DC, and I’d dream of living a life of fame and fortune. Not in Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion, but in Jerry Pournelle’s Chaos Manor. Hef didn’t have it made, Mr. Pournelle did.

Years have gone by and I let my Byte subscription lapse, and Mr. Pournelle quit writing for them anyhow. There’s this thing called the Internet that works a lot better than bookstores and magazine subscriptions. I never really got into reading his blog. I think he locked into a blogging platform too soon. And he wasn’t getting paid for the blog, so why not focus on paying prose instead.

I wonders how many more SF stories he’d have written if he’d never gotten the Byte gig? For sure the Jannissaries series wouldn’t have been left dangling so long.

There’s a story about a prophet taken from this planet by a Chariot of Fire. When he was gone his mantle was left lying on the ground. His assistant picked up this mantle and carried on there.

Who will pick up Jerry Pournelle’s mantle?

I want to buy his books.

Steve Poling

Masters degrees in math and computer science. Poet in several computer languages. I write stories about Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft, steampunk, and SF.

Grand Rapids, Michigan