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RIP Jerry Pournelle, 1933-2017
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My friend Jerry Pournelle has died after a brief illness.

I want to write something about Jerry, so if you have any anecdotes, please include them in the comments.

 
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  1. dearieme says:

    I particularly liked some of the aphorisms that he quoted on his blog. Especially:

    Being intelligent is not a felony. But most societies evaluate it as at least a misdemeanor.
    -Robert A. Heinlein

    If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightfully consider it an act of war.
    -Glenn T. Seaborg, National Commission on Education, 1983.

    RIP, Mr Pournelle.

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  2. Carneades says:

    Pournelle relished mass slaughter and authoritarianism a little to enthusiastically for my taste.

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    • Replies: @Lugash
    Am I confusing him with someone else, or was he an apologist for Argentina's dirty war and sending 50,000 Americans off to their death in Vietnam?

    He had a good story about UFOs, but I can't find it. A rash of sightings were Soviet weather balloons or somesuch.
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  3. Dr. Pournelle — a family man, a Catholic Christian, well-read, a research engineer, an author and a very wise person along with someone with a big heart always willing to engage you with respect, whether you agreed with him or not.

    He once blogged about his frustrations with his bank, I e-mailed him about being frustrated with my bank to the point of placing a “Rom curse” and asking him whether as a co-religionist I committed a grave sin, and he replied right away that I was OK because it didn’t mean anything, that is, unless I was Roma.

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  4. The world is a little dimmer for his passing today. I loved his works, and its ever more notable today in a time when people are “brave” but not even a fraction as subversion as his writing.

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    • Agree: jim jones
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  5. I was stunned to see this. His book “Lucifer’s Hammer” is essential reading, along with many of his other works. Didn’t know you two hung out, but it makes sense that realist writers stick together.

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  6. Sunbeam says:

    Wonder what Larry Niven does now. They’ve been collaborating a long time.

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  7. A wise man. From his last entry it looks like he passed from pneumonia after attending DragonCon. God rest his great soul.

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    • Replies: @Jack D

    More later I’m experiencing a wave of nausea.

    Bye for now.
     
    Bye for now, Jerry. See you in Valhalla.
    , @Kaz
    Oh damn that's sad, these conventions must be dangerous for old people. I went to Dragoncon last week and I came out with a mild cold, don't usually get sick but I guess it's hard to avoid sometimes.
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  8. Jack D says:
    @The Anti-Gnostic
    A wise man. From his last entry it looks like he passed from pneumonia after attending DragonCon. God rest his great soul.

    More later I’m experiencing a wave of nausea.

    Bye for now.

    Bye for now, Jerry. See you in Valhalla.

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  9. mp says:

    I remember Jerry from the erstwhile Byte magazine. Also, on the Genie Systems pre-Internet (time shared) bulletin board. Always had something interesting to say.

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    • Replies: @Criticas
    I've argued before the Dr Pournelle was the spiritual predecessor to all bloggers. While there have been many diarists, Dr Pournelle's Byte columns, their continuation on Bix, and later on the web influenced many in the popular computer technology field. His breezy, personal mix of day-to-day events, hands on tech use, and discussions of technology and politics foreshadowed many bloggers' schtick.

    RIP, Dr Pournelle.
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  10. In 2011 I posted an item on my blog about the maxim, surprise is an event that occurs in the mind of an enemy commander. I read it in Pournelle and Stiring’s The Prince, but I didn’t know it’s source.

    Jerry somehow found that, and emailed me to let me know he was quoting himself.

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  11. Never heard of him but if he was your friend I’m sure he was a good guy. So it goes, RIP

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    • Replies: @El Dato
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Pournelle

    Apart from reading his column in BYTE Magazine back when I was starting Computer Science studies and a fracking Greenhorn.

    I read "Lucifer's Hammer", which was a bit over the top as embattled survivors have to fend off crazed liberals/cannibals/roaming military units/people with no marketable skills in a post-apocalyptic work while trying to start up a nuclear reactor (we know since Fukushima that US nuclear reactors are not to be safely shut down or kickstarted in post-apocalyptic settings).

    Also "Falkenberg's Legion" which was "Mercenaries brought in to impose order. In Spaaacee!", i.e. like US in Somalia, but successful.

    Also "The Mote in God's Eye" (mind blown, although the Motie Engineers have skills that near Matrix Agents), and then "The Gripping Hand" (also excellent, provides example of the deluded do-gooder about to bring down the roof ... because of alien immigration, also features Mormons ... IN SPAAACCEE!!)

    I will salute and drink a few on Jerry!

