back to article Sci-Fi titan Jerry Pournelle passes,
aged 84

One of the giants of “New Wave” hard science fiction, Jerry Pournelle, has died aged 84. His son made the announcement in a simple post at Pournelle's Chaos Manor blog on September 8, saying: "I'm afraid that Jerry's passed away. We had a great time at DragonCon. He did not suffer." As collaborator with Larry Niven, …

  1. big_D Silver badge

    RIP Jerry.

    I loved his Mote novels.

    1. Arctic fox

      "I loved his Mote novels."

      Me too. His cooperation with Larry Niven produced some of the finest science fiction writing of their generation.

      1. Gommster

        Re: "I loved his Mote novels."

        time to re-read Footfall

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I loved his Mote novels.

      His Byte columns were interesting too. He was simply an all out excellent writer. RIP.

      1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
        Alien

        @AC

        You're showing your age.

        I remember having a collection of all of the BYTE magazines from the first edition. In 1997, I donated them to my local library only to have them throw them out... :-(

        But I digress.

        Yeah, he was a good writer and I loved his work with Niven. (Definitely two of the best writers of all times.)

        These days 84 is still young.

        RIP

        1. Barry Mahon

          Re: @AC

          I still have, somewhere, a collection of Byte + Jeerry on CD. A blast from my past, but his descriptions of adding and installing new hard and software at Chaos Manor were inspirational to me and many others, I suspect. A legend, not a word I use lightly, bye and thanks for the fun Jerry.

          Barry

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "These days 84 is still young."

          Sadly his liver was rather older.

          I met him a few times and got into a mild argument with him over the US behavior to Britain on post WWII nuclear technology (he was right. Most of the correspondence had been mis filed, greatly under valuing the UK contribution).

          He wasn't the first (or last) journalist / writer who liked a drink or five.

          His description of the NASA (who he'd worked for) 'naut corps as "The biggest bunch of pampered bastards I've ever met" still gives me the LOL's. Space launch is very stressful, life in space is very stressful. Why (to his mind) would a man in late middle age seem like the ideal candidate for this?

          Another part of my past has died. My condolences to his Widow (who by all accounts was a rock) and children. Also his writing partners over the years (Niven and Barnes from the Dream Park series come to mind).

          RIP Jerry. I don't know if (as you claimed) you and Larry Niven won the Cold War by encouraging SDI and driving the FSU into near bankruptcy, but you surely helped get the DC-X project running, and that was about as close the US has ever gotten to SSTO to date.

          Anon, because I'm not Jake.

  2. Peter 18

    "Pournelle also exemplified what looks today like a sadly-bygone era, before even the facts of science became beholden to political alignment. A self-described political right-winger with a long association with Newt Gingrich, Pournelle's scientific judgement was unclouded."

    He was a great communicator, but it's sad his understanding of climate change was so poor.

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      "It's a shame his understanding of climate change was so clueless."
      Unlike you, Jerry investigated and made his own mind up rather than believing what the politicians tell us.

      1. Peter 18

        Oh look, the Daily Mail reader has arrived,

        https://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/climate-change-and-eternal-youth/

        Here's Jerry, approvingly quoting the Heartland Institute, famous for their support of Philip Morris and working against tobacco bans. Now run along and have another 20 Rothmans.

        1. Diogenes

          Peter,

          And Democrats foounded and supported the KKK until the 70s , so your point is what exactly ?

        2. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
          Boffin

          @Peter 18

          The irony is that its not the nicotine or tobacco that is killing you but how you ingest it.

          Apparently Vaping is healthier than smoking. (Yes, actually there are reports that suggest this... )

          There is also evidence that its next to impossible to quit smoking. Most products that exist to help you... fail or have a lousy success rate.

          But I digress.

          The point is that he made up his own mind and wasn't afraid to speak it (I agree with an earlier post).

          1. Uffish

            Re: "There is also evidence that its next to impossible to quit smoking".

            I think you were just trolling for fun and comments, but if you were not - your comments are meaningless. Back when I was a school kid and wrote with a fountain pen we were told that nicotine was why you smoked and smoke/tar was why you died.

            I only know Jerry Pournelle from his delightful Byte column. He was obviously a great guy but I never felt like reading his novels, though he plugged them hard enough in the column.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Making up your own mind.

        Because that's how science works folks!

        Facepalm

        1. Pompous Git Silver badge

          "Making up your own mind.

          Because that's how science works folks!"

          Some of us have a distinct antipathy to Lysenkoism.

          1. Stripes the Dalmatian

            "Some of us have a distinct antipathy to Lysenkoism"

            You just don't, though - that's the problem!

            1. Pompous Git Silver badge

              "You just don't, though - that's the problem!"
              And your evidence is?

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Flying in the face of Consensus

            Science is BUILT on error-correction. When any idea is treated as a Holy Writ That Must Not Be Questioned, the error-correction stops. Refusing to consider alternate hypotheses is purely an attempt to shut down opposition. That's a POLITICAL tactic, not scientific! Some pretty crazy sounding ideas have held up under scrutiny and made the mockers look silly indeed.

            Here's a recent one. Mary Schweitzer (a Young Earth Creationist originally) announced that she had found soft tissues conserved in dinosaur fossils. The Establishment laughed and mocked her because EVERYONE KNOWS soft tissue can't survive 65 million years! That's just Crazy Talk! Except... she really did find them, and eventually proved it against massive resistance. She had to change protocol and republish three or four times before her critics were satisfied. Her work has been replicated and expanded into other techniques, and she's got a PhD now.

            So according to you folks, Mary should have accepted the mockery and disbelief and stopped pursuing that unpopular hypothesis. Because Everyone Knows She's Wrong, the weakest evidence ever. The true scientists among us are very glad that she kept on in the face of this short-sighted resistance.

        2. Gordon JC Pearce

          Correct. That's *exactly* how science works. You don't take my word for it - you take my experimental method, try it for yourself, and make up your own mind. If you get a different result from me, one of us is wrong.

