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Jerry Pournelle

September 18th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Someone who had a big influence on my life has passed away.

“The Mote in God’s Eye.”

Star Wars was in theaters, and everyone was enthralled. The science fiction community tried to fit in with Luke, Han, and the rest, often in vain. Every science fiction commentator had their own list of, “Now that the movie makers have the technology and the movie go’ers have the appetite, these are the science fiction books that should become movies.”

The best seller by Niven and Pournelle appeared in many lists. I had to find out what it was. I devoured the book.

Aha! That was why science fiction fans were happy yet disappointed with Star Wars. That was the example of real science fiction—fiction with science and humanity blended expertly. I wanted more and found it with more by Niven and Pournelle.

A couple of years later, the personal computer revolution was on us. Byte magazine was the monthly chronicle of how much technology changed at a frantic pace. Jerry Pournelle had a long column in every issue. That was the guy who co-wrote those great books. How could one person do all that? And what Jerry wrote every month was maddening. How could a person bungle through all those machines? And why give them names like Lucy and Linus. Those were machines!

Time flowed through my life of marriage, births, deaths, jobs, and changes. The constants were the pace of computer progression and my enjoyment of writing.

The Internet arrived. One day I did a random search about writing professionally and Jerry Pournelle popped up again. He had a long essay published no where but the Internet. “You want my job?” asked Jerry. “Write 10,000, or some unheard of quantity, words as practice.” He went on with excruciating detailed advice that I found to be true in the ensuing years.

And Jerry Pournelle had this daybook thing on the Internet. He wrote and wrote and wrote, and all I had to do was show up online and absorb. He knew politics. He knew warfare. He knew education. He knew history, gosh did he know history. He knew humanity.

From 2006 through this month, I read jerrypournelle.com and Chaos Manor. I finally figured out that, as he said, “he did a lot of foolish things (with home computing) so that I wouldn’t have to.”

Jerry had a brain tumor and lived through radiation treatment. His empty-nester dog died. He went to the opera. He went to writer’s conferences. Apple computers moved from the fringe through the mainstream. Barack Obama was elected. Donald Trump was elected. Bouts of the flu came and went.

Then this last week, his son wrote, “I’m afraid the Jerry passed away.”

It has taken me about a week to put hands to the keyboard and write more words. Perhaps that is my tribute to Jerry Pournelle. I’ll write more words. Maybe one day I can have his job. Maybe no one will ever have his job.

Tags: Communication · Computing · Systems · Teaching · Writing

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