    (Now I have to run I have been OSS coding the whole day an MUH FRIDGE IS EMPTY)
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  12. If being ‘somewhere to the Right of Genghis Khan’ (as allegedely Pournell used to claim for himself) includes unleashing Keynesian Expenditures for the Moon & Behind Conquest, instead for helicoptering Our Country Boys to equally inhospitable Kandahar Surface – bored identity is 100% ideologically and sentimentally on board.

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  13. Bruce says:

    Stefan Possony, who co-authored The Strategy of Technology with Jerry Pournelle, translated the German book Surprise by Erfurth in WWII. I suspect Erfurth’s book had some influence on Claude Shannon. Sad Jerry’s gone.

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  14. AndrewR says:

    Seems like he led a hell of a life. I envy those who had the chance to know him.

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  15. TG says:

    I didn’t know him personally, but he did answer my correspondence a few times. He was always intelligent and polite.

    I have long been a fan of his work. Classic hard science-fiction at its best. I think one of the things that I liked about him most, is that he was a natural conservative, who respected the market, but did not worship it as God. He understood that a healthy society must be neither a Stalinist tyranny nor a law-of-the-jungle capitalist dystopia. A refreshing and moderate sane view that is sadly rare today, as we have people on the one side who declare that ‘the market’ will solve all problems, and on the other, that big government and ‘social justice’ will solve all of our problems.

    He will be missed.

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  16. El Dato says:
    @27 year old
    Never heard of him but if he was your friend I'm sure he was a good guy. So it goes, RIP

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

    Apart from reading his column in BYTE Magazine back when I was starting Computer Science studies and a fracking Greenhorn.

    I read “Lucifer’s Hammer”, which was a bit over the top as embattled survivors have to fend off crazed liberals/cannibals/roaming military units/people with no marketable skills in a post-apocalyptic work while trying to start up a nuclear reactor (we know since Fukushima that US nuclear reactors are not to be safely shut down or kickstarted in post-apocalyptic settings).

    Also “Falkenberg’s Legion” which was “Mercenaries brought in to impose order. In Spaaacee!”, i.e. like US in Somalia, but successful.

    Also “The Mote in God’s Eye” (mind blown, although the Motie Engineers have skills that near Matrix Agents), and then “The Gripping Hand” (also excellent, provides example of the deluded do-gooder about to bring down the roof … because of alien immigration, also features Mormons … IN SPAAACCEE!!)

    I will salute and drink a few on Jerry!

    (Now I have to run I have been OSS coding the whole day an MUH FRIDGE IS EMPTY)

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    • Replies: @songbird
    You're wrong about the nuclear reactor. It was still working: they were just trying to defend it, not start it up. Pretty good scene, imo. Too bad they never made a movie or miniseries.
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  17. Brutusale says:

    RIP, Jerry. You gave SF readers a ripping good time.

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    • Agree: Dave Pinsen
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  18. Kaz says:
    @The Anti-Gnostic
    A wise man. From his last entry it looks like he passed from pneumonia after attending DragonCon. God rest his great soul.

    Oh damn that’s sad, these conventions must be dangerous for old people. I went to Dragoncon last week and I came out with a mild cold, don’t usually get sick but I guess it’s hard to avoid sometimes.

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  19. RIP Jerry. It’s interesting he was also located in LA. Good to hear he was your friend. The old and wise are daily being replaced by the young and stupid; the battle for civilization continues forever. Despair is a sin.

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  20. Pat Boyle says:

    I saw him once at a computer show. I went up to him and told him to get home and write more stories. We have enough computer people.

    At one time I think I had read everything he ever wrote. Niven was better with the far out ideas but Pournelle was one of those few writers who could write the description of a battle. A rare talent seldom seen and vital in military fiction.

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  21. Romanian says: • Website

    I really enjoyed his work, though I did not keep up with his blogging. A truly intelligent man. It was amazing how active and lucid he was at his age. We should all be that way when we go.

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  22. We’ve lost a rare sane, sensible man. He will be greatly missed.

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  23. Jim says:

    Very sad news.

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  24. Don’t know much about him, but in addition to a few essays of his I’ve perused over the years, I really enjoyed both The Mote in God’s Eye, and also Lucifer’s Hammer.

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  25. Sharrukin says:

    Jerry Pournelle was a great writer. Loved Lucifers Hammer, the Janissary series, Footfall, and the Mote In Gods Eye. He was the one who got me interested in space with A Step Further Out and his novels. It wasn’t the total fantasy crap that so many other scifi writers push.

    He lived a long life, inspired people, and contributed a lot to others.

    What more can any of us ask for?

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    • Replies: @Lurker

    He was the one who got me interested in space with A Step Further Out and his novels.
     
    Same here!
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  26. Hunsdon says:

    A constant presence in my life since I was, perhaps, ten or twelve years old. His works with Larry Niven, his Falkenberg books, later his blogging . . . I profited tremendously from being aware of Jerry Pournelle.