          It's really quite simple.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Science provides facts, you decide.

          Actually, that's the way science _is supposed to work_.

          At least to anyone who understands the question.

          When you have politicians, like IPCC, pushing one and only truth to you, you can bet it's not science. That has never happened and doesn't happen now.

          Note that I'm not denying warming, that's easy to measure, but correlation with CO2 is a hairy item and causation? No proof of that.

          Especially when solar output just "happened" to raise 2% at the same time. A fact, which IPCC claimed has no effect to climate. It just "happened" to warm every other planet by said 2%. Says the astronomers.

          2% in Kelvins is about 6C: Then it's Occam's razor: Simple thermodynamics or politicians?

          You decide.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Science provides facts, you decide.

            The sun's output has risen 2%? Have the neutrinos mutated?

            The sunspot cycle changes the solar output by 0.1 % but if a main sequence star rises by 2% in a few years it's time to leave the neighbourhood

            1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

              @ Yet another anon coward... Re: Science provides facts, you decide.

              Sorry, that's the wrong author.

              You're thinking of Larry Niven and his Puppeteers. ;-)

              There's more, but I don't think you'd get the gist of the discussion.

          2. davenewman

            Re: Science provides facts, you decide.

            The IPCC is tens of thousands of scientists, not politicians. They work on investigating different aspects of the problem, then a group of a few hundred synthesise the research into a range of models. 97% of scientists agree with the consensus coming out of that meta-analysis. There is rational disagreement about what to do to mitigate the effects of climate change. But it is no longer rational to dispute the greenhouse effect (as any gardener would tell you) or that it is the direct and indirect consequences of human activity that is the overwhelming contributor to the accumulation of CO2 and CH4 in the atmosphere.

            When Jerry Pournelle wrote about it, the science was less clear cut. In 2017 it is as close to a certainty that science gets. And in some of his novels, terraforming relied on creating an atmosphere to retain heat.

            1. strum Silver badge

              Re: Science provides facts, you decide.

              >The IPCC is tens of thousands of scientists, not politicians.

              It's both. That's why the IPCC reports have been so conservative; having to convince a bunch of American & Saudi pols to agree on publication.

            2. Pompous Git Silver badge

              Re: Science provides facts, you decide.

              "The IPCC is tens of thousands of scientists, not politicians."
              This is manifestly untrue. IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri claims 2,500. Dr Mike Hulme: "Claims such as '2,500 of the world's leading scientists have reached a consensus that human activities are having a significant influence on the climate' are disingenuous ... The actual number of scientists who backed that claim was only a few dozen."

              "it is no longer rational to dispute the greenhouse effect (as any gardener would tell you) or that it is the direct and indirect consequences of human activity that is the overwhelming contributor to the accumulation of CO2 and CH4 in the atmosphere."
              You conflate two very different processes here. The greenhouse in the garden works by inhibiting convection. "Carbon pollution" does not inhibit convection.

              "When Jerry Pournelle wrote about it, the science was less clear cut."
              Warmists regularly invoke Svante Arrhenius' (19 February 1859 – 2 October 1927) and his erroneous explanation of how greenhouses work in support of their case. I make no doubt that none of them have ever read what Arrhenius wrote:

              "We often hear lamentations that the coal stored up in the earth is wasted by the present generation without any thought of the future, and we are terrified by the awful destruction of life and property which has followed the volcanic eruptions of our days. We may find a kind of consolation in the consideration that here, as in every other case, there is good mixed with the evil. By the influence of the increasing percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere, we may hope to enjoy ages with more equable and better climates, especially as regards the colder regions of the earth, ages when the earth will bring forth much more abundant crops than at present, for the benefit of rapidly propagating mankind."
              [Emphasis mine]

              Worlds in the making: the evolution of the universe 1908, p63.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes, and poor Jerry will remain unshriven by the Church of Global Warming forever. Don't think that will count too much against him tho.

      BTW Peter, take your trolling elsewhere. You obviously aren't fit to kiss Jerry's corns.

      1. Peter 18
    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      A pity you can't skip the politics and climate change issue and just mourn the loss of one of the iconic Science Fiction writers of the time.

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        "A pity you can't skip the politics and climate change issue and just mourn the loss of one of the iconic Science Fiction writers of the time."
        I would if I could, but there are some who seem unable to suppress the urge to bad-mouth my late friend.

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          That wasn't directed at you Pompous Git. I was responding to Peter....

          1. Pompous Git Silver badge

            "That wasn't directed at you Pompous Git. I was responding to Peter...."
            In that case please accept my apologies. I'm afraid there was something resembling a moat in my eye this evening...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Now where did that wool get to...?

    I got to see Pournelle a couple of times around 1979 at the LASFS, the world's oldest continuous science fiction club (1934). He wasn't there often, but I vaguely recall Jerry tended to dominate the room with his presence when he was. At least everyone was listening to him talk. Big guy too. Larry Niven practically faded into the wallpaper by comparison.

    I read those books they wrote together too. Been a long time, but those I remember much better. :-)

    1. jimdandy
      Windows

      Re: Now where did that wool get to...?

      And I did as well. Jerry was a child of the forties/fifties and that seemed to persuade much of his work over the last 50 years. I can relate to that, although I didn't end up with the same political or cultural imperatives that he did.

      However, he did write seminal science fiction stories that included alien contact that was well-couched in a format that allowed us to think about and internally deal with alien contact scenarios.

      I do think that Larry Niven's stories by themselves were better examples of true Science Fiction; that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy and "grok" Pournelle's works.

      And my friends at LASFS know him much better than I do.

      I am a fan. Not of everything he wrote, but of the best of his work. And I honor him for that.

      And I wonder if he had ever met or heard of Jack Parsons.

