Just last week, I mentioned sci-fi author Jerry Pournelle in an article about writing I posted. Today, I’m sad to report that Pournelle has passed away at the age of 84 after a short illness. As well as writing great science fiction, he wrote a monthly column for Byte magazine that was the main reason I spent my $6 each month on that publication (sometimes more to get a rushed copy from the US). He’s also one of the people who inspired my love of tech and writing about it.
Pournelle’s monthly Chaos Manor column covered his hands-on look at a variety of technologies from the days when you had to really know your way around a computer to get it to do anything useful. That covered everything from installing a sound card and having to manually set DMA and IRQ settings in config.sys and autoexec.bat files, through to trying out the latest hardware (his musings on WORM drives took up many column inches).
What separated Pournelle’s work from much of the IT writing of the time, through the 80s and 90s, was that they were written from the perspective of a user. Sure, he was a power user but his reviews weren’t about benchmarks and specifications. They were focussed on whether the technology could make a difference to your life.
He used to give his computers interesting names – something that inspired me to do the same.
The announcement of his passing was made by his son – someone who often featured in Pournelle’s columns.
I’m afraid that Jerry passed away.
We had a great time at DragonCon.
He did not suffer.
(8 Sep 2017 – 3:45pm PDT)
The day before his death, Pournelle blogged about DragonCon, mentioning that he was feeling the effects of a cold or flu, and signing off saying he felt a wave of nausea.
His science fiction was thoughtful and didn’t take the reader for a fool. Reading one of his books, many of which were written by his great friend Larry Niven (who he just called “Niven” most of the time), required concentration and effort. That’s not to say they were hard to read. Just that they took you on thought-provoking and engaging journeys that demanded your complete attention. I particularly loved The Mote in God’s Eye and Lucifer’s Hammer.
He was also politically active, working on political campaigns, writing about the strategy of technology for a textbook that was used in military colleges as well as running Ronald Reagan’s Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy.
Pournelle will be missed. He was an inspiration to a generation of writers. Some say he was the first writer to completely write a major work entirely on a computer. I guess he wanted to make sure he got value from the US$12,000 computer he purchased in 1977. According to his website, he was working on at least four books around the time of his sudden death.
Vale Dr Pournelle. You’ll be missed but not forgotten.
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