    Fair winds and following seas.

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  27. Was it not his idea for the Space Defense Initiative that destroyed the Soviet Empire?

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    • Replies: @El Dato
    That sounds far-fetched.

    AFAIK, Edward "H-Bomb" Teller was the main nucleus kickstarting the mad dream of attempting to be safe from Soviet ICBM visits. (FWIW, Wikipedia has this)

    And it was not SDI which destroyed the Soviet empire (remember: it never even got an ASAT into space, never got a single gamma-ray laser online and estimates back then were a trillion 1980-dollars for a so-so system that would be easily overhelmed by decoys if it even worked at all) but a centralized fake economy shocked by empty shelves fatigue, Afghanistan and the biggie of it all, Chernobyl, the trust-buster.
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  28. OT: Antonio Cromartie’s Cromartie Index jumps to 1.83.

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  29. Anon says: • Disclaimer

    Creativity

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  30. Vinteuil says:

    I’ve read scarcely a word of science fiction, but Pournelle earned eternal fame with his Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

    “…in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:

    “First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

    “Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

    “The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.”

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  31. Perhaps 7-8 years ago I commented on Jerry’s blog, criticizing a silly Israel First rant posted by one of Jerry’s friends. He responded that he got lots of that sort of commentary and defended his friend’s rant. He added that he didn’t normally post such nonsense as mine, but he thought it best to make an example of me. He concluded with the observation that he did not include my name even though I had included it, which I took to be a rather gentlemanly put down. But that was OK- after all nobody else got the personal attention of Jerry Pournelle that day!

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  32. A few years ago, interested in Dante’s Inferno but finding Dante a little too obscure, I read Inferno (1976) by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Very enjoyable. Then I saw that 33 years later, they had put out a sequel, Escape From Hell (2009). This one was not only even more enjoyable, but quite spiritually profound, IMHO. Nice to think writers can improve with age.

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    • Replies: @Lurker
    Thanks for that, as I had no idea they had done a sequel. A shocking failure on my part in these days of the interwebs.
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  33. Anon says: • Disclaimer

    Is it an inappropriate sentiment that one of my greatest regrets is that I’ll never get to read Mamelukes? Anyway, Dr. Pournelle was certainly a great figure and a good man.

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  34. El Dato says:
    @Luxeternae
    Was it not his idea for the Space Defense Initiative that destroyed the Soviet Empire?

    That sounds far-fetched.

    AFAIK, Edward “H-Bomb” Teller was the main nucleus kickstarting the mad dream of attempting to be safe from Soviet ICBM visits. (FWIW, Wikipedia has this)

    And it was not SDI which destroyed the Soviet empire (remember: it never even got an ASAT into space, never got a single gamma-ray laser online and estimates back then were a trillion 1980-dollars for a so-so system that would be easily overhelmed by decoys if it even worked at all) but a centralized fake economy shocked by empty shelves fatigue, Afghanistan and the biggie of it all, Chernobyl, the trust-buster.

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  35. Pournelle promoted technological mirages like Gerard K. O’Neill’s space colonization proposal back in the 1970′s and the Reagan Administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative a few years later. I don’t know if he also talked up Eric Drexler’s physically impossible fantasy about “molecular technology” from the late 1980′s, but it wouldn’t surprise me. The current nonsense about apocalyptic AI probably came along too late in his life for him to have much to say about it.

    Science fiction writers like Pournelle don’t necessarily have better insight into life than other people, despite their generally higher IQ’s; they just have some luck getting their fantasy lives published.

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    • Replies: @Anonymous
    SDI worked better than any of its originators could have dreamed. It was intended to get the Sovs in a big lather trying to compete: instead they choked utterly and rolled over.

    To top it off, we now have reliable information that Reagan, whatever his virtues as a human being before, was seriously impaired in at least much of his second term. Had the Sovs decided to get confrontational, we would have perhaps been in a sticky wicket.

    I never met Jerry, although I did exchange a couple of emails with him at the time he was going on about the high end PCs he had built up and the problems he was having getting them to do real work in the old and generally useless Windows 3.x/95 environments. I suggested that for as much time and bother as he'd went to and the amount he'd spent, if he hadn't just considered buying a RISC based Unix workstation. They were expensive, but you got the big clear high end monitor, a stable OS and the Unix tools to do a lot of what he had to do, plus some (although not all) of the typical desktop applications had started to appear on the platform. (You couldn't get Word, but you could get WordPerfect, for instance.) I don't remember his exact answer but it seemed noncomittal and handwavish to me at the time.

    As a hard-SF writer, of course, he was without peer at the end, when the fantasy crap had pretty well made hard SF a thing of the past in terms of market share. And I liked his blog, but not well enough to read it consistently. I respected his views, but our cones of interest just didn't coincide enough.