  4. Pompous Git Silver badge

    Jerry will be sorely missed

    Jerry was not only a great author, but he was one of the first bloggers though he hated the term and preferred the term DayNotes. Thus he was the first among the DayNotes Gang. As well despite our political differences, Jerry alerted me to the two dimensional nature of political thought: not just left/right, but also the orthogonal authoritarian/libertarian axis.

    "Requiem æternam dona ei, Domine

    Et lux perpetua luceat ei:

    Requiescat in pace."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Jerry will be sorely missed

      I loved his fiction and non fiction alike. More importantly though he had a big hand in providing the background for the SDI policy that ultimately led to the collapse of the USSR and the effective end of the Cold War. Quite an achievement.

      1. zebthecat

        Re: Jerry will be sorely missed

        Eh?

        SDI was a catastrophic and expensive failure, not one of the projects succeeded.

        1. Pompous Git Silver badge

          Re: Jerry will be sorely missed

          "SDI was a catastrophic and expensive failure, not one of the projects succeeded."
          Jerry's thesis was that US investment in SDI led to USSR investment in retaliation. The US economy could withstand the economic impact, that of the USSR could not and consequently led to its collapse.

        2. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: Jerry will be sorely missed

          For those who don't know, Jerry wrote and published "The Strategy of Technology" in 1970, which was a hugely influential work. Read it, and you'll understand what SDI was about.

          eBook version of "The Strategy of Technology"

          https://www.jerrypournelle.com/slowchange/Strat.html

          Jerry was an advisor to the American president Reagan and I would say that it wouldn't be unfair to suggest that SDI was one of the most sucessful military projects ever undertaken. Simplistically every technology introduced requires a counter. SDI introduced so many new technologies that required disproportionally expensive counters that the Soviet Union was forced to negiotiate arms control treaties to eliminate the weapon programs because they couldn't afford to counter those systems. Eventually, the cost of trying to counter weapon systems they couldn't terminate with arms control treaties caused the Soviet Union to financially collapse without a shot being fired.

          I'd suggest that given it was done deliberately it was a pretty sucessful project.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Jerry will be sorely missed

          Despite the fact that the projects failed SDI won the war without a shot being fired. In the grand scale of things that makes it an incredibly cheap success.

          1. strum Silver badge

            Re: Jerry will be sorely missed

            > SDI won the war

            Western profligacy, that the USSR couldn't match, won the 'war'. SO it's just as valid to say The Beatles won the war, or Levi's Jeans won the war.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Jerry will be sorely missed

              Western profligacy? Try free markets and some basic rights the government couldn't violate without a lot of trouble. Communists don't allow those and it crushed them, along with the hapless people under their control.

            2. Pompous Git Silver badge

              Re: Jerry will be sorely missed

              "Western profligacy, that the USSR couldn't match, won the 'war'. SO it's just as valid to say The Beatles won the war, or Levi's Jeans won the war."
              If you can't tell the difference between nuclear-powered X-ray lasers and a pop group, I guess the following might reinforce your beliefs.

              "Let It Be" - Soviet Version

              I have no idea whether министерство обороны российской федерации financed this, or not. Enjoy...

            3. Peter2 Silver badge

              Re: Jerry will be sorely missed

              >"Western profligacy, that the USSR couldn't match, won the 'war'. SO it's just as valid to say The Beatles won the war, or Levi's Jeans won the war."

              Wrong. I refer you to the second chapter of Jerry Pournelle's book that I linked to above. The one taught to at US Military academies for literially decades. It's got a rather strategic overview as to why simply blowing lots of money wasn't getting anywhere much in the 1960's and 1970's.

              https://www.jerrypournelle.com/slowchange/Strat.html

            4. Will Sheward

              Re: Jerry will be sorely missed

              It wasn't "profligacy", it was an economic and political system that worked versus one that didn't.

              So yes, the Beatles and Levi's Jeans (and the economic/political system that enabled and allowed them) won the war by enabling the US to finance an SDI project which the Soviet Union and its fellow travellers could not afford to match.

  5. Winkypop Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Loved his books and collaborations

    Big

    Thick

    Hard

    Sci Fi

    Books

    The best!!

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Loved his books and collaborations

      Indeed and he'll be missed. I was a large fan of his books along with those of his peers. Sadly approaching the end of an era. RIP Jerry.

  6. kuiash
    Pint

    BYTE

    That's how I heard of him. After the initial wave of computer nerdery in the 80s (Sinclair Programs, ZX Computing) had shaken out and I was left with more games/consumer oriented Sinclair User (2nd iteration), Crash, C&VG etc I retreated into the wonderful worlds of Byte, Dr Dobbs and Program Now (whatever happened to that?!).

    I must have been one incredibly nerdy teenager... yup... and a goth to boot!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: BYTE

      Richmond?

    2. jimdandy
      Windows

      Re: BYTE

      Bob Dobbs? What, is there excess slack here?

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: BYTE

        No, Dr Dobbs. Ask STOB.

        1. Jonathan Richards 1

          Re: BYTE

          > No, Dr Dobbs. Ask STOB

          To illuminate a little more, here's that magazine title in full:

          Dr Dobb's Journal of Computer Calisthenics and Orthodontia

          Running light without overbyte

          ---

          Sad to know that Jerry Pournelle is no more; he leaves a lasting legacy.

    3. mrvvg

      Re: BYTE

      Byte, absolutely, Goth, probably wasn't, geek, certainly, it was the best bit of Byte, Chaos Manor's tales of the unexpected.

      RIP Jerry.

  7. mt_head

    I remember him more as a columnist than as a novelist...

    I was a long-term reader of his column in BYTE, which was generally divided between personal reportage (including, obviously, his struggles with whatever computer was on his desk at the time), philosophy, and ruminations on the life of a technology-embracing writer. I'm sure I'm mangling the quote, but one sentiment that's stuck with me was (approximately) "My plots may not be revolutionary, and my characters may not be the best, but by God the computers will work properly!" He sold himself a bit short there.

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      Re: I remember him more as a columnist than as a novelist...