    And as for Space Colonization, it wasn't a subject I had ever touched on with Jerry, but I lived in a couple of cities where the L-whatever Society had a big presence and several friends and co-workers were big adherents. They were a lot like the libtys, a talk and socialization thing more than nything else. But I always responded to people who wanted me to join with the response that if we couldn't get more than a fraction of one percent of the population to be able to fly a J-3 around a grass strip we were wasting our time talking about mass spaceflight.
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  36. GSR says:

    RIP Jerry. One of the masters of hard sci-fi, along with Larry Niven and the Big 3 – Clarke, Asimov and Heinlein, I grew up reading these guys. I loved them all. Niven I believe is still with us.

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  37. songbird says:
    @El Dato
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Pournelle

    Apart from reading his column in BYTE Magazine back when I was starting Computer Science studies and a fracking Greenhorn.

    I read "Lucifer's Hammer", which was a bit over the top as embattled survivors have to fend off crazed liberals/cannibals/roaming military units/people with no marketable skills in a post-apocalyptic work while trying to start up a nuclear reactor (we know since Fukushima that US nuclear reactors are not to be safely shut down or kickstarted in post-apocalyptic settings).

    Also "Falkenberg's Legion" which was "Mercenaries brought in to impose order. In Spaaacee!", i.e. like US in Somalia, but successful.

    Also "The Mote in God's Eye" (mind blown, although the Motie Engineers have skills that near Matrix Agents), and then "The Gripping Hand" (also excellent, provides example of the deluded do-gooder about to bring down the roof ... because of alien immigration, also features Mormons ... IN SPAAACCEE!!)

    I will salute and drink a few on Jerry!

    (Now I have to run I have been OSS coding the whole day an MUH FRIDGE IS EMPTY)

    You’re wrong about the nuclear reactor. It was still working: they were just trying to defend it, not start it up. Pretty good scene, imo. Too bad they never made a movie or miniseries.

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  38. And it was not SDI which destroyed the Soviet empire (remember: it never even got an ASAT into space, never got a single gamma-ray laser online and estimates back then were a trillion 1980-dollars for a so-so system that would be easily overhelmed by decoys if it even worked at all) but a centralized fake economy shocked by empty shelves fatigue, Afghanistan and the biggie of it all, Chernobyl, the trust-buster.

    Gotta disagree somewhat. We could afford to spend billions, and did, on SDI (no one thought it would work but every DoD proposal in the mid-80s had the word SDI in it) and the Soviets knew they could not. So Gorby tried to do a Deng Xiao Ping light on the Soviet economy and that was that.

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    • Replies: @Randy Stafford
    SDI is a real-world example of the Pournelle-Possony thesis in The Strategy of Technology -- a superior technology which exceeds the enemy's ability to defend against. The USSR knew it did not have the economic resources to mount a defense.

    The desired state of mind was imposed on the enemy, and victory accomplished.
    , @Thirdeye
    The Soviet path to disintegration was in motion well before SDI came along. During the Brezhnev stagnation the system of official bribes - from the central Soviet government to the republics and from the Soviet Union to eastern European client states for political stability - was out of control with multiple levels of skim taking place. Rubles were being poured into a rathole with few tangible benefits resulting. The KGB under Yuri Andropov recognized the corruption as a threat to national security and launched a legal campaign in response. By 1982 the campaign had weakened the Brezhnocrats to the point that Andropov could become the chief of state. As the Soviet system of bought loyalty was reaching its demise, Andropov kept a tight lid on political dissent. Gorbachev was a reformer who rose in the wake of the KGB's campaign but, unlike Andropov, sought liberalization while dismantling the remains of the bought-loyalty structures. Unfortunately, that only shifted the locus of corruption from the old system to the "reformed" systems and without the institutional centrality that had lent some measure of stability. By 1990 the situation was chaos. Deng succeeded where Gorbachev failed in part because reforms took place with a priority on maintaining institutional cohesiveness. The system remained authoritarian but it worked. IMO the lesson is that forcing liberalization into situations where the social and economic foundations have not been laid is a formula for a chaotic and ultimately illiberal result. Andropov's approach might have succeeded where Gorbachev's failed.
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  39. OT: This article (https://www.city-journal.org/html/sub-chicago-and-americas-real-crime-rate-15341.html) says that Chicago’s murder rate is even worse than reported. This is my shocked face.

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  40. “Think of it as evolution in action”.

    A profound observation.

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  41. Lurker says:
    @Sharrukin
    Jerry Pournelle was a great writer. Loved Lucifers Hammer, the Janissary series, Footfall, and the Mote In Gods Eye. He was the one who got me interested in space with A Step Further Out and his novels. It wasn't the total fantasy crap that so many other scifi writers push.

    He lived a long life, inspired people, and contributed a lot to others.

    What more can any of us ask for?

    He was the one who got me interested in space with A Step Further Out and his novels.

    Same here!

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  42. Lurker says:
    @Harry Baldwin
    A few years ago, interested in Dante's Inferno but finding Dante a little too obscure, I read Inferno (1976) by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Very enjoyable. Then I saw that 33 years later, they had put out a sequel, Escape From Hell (2009). This one was not only even more enjoyable, but quite spiritually profound, IMHO. Nice to think writers can improve with age.

    Thanks for that, as I had no idea they had done a sequel. A shocking failure on my part in these days of the interwebs.

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  43. @Jim Don Bob

    And it was not SDI which destroyed the Soviet empire (remember: it never even got an ASAT into space, never got a single gamma-ray laser online and estimates back then were a trillion 1980-dollars for a so-so system that would be easily overhelmed by decoys if it even worked at all) but a centralized fake economy shocked by empty shelves fatigue, Afghanistan and the biggie of it all, Chernobyl, the trust-buster.
     
    Gotta disagree somewhat. We could afford to spend billions, and did, on SDI (no one thought it would work but every DoD proposal in the mid-80s had the word SDI in it) and the Soviets knew they could not. So Gorby tried to do a Deng Xiao Ping light on the Soviet economy and that was that.

    SDI is a real-world example of the Pournelle-Possony thesis in The Strategy of Technology — a superior technology which exceeds the enemy’s ability to defend against. The USSR knew it did not have the economic resources to mount a defense.

    The desired state of mind was imposed on the enemy, and victory accomplished.

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  44. Knotnull says:

    I first encountered him at Byte, reading a few of his columns. I didn’t know he wrote other works. Then read “The Mote In God’s Eye” and that got me more interested. (That book was very evocative and just a great tale.) “Inferno” was fun and imaginitive. Will have to read the sequel. Looking forward to read what Larry N. has to say because even if you don’t like their works you can’t deny collobarative effort like that is rare and that alone is worthy of note.

    Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, Jerry, it won’t be that long for the rest of us. Maybe we’ll see you there.

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  45. No anecdotes, but he and Niven’s work had a kind of impact on me. As a voracious sci-fi and fantasy reader, books like Footfall and Lucifers Hammer had a non-trivial influence on my formative years. I followed his blog for a while, I think it was just after 911.

    I’m a few bourbons deep but didn’t he write the little short story about the time traveller called something like “just X words”?

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  46. Lucifer’s Hammer is one of the epic (and appropriate given the context) titles of all time.

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  47. A guerrilla leader of the original (and best) alt-right, his Chaos Manor blog was one of the first places that people like us could discover that we weren’t alone.

    Terribly missed.

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    • Agree: Vinteuil
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  48. Phssthpok says:

    I’ve read all Larry Niven’s books, including all collabs with Pournelle. Inferno is the #1 book I recommend to others as an intro to these two. After that, read the sequel Escape from Hell.

    And then: Fallen Angels, Mote in God’s Eye series, Footfall, Lucifer’s Hammer, Legacy of Heorot series, and then the rest.

    He leaves behind some fantastic fiction.

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  49. PapayaSF says:

    Larry Niven used to have carpal tunnel syndrome and couldn’t sign books, so Jerry would happily sign books for both of them by signing his name, then writing a big “X” with “Niven his mark” next to it, as if Niven was illiterate. I’m sure they both got a laugh from that.

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  50. The height of my literary career was being disagreed with by Pournelle. He thought my “Myths of Technological Progress” article was wrong. I mean, I think it was right, but the important thing was, Jerry Pournelle read something I wrote.

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  51. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer
    @advancedatheist
    Pournelle promoted technological mirages like Gerard K. O'Neill's space colonization proposal back in the 1970's and the Reagan Administration's Strategic Defense Initiative a few years later. I don't know if he also talked up Eric Drexler's physically impossible fantasy about "molecular technology" from the late 1980's, but it wouldn't surprise me. The current nonsense about apocalyptic AI probably came along too late in his life for him to have much to say about it.

    Science fiction writers like Pournelle don't necessarily have better insight into life than other people, despite their generally higher IQ's; they just have some luck getting their fantasy lives published.

    SDI worked better than any of its originators could have dreamed. It was intended to get the Sovs in a big lather trying to compete: instead they choked utterly and rolled over.

    To top it off, we now have reliable information that Reagan, whatever his virtues as a human being before, was seriously impaired in at least much of his second term. Had the Sovs decided to get confrontational, we would have perhaps been in a sticky wicket.