      I much preferred his column in Byte to his fiction.

      Chaos Manor always seemed to have a humour that I didn't really see in his solo novels - it must be something like 30 years since I read them, but Janissaries and King David's Spaceship seemed very dry in comparison. I did like his collaborations with Larry Niven though.

  8. Milton Silver badge

    Be glad of the imperfect man

    Very sorry to hear of Jerry Pournelle's passing. His work with Niven on the three great titles mentioned in the article should stand as a monument to a particular kind of classic sci-fi: workmanlike characterisation, effective but unshowy writing, well-planned storytelling and, above all, a cornucopia of thought-provoking imagination explored with intelligence and real heart.

    It's too easy to get hung up on a fiction writer's purported political leanings, but while I don't share much of Pournelle's stated political beliefs, he was a highly intelligent achiever who could articulate why he believed what he did, who would participate in a rational, evidence-based debate. He was far less prone to abuse the author's voice to foghorn political messages than, say, Heinlein (who also wrote a ton of fascinating, challenging stuff) and I'm personally happy to celebrate the great ideas and thinking that he gave us, and not worry overmuch about his politics—the saving grace of scientifically educated people being that you can always hope to change their minds with fact and logic (if you're prepared for them to do the same to you, of course).

    Give me one smart, feisty Pournelle with an argumentative brain than a hundred drones of muttering agreement. Thank you, JP.

    1. Chz

      Re: Be glad of the imperfect man

      I think I'll remember his work fondly because I was a bit older when I got into the novels, so I was aware of the slant. And, as you say, he didn't bludgeon you with it as much as some other writers.

      Heinlein, for instance, I read as a young'un. And so the slant only became obvious later on, and because of that it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I can't read Heinlein without being annoyed by it now. It's the same with the Christian iconography in the Narnia books - what has been seen cannot be unseen.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: Be glad of the imperfect man

        I'd say Pournelle has a slant that makes Heinlein look outright lacking in imagination and he describes himself as being to the right of Genghis Khan, but it's not shoved down your throat because he's an intellectual who posesses an intellect. Instead you end up at unable to identify a better solution than his often ruthless and brutal way of dealing with the problem. His political slant is simply the entire backdrop of his stories. He creates realistically large and complex situations and walks you through them step by step defying you to pick something that you can disagree with until the characters are left with an unpalatable set of options.

        That's expressed simply in the Motes eye as the final choices being to exterminate the aliens, or blockade them in. And who's the person most in favour of extermination and arguing for it? It's the chap who starts off as a starry eyed liberal at the beginning. He's making a point there about the old quip "a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality." and most people don't even notice.

        In the sequal, it's conquer the aliens to provide better management as part of an empire than the aliens manage independently as they provide holocausts like clockwork. That or let a fast breeding and warlike species colonise the galaxy and quickly outbreed and exterminate humanity.

        In one of the Falkenburg books it's ruthlessly using military force to kill thousands of left wing political extremists to exterminate a political movement which would otherwise collapse civilisation on a planet killing tens of millions.

        And in each case you'll finish up each gnashing your teeth but being unable to see a better solution or even identify where it would have been possible for the people involved to have made a change earlier, leaving you sympathising with the perfectly reasonable people stuck as a barely relevant cog in such a large situation that it's all but impossible for them to influence.

  9. Dave 126 Silver badge

    IT angle

    Curiously, some other tech blogs are saying that he was the first author to write a novel on a computer - in the late seventies. However, Len Deighton wrote 'Bomber' on an IBM in 1968. It may be the case that both claims are correct, depending on how exactly the milestone is phrased. Deighton had an assistant, and would make some longhand corrections.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2013/03/len_deighton_s_bomber_the_first_book_ever_written_on_a_word_processor.html

    https://www.theverge.com/2017/9/9/16279582/jerry-pournelle-science-fiction-author-writing-computers-obituary

    1. Archtech Silver badge

      Re: IT angle

      "Len Deighton wrote 'Bomber' on an IBM in 1968".

      Not an IBM PC, then, which first appeared in 1981. Maybe the reference was to an IBM "Selectric" typewriter? I remember fixing them back around 1972.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: IT angle

          That's a 404, John 110

          1. John 110

            Re: IT angle

            That's a 404, John 110

            Yeah the forum software is truncating the url, but if you go to http://www.slate.com/ and search for Len Deighton, it's the first or second hit.

            For those who can't be bothered, it was IBM’s MTST (Magnetic Tape Selectric Typewriter), an early word processor.

            1. Dave 126 Silver badge

              Re: IT angle

              Hehe, it seems a couple of you read 'IBM' as 'IBM PC'... Almost as if you had neglected to turn off your brains' auto-complete function! (I don't mean to have a go at you, just amused by the observation)

              Sorry for being vague, I couldn't remember how to spell Selectric. Deighton leased the top of the range model with magnetic tape storage, apparently.

      2. PerlyKing

        Re: IT angle

        "Maybe the reference was to an IBM "Selectric" typewriter?"

        Read the Slate article: it was an IBM MTST, definitely not an electric typewriter or PC.

        Even better, read the book "Bomber" if you have any interest in the history of WW2. While not strictly a history book it is a real eye-opener and something of an antidote to nostalgia.

    2. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: IT angle

      "However, Len Deighton wrote 'Bomber' on an IBM in 1968."

      Jerry started writing on a PC with Electric Pencil. There was no IBM PC in 1968.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: IT angle

        Oh, I dunno Git. The IBM 1401 could be considered a Personal Computer, even by modern standards. You wouldn't even have to squint too much to see what I mean. Available from 1959 to 1971ish. Could still get the NOS parts to build one until 1980ish, if you had a .gov or .edu purchase order.

        1. Pompous Git Silver badge

          Re: IT angle

          Dunno jake. The first PC/computer I had anything to do with was a friend's Exidy Sorceror ca. 1978. I was a latecomer and didn't purchase a computer until ca. 1985. A Tandy 200!