    I never met Jerry, although I did exchange a couple of emails with him at the time he was going on about the high end PCs he had built up and the problems he was having getting them to do real work in the old and generally useless Windows 3.x/95 environments. I suggested that for as much time and bother as he’d went to and the amount he’d spent, if he hadn’t just considered buying a RISC based Unix workstation. They were expensive, but you got the big clear high end monitor, a stable OS and the Unix tools to do a lot of what he had to do, plus some (although not all) of the typical desktop applications had started to appear on the platform. (You couldn’t get Word, but you could get WordPerfect, for instance.) I don’t remember his exact answer but it seemed noncomittal and handwavish to me at the time.

    As a hard-SF writer, of course, he was without peer at the end, when the fantasy crap had pretty well made hard SF a thing of the past in terms of market share. And I liked his blog, but not well enough to read it consistently. I respected his views, but our cones of interest just didn’t coincide enough.

    And as for Space Colonization, it wasn’t a subject I had ever touched on with Jerry, but I lived in a couple of cities where the L-whatever Society had a big presence and several friends and co-workers were big adherents. They were a lot like the libtys, a talk and socialization thing more than nything else. But I always responded to people who wanted me to join with the response that if we couldn’t get more than a fraction of one percent of the population to be able to fly a J-3 around a grass strip we were wasting our time talking about mass spaceflight.

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    • Replies: @Lurker
    Just been reading a book about the late Soviet era and the fall of the Berlin Wall, it seems that the Soviet were just not as excited by the SDI as we've been led to believe. The SDI was supposed to push them to collapse and since the USSR did collapse, cheerleaders for the SDI were happy to take some credit. But maybe it was largely coincidence?
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  52. Those seriously interested in Pournelle’s legacy should read my review of his greatest accomplishment:

    https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2017/09/science-fiction-author-jerry-pournelle-has-died.html#sot_c9c4afaffec76898418e06b9f1a11899a37ba834

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  53. Lurker says:
    @Anonymous
    SDI worked better than any of its originators could have dreamed. It was intended to get the Sovs in a big lather trying to compete: instead they choked utterly and rolled over.

    To top it off, we now have reliable information that Reagan, whatever his virtues as a human being before, was seriously impaired in at least much of his second term. Had the Sovs decided to get confrontational, we would have perhaps been in a sticky wicket.

    I never met Jerry, although I did exchange a couple of emails with him at the time he was going on about the high end PCs he had built up and the problems he was having getting them to do real work in the old and generally useless Windows 3.x/95 environments. I suggested that for as much time and bother as he'd went to and the amount he'd spent, if he hadn't just considered buying a RISC based Unix workstation. They were expensive, but you got the big clear high end monitor, a stable OS and the Unix tools to do a lot of what he had to do, plus some (although not all) of the typical desktop applications had started to appear on the platform. (You couldn't get Word, but you could get WordPerfect, for instance.) I don't remember his exact answer but it seemed noncomittal and handwavish to me at the time.

    As a hard-SF writer, of course, he was without peer at the end, when the fantasy crap had pretty well made hard SF a thing of the past in terms of market share. And I liked his blog, but not well enough to read it consistently. I respected his views, but our cones of interest just didn't coincide enough.


    And as for Space Colonization, it wasn't a subject I had ever touched on with Jerry, but I lived in a couple of cities where the L-whatever Society had a big presence and several friends and co-workers were big adherents. They were a lot like the libtys, a talk and socialization thing more than nything else. But I always responded to people who wanted me to join with the response that if we couldn't get more than a fraction of one percent of the population to be able to fly a J-3 around a grass strip we were wasting our time talking about mass spaceflight.

    Just been reading a book about the late Soviet era and the fall of the Berlin Wall, it seems that the Soviet were just not as excited by the SDI as we’ve been led to believe. The SDI was supposed to push them to collapse and since the USSR did collapse, cheerleaders for the SDI were happy to take some credit. But maybe it was largely coincidence?

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  54. Lugash says:
    @Carneades
    Pournelle relished mass slaughter and authoritarianism a little to enthusiastically for my taste.

    Am I confusing him with someone else, or was he an apologist for Argentina’s dirty war and sending 50,000 Americans off to their death in Vietnam?

    He had a good story about UFOs, but I can’t find it. A rash of sightings were Soviet weather balloons or somesuch.

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    • Replies: @JosephB
    His view was that Vietnam was not a good idea, and Eisenhower made the right call staying out. The issue was not worth the required blood and treasure to resolve to our satisfaction. However, once we had (boneheadedly) publicly guaranteed Vietnam's defense, we were required to commit.

    I never remember him speaking of Argentina.
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  55. JosephB says:
    @Lugash
    Am I confusing him with someone else, or was he an apologist for Argentina's dirty war and sending 50,000 Americans off to their death in Vietnam?

    He had a good story about UFOs, but I can't find it. A rash of sightings were Soviet weather balloons or somesuch.

    His view was that Vietnam was not a good idea, and Eisenhower made the right call staying out. The issue was not worth the required blood and treasure to resolve to our satisfaction. However, once we had (boneheadedly) publicly guaranteed Vietnam’s defense, we were required to commit.

    I never remember him speaking of Argentina.

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    However, once we had (boneheadedly) publicly guaranteed Vietnam’s defense, we were required to commit.
     
    So very honorable of him to commit to a country's defense from half of its own people. How did that actually work out BTW?
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  56. Damn. Bidding farewell to the good guys hurts. Once again I hear Donne, “Send not to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

    Ave atque vale, meum frater. Requiescat in pace.

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  57. Carneades says:
    @JosephB
    His view was that Vietnam was not a good idea, and Eisenhower made the right call staying out. The issue was not worth the required blood and treasure to resolve to our satisfaction. However, once we had (boneheadedly) publicly guaranteed Vietnam's defense, we were required to commit.

    I never remember him speaking of Argentina.

    However, once we had (boneheadedly) publicly guaranteed Vietnam’s defense, we were required to commit.

    So very honorable of him to commit to a country’s defense from half of its own people. How did that actually work out BTW?

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    • Replies: @JosephB
    (scratches head). I think you have Jerry Pournelle confused with whomever sets US foreign policy. That would be some combination of the president and congress. Jerry Pournelle is an author and an engineer.

    He would concur it worked out poorly, and probably have predicted the same, and certainly would have wished we kept our mouth shut in the time leading up to the war. Prior to the war he was opposed. For promises and threats to be worth anything, action is required. Both you and him would have preferred to live in a world where we weren't involved in Vietnam. Given that we pledged its defense, what action would you propose we do next?
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  58. Criticas says:
    @mp
    I remember Jerry from the erstwhile Byte magazine. Also, on the Genie Systems pre-Internet (time shared) bulletin board. Always had something interesting to say.

    I’ve argued before the Dr Pournelle was the spiritual predecessor to all bloggers. While there have been many diarists, Dr Pournelle’s Byte columns, their continuation on Bix, and later on the web influenced many in the popular computer technology field. His breezy, personal mix of day-to-day events, hands on tech use, and discussions of technology and politics foreshadowed many bloggers’ schtick.

    RIP, Dr Pournelle.

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  59. JosephB says:
    @Carneades

    However, once we had (boneheadedly) publicly guaranteed Vietnam’s defense, we were required to commit.
     
    So very honorable of him to commit to a country's defense from half of its own people. How did that actually work out BTW?

    (scratches head). I think you have Jerry Pournelle confused with whomever sets US foreign policy. That would be some combination of the president and congress. Jerry Pournelle is an author and an engineer.

    He would concur it worked out poorly, and probably have predicted the same, and certainly would have wished we kept our mouth shut in the time leading up to the war. Prior to the war he was opposed. For promises and threats to be worth anything, action is required. Both you and him would have preferred to live in a world where we weren’t involved in Vietnam. Given that we pledged its defense, what action would you propose we do next?

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    • Replies: @Carneades

    Prior to the war he was opposed.
     
    If he was against the war prior to its start then once it starts seems to me a strange time to change your mind. And when did the war start? We had troops there supporting the French from 1954. 1961 with the defense treaty? 1964 with the overzealous radar operators on our destroyer?

    As to the United States being committed to Vietnam's defense: there was no one to defend it from. We never even signed the Geneva Accords which officially recognized the cease fire line that had been agreed to by the French Army and the Viet Minh military command. Vietnam wasn't invaded from without, it was a civil war.

    , @Randy Stafford
    As I recall (his website is not accessible due to increased traffic), Pournelle said the Vietnam War was useful in sucking up a lot of Soviet military production (trucks especially) and that the Vietnam War was lost when the U.S. Congress reneged on how much aide it promised South Vietnam.

    I think the actual aide paid, per soldier, worked out to something like a couple of grenades and a couple of hundred rounds of ammo.

    I also recall him recommending an alternate strategy to what the U.S. actually did in the war.
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  60. Thirdeye says:
    @Jim Don Bob

    And it was not SDI which destroyed the Soviet empire (remember: it never even got an ASAT into space, never got a single gamma-ray laser online and estimates back then were a trillion 1980-dollars for a so-so system that would be easily overhelmed by decoys if it even worked at all) but a centralized fake economy shocked by empty shelves fatigue, Afghanistan and the biggie of it all, Chernobyl, the trust-buster.
     
    Gotta disagree somewhat. We could afford to spend billions, and did, on SDI (no one thought it would work but every DoD proposal in the mid-80s had the word SDI in it) and the Soviets knew they could not. So Gorby tried to do a Deng Xiao Ping light on the Soviet economy and that was that.