      2. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: IT angle

        > Jerry started writing on a PC with Electric Pencil

        Actually, no, he did not. He started on an S-100 Bus system, running CP/M, long before there WAS an IBM PC. At the same time I was running a network of S-100 boxes running mainly MP/M 8-16 (among other OSes) with 8" floppies and $5K 40 megabyte Fujitsu PD-40M hard drives, and the office pretty much devoured the Chaos Manor column each month.

        1. Pompous Git Silver badge

          Re: IT angle

          "Actually, no, he did not. He started on an S-100 Bus system, running CP/M"
          So was that a mini or a mainframe? If it wasn't a personal computer, it must have been one or the other.

          1. Jonathan Richards 1

            Re: IT angle

            So was that a mini or a mainframe? If it wasn't a personal computer, it must have been one or the other.
            I'll assume that's not willful misunderstanding. In the context of computing history, 'personal computer' and 'PC' don't mean the same thing. IBM made the first "PC", in 1981, though there had been 'personal computers' for years before that. Because the BIOS interface was easily reverse-engineered and cloned, many companies then built machines billed as "PC-compatible". Now the distinction is blurred, but deserves to be sharpened, otherwise we get discussions like this, at cross-purposes.

            1. Pompous Git Silver badge

              Re: IT angle

              "I'll assume that's not willful misunderstanding."
              Australian Personal Computer magazine was first published in May 1980. It's my understanding that IBM released their PC on 12 August 1981. It's also my understanding that PCs had been around for some time prior to Australian Personal Computer magazine's debut.

              1. /dev/null

                Re: IT angle

                Australian Personal Computer magazine was first published in May 1980. It's my understanding that IBM released their PC on 12 August 1981. It's also my understanding that PCs had been around for some time prior to Australian Personal Computer magazine's debut.

                Not to mention the British magazine Personal Computer World, which started in 1978.

                Anyway, the IBM MT72 didn't really fall into any of these categorizations; it seems it was basically an electric typewriter connected to a tape drive with a bunch of electrical relays.

          2. Doctor Huh?

            Re: IT angle

            "So was that a mini or a mainframe? If it wasn't a personal computer, it must have been one or the other."

            Your thesis is entirely wrong. Ye Gods!! In an era where one can obtain information instantly, why do people choose to remain ignorant? You can even TALK to your computer now to get that information.

            http://www.s100computers.com

            http://www.retrotechnology.com/herbs_stuff/s100.html

            For the record, the term was "microcomputer," to denote a computer smaller and less powerful than a minicomputer or a mainframe, suitable for use by a single person. The term "personal computer" quickly (and long before 1980) became more or less synonymous.

            The kids have no sense of history these days. Once upon a time, "building a computer" involved using a soldering iron, and having a detachable keyboard involved using a hacksaw and a few feet of ribbon cable. And we had to walk uphill both ways to get to Radio Shack to buy solder...

            1. Pompous Git Silver badge

              Re: IT angle

              "Your thesis is entirely wrong.

              ...

              For the record, the term was "microcomputer," to denote a computer smaller and less powerful than a minicomputer or a mainframe, suitable for use by a single person. The term "personal computer" quickly (and long before 1980) became more or less synonymous."

              You appear to contradict yourself.

            2. Long John Brass Silver badge
              Coat

              Re: IT angle

              And we had to walk uphill both ways to get to Radio Shack to buy solder...

              You lucky bastard; We has to dig the solder out with our teeth at the manor house solder mines!

              Kids today, don't know how lucky they are...

          3. Mage Silver badge

            Re: IT angle

            PCs in the sense of a personal computer predated the IBM PC by about 5 years.

            Minicomputers that sat on a desk with a CRT and keyboard rather than Teletype, maybe 10 years before an IBM PC. The 8088 in PC wasn't a true 16 CPU (only 64K per segment and no linear address mode). It was more like an 8bit CPU with built in paging. It had an 8 bit bus too. The 8086 had a 16 bit bus. The MSDOS/PCDOS was derived from a reverse engineered version of CP/M86, practically automatically built from 8080 / 8085/ Z80 bit CP/M using Intel's cross assembler, because the 8088/8086 was very like an 8080 /8085 with built in paging.

            The 80286 IBM AT was first 16bit in that family sold as a "PC" able to to linear addressing. DOS used it as an 8086. You needed Xenix to use it as 16bit CPU. Real 16 bit CPUs existed not just before IBM AT and 80286, but before original IBM-PC.

            Byte had the wonderful Chaos Manor column, best thing in Byte.

            Byte started in 1975, shortly after the first personal computers appeared as kits advertised in the back of electronics magazines. The IBM PC US release was August 12, 1981, so OF COURSE, Jerry was using a wordprocessor on a CP/M based "PC" before then.

            Deighton isn't credited with first to use a Wordprocessor on a general PC or Minicomputer. It was a dedicated Wordprocessor. Such things survived long past IBM PC arrival. Wang was of last makers if you don't count Brother typewriters with line editors. I'd not count the PCW8256, PCW8512 and PCW9512 as those could run CP/M instead of locoscript.

            Probably someone wrote a book on a minicomputer that wasn't much bigger (but x10 price) than some 1976 CP/M based "PC" with "wordprocessing" software.

            ... WordMaster (1978) with similar features and support for the CP/M operating system. MicroPro began selling the product, now renamed WordStar, in June 1979

            Wordstar must be the oldest "WELL KNOWN" real wordprocessor known. But maybe 10 years after minicomputers and dedicated IBM or Wang "Wordprocessors" (that had a golfball printer). It was ported to IBM PC at release (3 years after CP/M release) and was only supplanted by Wordperfect later.

          4. Long John Brass Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: IT angle

            @Pompous Git

            So was that a mini or a mainframe? If it wasn't a personal computer, it must have been one or the other.

            S100 & CP/M systems were mostly(All?) personal computers. They were by all practical measures the first of the mass produced personal computers

            See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altair_8800

        2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: IT angle

          Jerry was also one of the first users of usenet, I think that this may be his earliest post, on info-cpm that later became comp.os.cpm.

  10. Matthew Smith

    TANJ

    One less glorious Sad Puppy in the world.

  11. Elmer Phud Silver badge

    How I will NOT miss those endless 'Reds under the bed' 'Reds are coming' books that persuaded Regan to have Niven and Pournelle in as 'scientific advisors' (FFS!)

  12. Steve Graham

    When I was a teenager, I basically only read SF, including loads by Niven and Pournelle. So I acknowledge that he wrote some stuff that entertained and engaged me.

    But I had some interchanges with him on BIX, Byte magazine's pre-internet bulletin board, and I found his political opinions to be utterly repugnant. Not to mince words, he was a Nazi asshole.

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      "Not to mince words, he was a Nazi asshole."
      I usually find that when people use words such as you do here, they are referring to themselves. I strongly disagreed with Jerry politically, but he was not Nazi (a socialist? FFS!), he was a paelo-libertarian.

      1. John 110

        "but he was not Nazi (a socialist? FFS!)"

        Nazi <> socialist

        (are people still falling for that one?)

        1. Pompous Git Silver badge

          "Nazi <> socialist"
          Nazi = National Socialist Workers' Party

          1. John 110
            Mushroom

            Ah, so people ARE still falling for that one...

          2. eldakka Silver badge

            Nazi = National Socialist Workers' Party
            By that logic, the German Democratic Republic (aka communist East Germany) was a Democracy?

            1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

              1. John 110
                Facepalm

                @Pompous Git

                As it happens, I agree with you that Pournelle wasn't a Nazi. A bit more right-wing than my Scottish sensibilities would like, but definitely no Nazi.

                But Nazis weren't Socialists by any stretch of the imagination.

                Oh, and while I'm at it, Socialist isn't a dirty word...

                1. Pompous Git Silver badge

                  "But Nazis weren't Socialists by any stretch of the imagination.

                  Oh, and while I'm at it, Socialist isn't a dirty word..."

                  Ludwig von Mises disagreed with your first assertion. I agree with the second assertion; I grew up in a socialist household.

                  Why Nazism Was Socialism and Why Socialism Is Totalitarian

                2. Pompous Git Silver badge

                  "Nazis weren't Socialists by any stretch of the imagination."
                  Nobody seems to have read the essay I linked to so...

                  In socialist regimes production is controlled by the government. That is the government of Russia prior to the end of the Cold War, China, North Korea etc, all determine wages, prices and quotas for manufactured goods. This was true of the Third Reich also. While the factories were privately owned in wartime Germany, the "owners" were not allowed to exercise any of the rights of ownership. It's true they derived an income, but this should be seen as a government pension rather than a reward for decision-making.

                  There are of course two factions that want us to see National Socialism and Communism as poles apart: Nazis and Marxists.

              2. eldakka Silver badge

                @Pompous Git

                Are you always like this when someone dies? Rude, obnoxious and totally lacking in either knowledge or couth. Frankly I wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire.

                1) Can't speak for the others you refer to, but how is replying to your post, which had nothing to do with a person dieing, it was a single sentence which was presenting a false equivalency (that because it had socialist in its name it was socialist), rude and obnoxious?

                @Pompous Git:

                I usually find that when people use words such as you do here, they are referring to themselves. I strongly disagreed with Jerry politically, but he was not Nazi (a socialist? FFS!), he was a paelo-libertarian.

                2) Pot, kettle.

                1. Pompous Git Silver badge

                  "1) Can't speak for the others you refer to, but how is replying to your post, which had nothing to do with a person dieing, it was a single sentence which was presenting a false equivalency (that because it had socialist in its name it was socialist), rude and obnoxious?"
                  The "false equivalency" I presented was a direct quote from the OED. Presumably you believe that you know better.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Well, DDR was a democracy, kind of. As the name says.

              But claiming that it was all different is a slippery slope: Here in North we already have elections where only parties are allowed to name candidates. And you may vote only those candidates. That leaves only the amount of parties as difference and that's not much as it's very easy to buy a party. Totally legal too.

              In UK &US there're nominally two parties but basically they are the same (and totally bought), so where's the real choise?

              I'll agree that DDR wasn't a good democracy but do we (in so called 'west') have it either?

              1. Mooseman Bronze badge

                "In UK &US there're nominally two parties but basically they are the same (and totally bought), so where's the real choise?"

                No, in the UK we have two major parties that are polar opposites.

          3. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Just like how the DPRK is democratic - it's in their name, after all...

          4. Jonathan Richards 1
            Stop

            The fallacy of acronyms

            > Nazi = National Socialist Workers' Party

            Yeah, also DPRK == Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea.

            I rest my case.

          5. Mooseman Bronze badge

            "Nazi = National Socialist Workers' Party"

            by that comment alone you render everything you ever wrote pointless. I am astonished at how stupid some people are. Mind you, with your defence of oil-backed pseudoscience I'm not surprised.

    2. petetp

      Jerry Pournelle was a libertarian probably, and certainly politically to the right, but he was no kind of Nazi - you should apologise for that terrible slur.

  13. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    Science Fiction saves the world!

    I particularly remember laughing at the bits in Footfall and Fallen Angels (fun, but nowhere near as good) - where science fiction fans, but mostly science fiction writers, are saving the world. I think Niven and Pournelle were also having fun taking the piss out of each other (and fellow authors) in Footfall.

    Sad to see another writer that I've grown up with leave us. I've spent many happy hours reading his books. So thanks Jerry.

    And thanks for the mental image that the calculation in Lucifer's Hammer of what a billion tons of hot fudge sundae hitting Earth at orbital velocity would do. I hope that's the standard unit of measurement at JPL...

    1. Conrad Longmore

      Re: Science Fiction saves the world!