    The Soviet path to disintegration was in motion well before SDI came along. During the Brezhnev stagnation the system of official bribes – from the central Soviet government to the republics and from the Soviet Union to eastern European client states for political stability – was out of control with multiple levels of skim taking place. Rubles were being poured into a rathole with few tangible benefits resulting. The KGB under Yuri Andropov recognized the corruption as a threat to national security and launched a legal campaign in response. By 1982 the campaign had weakened the Brezhnocrats to the point that Andropov could become the chief of state. As the Soviet system of bought loyalty was reaching its demise, Andropov kept a tight lid on political dissent. Gorbachev was a reformer who rose in the wake of the KGB’s campaign but, unlike Andropov, sought liberalization while dismantling the remains of the bought-loyalty structures. Unfortunately, that only shifted the locus of corruption from the old system to the “reformed” systems and without the institutional centrality that had lent some measure of stability. By 1990 the situation was chaos. Deng succeeded where Gorbachev failed in part because reforms took place with a priority on maintaining institutional cohesiveness. The system remained authoritarian but it worked. IMO the lesson is that forcing liberalization into situations where the social and economic foundations have not been laid is a formula for a chaotic and ultimately illiberal result. Andropov’s approach might have succeeded where Gorbachev’s failed.

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  61. Carneades says:
    @JosephB
    (scratches head). I think you have Jerry Pournelle confused with whomever sets US foreign policy. That would be some combination of the president and congress. Jerry Pournelle is an author and an engineer.

    He would concur it worked out poorly, and probably have predicted the same, and certainly would have wished we kept our mouth shut in the time leading up to the war. Prior to the war he was opposed. For promises and threats to be worth anything, action is required. Both you and him would have preferred to live in a world where we weren't involved in Vietnam. Given that we pledged its defense, what action would you propose we do next?

    Prior to the war he was opposed.

    If he was against the war prior to its start then once it starts seems to me a strange time to change your mind. And when did the war start? We had troops there supporting the French from 1954. 1961 with the defense treaty? 1964 with the overzealous radar operators on our destroyer?

    As to the United States being committed to Vietnam’s defense: there was no one to defend it from. We never even signed the Geneva Accords which officially recognized the cease fire line that had been agreed to by the French Army and the Viet Minh military command. Vietnam wasn’t invaded from without, it was a civil war.

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  62. @JosephB
    (scratches head). I think you have Jerry Pournelle confused with whomever sets US foreign policy. That would be some combination of the president and congress. Jerry Pournelle is an author and an engineer.

    He would concur it worked out poorly, and probably have predicted the same, and certainly would have wished we kept our mouth shut in the time leading up to the war. Prior to the war he was opposed. For promises and threats to be worth anything, action is required. Both you and him would have preferred to live in a world where we weren't involved in Vietnam. Given that we pledged its defense, what action would you propose we do next?

    As I recall (his website is not accessible due to increased traffic), Pournelle said the Vietnam War was useful in sucking up a lot of Soviet military production (trucks especially) and that the Vietnam War was lost when the U.S. Congress reneged on how much aide it promised South Vietnam.

    I think the actual aide paid, per soldier, worked out to something like a couple of grenades and a couple of hundred rounds of ammo.

    I also recall him recommending an alternate strategy to what the U.S. actually did in the war.

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  63. Carneades says:

    55,000 dead Americans is a hell of a price to pay for diverting some Soviet trucks.

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  64. By coincidence I just re-read his and Larry Niven’s Lucifer’s Hammer from 1977. Unsurpassed still, although having a U.S. Senator from California as a leading character who is also a patriot and in favor of nuclear energy sounds bizarre today.

    I remember Pournelle for giving me a great shove in the direction of scientific common sense. It was at the sf Worldcon in Brighton, England, in 1979, where he gave a thunderingly pro-technology and pro-growth lecture. At one point he showed a slide of a barefoot girl on a jungle path in some Central American country. “Idyllic, right?” he said or words to that effect. To the ecology types, such scenes meant paradise. “But in reality she probably has hookworm and a short life expectancy.” I was still not recovered from my anti-growth and “small is beautiful” phase, and Pournelle’s unapologetic defense of, indeed demand for, aggressive pro-growth and pro-science policies gave me the final nudge in the right direction. A leader of men by the power of his pen.
    Too bad too few have listened to him, especially in his home state. It’s not too late.
    RIP Jerry Pournelle

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  65. I spoke to him at Dragon Con a last week. I asked him when I could give him money for “Mamelukes”? He laughed(with a big smile), and told me next Spring, “but” that would not be the end of the story! He said one more book was need after Marelukes to finish all the threads in Janissaries.

    I also feel sad, wondering how that story would have ended.

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