      Footfall is probably one of the best and most plausible alien invasion novels, Mote is the best first contact novel I've read. I wasn't so keen on Pournelle's solo works, but when working with Larry Niven there was a good combination of ideas - I guess Niven had the big ideas, Pournelle then made them credible.

      And Chaos Manor was always a must-read in Byte. Sure, it was just some guy fiddling around with computers but you'd often learn something. And Pournelle was right about keyboards..

  14. jake Silver badge

    RIP Jerry.

    Many, many moons ago I was putting together an Ethernet network. I couldn't get it to cooperate. The latest issue of BYTE had just been delivered, so I decided to take a break and read Chaos Manor ... Jerry was griping about a couple cheap made in Taiwan Ethernet cards that someone had shipped him having the same exact MAC address ... I checked mine, and you guessed it.

    I liked his scifi, too.

    Not many manage to make a mark on society. You did. RIP

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: RIP Jerry.

      "Jerry was griping about a couple cheap made in Taiwan Ethernet cards that someone had shipped him having the same exact MAC address ... I checked mine, and you guessed it."
      Not just cheap Taiwanese cards with that problem. Friend had a carton of mainstream USA-manufactured Ethernet cards with the exact same problem.

      As Jerry always said: "We do these silly things so you don't have to".

  15. Chazmon

    RIP

    Damn another of my favourites gone. Lucifer's Hammer got me into hard sci fi.

    Oath of Fealty is also certainly in my top 5.

    Not many of that generation left sadly.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: RIP

      Oath of Fealty is my favorite Sci-Fi book. The social concepts and the extrapolation of computer technology, set in a very believable near-future, which does not seem to have become any less believable with the passage of time.

      The Mote in Gods Eye is definitely in my top 5 (particularly the description of MacArther capturing the first Mote lightsail ship - it's just so... intense).

      I did not buy Byte regularly, but I always looked for his column when I did.

    2. VinceH Silver badge

      Re: RIP

      Lucifer's Hammer was the first Niven/Pournelle collaboration I read, back when I was at school - and the first by either of them. I should still have a copy, somewhere. Time to dig it out for another read, I think.

  16. Denarius Silver badge
    Unhappy

    What about Gill the ARM ?

    given its background of an intrusive manipulative State that was the brainchild of a Protector ? Somewhat prescient.

    I admired the way JP and LN pulled together a web of story strands into the Known Space series that lead to the RingWorld series. The Future History stories were an interesting digression.

    He will be missed. There is so little hard SF now. Most books I can find are dreary swords and sorcery/psi nonsense. Even the Martian and Enders Game altho good do not have the depth and cast of characters let alone an imaginative story line that wends a long way into the future.

    Vale Jerry

    1. Steve Todd

      Re: What about Gill the ARM ?

      Erm, Gil the ARM was a Larry Niven character.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gil_Hamilton

    2. BoldMan

      Re: What about Gill the ARM ?

      JP wasn't a writer of what became known as 'Known Space', that was all Niven's writing (until the shared universe Man-Kzin Wars stuff).

      RIP Jerry, some great books that are still on my shelves... will have to revisit them this evening

  17. Chozo

    As Jerry Pournelle takes a step further out the stars seem even further away today

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      The stars seem closer than they've ever been to me. I started reading Pournelle and Niven (and others) in the late 80s as a teenager - and all the dates from 70s books when we could expect regular spaceflight were starting to get awfully close - and yet no normal spaceflight. I was worried it was all stopping.

      The shuttle and ISS program was looking to be a bit of a dead-end, and there was only an increasing number of interesting robot exploration missions to be interested in. All a bit sad really. No chance of going to space. But now we've got all sorts of interesting stuff going on. OK, I might not be able to afford it - but maybe in 30 years the promised space hotels might be affordable? I can dream. Even if I am too old for "unearthly delights" by then...

  18. grizewald

    Rest in peace

    I always enjoyed Chaos Manor back in the days and have also enjoyed Jerry's SciFi. He will be missed.

    Shame on all the commentards here who take an obituary as an opportunity to rubbish someone who can no longer answer back.

  19. dermotw

    One of the giants, I am sorry to see him go... :(

  20. John 110
    Windows

    "Real soon now"

    I think that Jerry got "Real soon now" to describe vapourware from SF fandom, where it was commonly used in the 60's and 70's as an answer to the perennial question "when are you going to pub your ish?"

    So popularised, but not coined.

    what a fan from the 70's looks like now...-------------------->

  21. Gene Cash Silver badge

    I'm glad he lasted long enough to see SpaceX... I shall miss him, even though I haven't bought a book of his in probably 10 years.

  22. petethebloke

    Pass? Why not die?

    Are we too sensitive for the word 'die'?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Pass? Why not die?

      Not sure of Jerrys religious beliefs, but as a non-believer I always cringe at "pass" since it implies pass over to something else, ie an afterlife of some sort.

      I just checked the wikipedia for JP and I think I've read all of his fiction. Sad to think there'll be no more :-(

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: Pass? Why not die?

        "Not sure of Jerrys religious beliefs, but as a non-believer I always cringe at "pass" since it implies pass over to something else, ie an afterlife of some sort."
        Jerry was a Roman Catholic and frequently quoted from the liturgy in Latin. Euphemism in avoiding offence tends more to do the opposite.

  23. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Pint

    RIP Jerry

    I can't say I agree with his politics or choice in associates, but putting that aside, he was a good author, and that's what I will choose to remember him by, not that it's of any real consequence in the grand scheme of things.

  24. diver_dave

    I always hoped for another Falkenberg book. Preferably with Hal Slater too...

  25. Paul

    :-(

    I spent many enjoyable hours immersed in his books.

    I also enjoyed his Chaos Manor articles, even if I didn't always agree with his intentions.

  26. Simon Harris Silver badge
    Devil

    Most enjoyable read.

    One of the most enjoyable Pournelle and Niven collaborations that I read was Inferno - their take on the Dante version.

    Hopefully Pournelle's in the other place.

    To go with the book ---------------->

    1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      Re: Most enjoyable read.

      came to say the same thing. Inferno was brilliant and by far my most favorite Niven/Pournelle collaboration.

      It's not a retelling of Dante's classic - much closer to a sequel than anything else. The protagonist frequently uses his knowledge of Dante's book to his advantage when navigating hell. Definitely a good read!

      What I did NOT know until moments ago is that there was a sequel to Inferno, called Escape from Hell. I will immediately add that to my "must read ASAP" list.

  27. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    I can honestly say that I didn't worry much about his politics, his ability to portray humanity in his stories was excellent. When he corroborated with Niven the results were monuments to the collision of science and society.

    I always loved Chaos Manor in Byte, and can honestly say that his talent for turning out humour in the midst of (digital) chaos has polluted many of my post-mortems reports.

    (And the whole thing with the coffee trader in Mote has likely driven my addiction to weird and odd coffee preparation throughout my career)

    Farewell Jerry.

  28. Big_Boomer

    RIP Jerry

    Many many thanks for the stories, insight and humour. My sympathies to his family and friends. He will be missed but lives on in his books and our memories.

  29. Millwright
    WTF?

    Am I the only one here who thought his story writing dreadful, ill-constructed, predictable drivel only saved from utter uselessness by the Niven collaboration? And the only one who found Chaos Manor a sink of ill-informed, name-dropping posturing?

    Seems like it. I will grant that he managed to give me a few unintentional laughs by the sheer buffoonery of some of his CM hardware tales.

    1. davenewman

      JP versus other SF authors

      Milwright said:

      > Am I the only one here who thought his story writing dreadful, ill-constructed, predictable drivel only saved from utter uselessness by the Niven collaboration?

      He wasn't anywhere as good as Arthur C. Clarke or the recently deceased Brian Aldiss. But his stories were good readable yarns.

      > And the only one who found Chaos Manor a sink of ill-informed, name-dropping posturing?

      You probably are the only one. Most of us found Chaos Manor as the light relief in a serious magazine we had to pay a lot of money for in the newsagents that stocked US imports.

      1. anoncow

        Re: JP versus other SF authors

        I can confirm: not the only one.

      2. shannonohara

        You are the only one

        Byte - Initially a brilliantly-informed magazine that foundered on getting worked up about ephemera.

        Who remembers or loves PERL? Or Pick?

        It was fixated about these sorts of things.

        I gave up.

        Jerry Pournelle made us feel less than idiots.

        He liked and played Games programs, to see what they would do.

        Regards

        Shannon O'Hara

  30. petetp

    I had all of his and Larry Niven's novels and stories, and as an avid BYTE reader, I would usually read his column first.

    RIP Jerry, you gave a lot of people a lot to think about.

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      My BYTE reading order was usually Chaos Manor, Steve Ciarcia, and then the rest.

  31. Flakk Silver badge

    Godspeed, Mr. Pournelle, and thank you.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Always the first column I turned to and read in the long lamented Byte magazine, I scoured all the back issues for his work when I joined a PC company with a "library" and later discovered he was an author of excellent SciFi too.

    Thank you for the many happy and informative hours Jerry.

  33. The_H

    Damn

    Bixies don't come out too well on 2017-era screens, but...

    {'.`}

  34. David Roberts Silver badge
    Windows

    You know you are old

    When all your heroes are dead.

    RIP

  35. Long John Brass Silver badge

    X-Clacks-Overhead = "GNU Jerry Pournelle"

    You will be missed

    We still have your books

    That will have to be enough

    RIP

  36. Will Sheward

    Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven were, along with an inherited (from my Mum) fondness for Clark and Wyndham, the foundations of my interest in Sci-Fi.

    So sad to think I'll never experience a new Pournelle book. At least not until the family tendency to develop Alzheimers kicks in, so I suppose I've got that to look forward to :-)

    WillS

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Racism in Lucifer's Hammer

    Does anybody remember the really vicious (because clever) racism in Lucifer's Hammer? The gang of inner city blacks, sex obsessed, violent, crooked to the core. It appealed to all the stereotypes, and was all the more effective for not being overdrawn. As far as racist propaganda goes, I have never read anything that even came close.

    And then there's the anti-nuclear activist, also in Lucifer's Hammer who "admits" that reactors are safe "they've got fail safe on their fail safe" but says the real problem is that nuclear power will make people think that "technology solves problemss." Puting lame and ridiculous arguments in the mouths of people you disagree with-how self indugent!

    Racism in Footfall was toned way down, just a black guy who was paralyzed with fear, blink and you'd miss it. Then again there is the totally gratuituous investigative reporter character who is sadistically killed (drowned in toilet) by a freaked out ecologist. Apparently investigative reporting was another Pournelle pet peeves.

    And then there is the really embarassing arithmetic error in Footfall: the amount of water the aliens put into the atomsphere, one half a billion tons, is supposed to be devastatingly large. This number is repeated several times. DO the math, the atmosphere is equivalent in mass to a global layer of water 10 meters thick, or 1 cubic kilometer of water (a billion tons) per 100 square kilometers of earth's surface. Earth's surface is 500 million square kilometers so the atmosphere weighs about 5 million billion tons. If the atmosphere held half a billion tons of water, that would be one part in 10 million by weight! Actual water vapor continent is a few percent, or 100,000 times greater.

    Oh and then in Oath of Fealty, there was the liberal college professor, presumably modelled after Angela Davis, who gets some of his students killed sneaking into an Arcology because he too is anti-tech.

  38. shannonohara

    He made computing fun

    Pity about the curmudgeons.

    I remember his Chaos Manor columns in Byte magazine with some affection: I remember he was enormously pleased when his old server computer – I think it was an original DEC, though I could be totally wrong – was taken in by the Smithsonian.

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