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Jerry Pournelle (1933-2017): “Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.”

It’s hard to sum a person up that you know only from their books and their blog, but more and more that’s what the world requires. I first came across Pournelle in his Byte Magazine column back in the years when my first computer was an IBM metal cased monster with a dual floppy drive boasting a green cathode monitor hooked up to an insanely loud dot matrix printer. For an internet connection in during that Techno-Stone Age I used an RCA dumb terminal with a 300 baud modem that made a sound like what crack could feel like hitting your backbrain. I got it for ten bucks new in the box at a garage sale because nobody, including me, knew what it was.

In those days I knew nothing, but I knew enough to buy a magazine on computing. That would have been Byte which, in the early years, had few pages that were intelligible to me. One of those was Pournelle and his monthly rendition of his adventures in computing; adventures which alway put my fumbling aggravations with computers to shame. In Pournelle’s world at Chaos Manor  his computer foo was far beyond mortal computer foo. His foo was epic. Indeed his column’s stock and trade was his endless diddling and dicking around with hardware or software, and why it was always going haywire. Chaos Manor was the Fibber McGee’s closet of computing. He’d no sooner get one computer or system up and running than he’d blow it all up by adding a component here and upgrading some software there. Nothing, but nothing, ever ran smoothly for long in Pournelle’s “Chaos Manor.” And they kept not running smoothly right up until the end because Pournelle could never let any of his computers and systems just be.

He was a man’s man and a writer’s writer. And he was very good at it.

On top of it all the man was a polymath who crammed a dozen careers into one life. Among many firsts, Pournealle was the first author to write a novel on a computer

In a recent history, Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing by University of Maryland Associate Professor of English Matthew G. Kirschenbaum says that Pournelle “has a strong claim to having been the first author to have written published fiction on a word processor.” Pournelle acknowledged that “It’s generally conceded that I wrote the first published book written on a computer.”

Pournelle worked right up to the last moment. He signed off his last daily blog entry with an insight into the Dreamers – Chaos Manor – Jerry Pournelle with a typical and sane solution the continuing immigration woes. To wit:

Any volunteer of any age who serves 7 years overseas in Army or Marines gets a Green Card and an application to apply for Citizenship along with his honorable discharge. The Citizenship application and test need not be very difficult and I would expect all who applied to pass it. The swearing should be public and conducted by an officer of rank Colonel or above.

As to girls, we can think of something similar or suitable; they need not join the combat arms. Surgical Assistant comes instantly to mind.

Their parents are a more difficult problem, and it will take ingenuity to find a path that does not offend the legal immigrants who obeyed the law.

More later I’m experiencing a wave of nausea.

Bye for now.

The next day the world learned:

From Jerry’s son Alex:

I’m afraid that Jerry passed away.
We had a great time at DragonCon.
He did not suffer.

(8 Sep 2017 – 3:45pm PDT)

Pournelle’s signature sign-off was: “Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.”

Pournelle’s science-fiction gave us not some dystopian world of endless despair but a gleaming future where the human race survives and thrives — splendidly — out into the far stars.

Now he is starlight.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Campesino September 13, 2017, 7:12 PM

    Always enjoyed his work.

    I was always proud that he and I graduated from the same high school

  • Monty James September 13, 2017, 7:17 PM

    A few years ago I emailed him about something he posted in the View from Chaos Manor, and quoted a bit of “MacDonough’s Song” at the end:

    “Once there was The People—Terror gave it birth;
    Once there was The People and it made a Hell of Earth.
    Earth arose and crushed it. Listen, O ye slain!
    Once there was The People—it shall never be again!”

    He replied to me, the “Have no truck with the senseless thing. Order the guns and kill!” part.
    I hadn’t expected him to reply, he must surely have had more than enough serious matters to see to. A gentleman he was, and it’s always stuck with me. I have spent many contented hours with his books.

    There are fewer giants every year. RIP and Godspeed.

  • Nori September 13, 2017, 7:43 PM

    Pournelle’s brain was percolating right up to the end. What a gift he was to the rest of us.
    RIP and Godspeed.

  • Anderson September 13, 2017, 8:51 PM

    RIP, sir. Same age as my father. Truly an unsung generation.

  • Rob De Witt September 13, 2017, 9:32 PM

    I’m thankful there was Jerry Pournelle. Those of us who survive you will say the same things about you, you know.

    And not to get too soppy: that should be stock in trade, not and.

  • MMinLamesa September 14, 2017, 2:08 AM

    I’ve enjoyed him and his writing for many years-God Speed dude.

  • wheels September 14, 2017, 10:10 AM

    I spoke with him once, years ago, when he was a guest at an SF con here in Denver. A very intelligent and gracious individual who could, apparently, speak with authority on almost any topic.

  • Larry Geiger September 14, 2017, 11:50 AM

    Probably should have kept one or two of those old Byte magazines. I kept my Marvel comics but not Byte and PCWorld. Hmmmmmm… Read most of Jerry’s stuff back in my SciFi days. Those guys (Heinlein, Asimov, van Vogt, Clark, etc) pretty much invented every thing there was to invent. Nowadays it’s just endless “fantasy” serials. Helped me make it through junior high and the odd years. I built some of the stuff that Jerry talked about back in the early days. Even dialed up some BBS’s on the 300b modem. Fun times. Even did some stuff on a VAX back in the day. Loved Chaos Manor. Loved the way that Jerry included some of his personal life in his articles. He didn’t just do stuff, he was always doing it for his wife or his son or somebody else. Just plain fun to read.

  • Eskyman September 14, 2017, 1:44 PM

    I loved Dr. Pournelle’s blog, and his novels. Coincidentally I had just finished re-reading Lucifer’s Hammer, just before his death. Though I read it for the first time years ago, it is still one hum-dinger of a novel, and kept me enthralled throughout.

    Now I will set about re-reading all his other work, and thanks to Vox Day’s generosity I now have There Will Be War Vol. 1, which is next up on my reading list.

    I will sure miss him. Hopefully Larry Niven will be able to finish the last novel that the two of them were working on. I’ll be buying it, and hope that the proceeds will help Jerry’s family (his wife is recovering from a stroke just as Jerry was, and I’m sure every bit helps.)

    For many years I’ve been a subscriber to Chaos Manor; I’ll leave that subscription going, as I’d like to keep that site going as a remembrance and a resource.

    Rest in peace, Dr. Jerry Pournelle. Thank you so much for the many days of enjoyment I’ve received from your work. My world is darker without the light you generated.

    O/T: the article above has some weird text or font oddities, like this: “Pournealle” Am I the only one seeing the crosses in this and several other words?

  • Eskyman September 14, 2017, 1:53 PM

    This is just the kind of computer glitch that would have intrigued Dr. Pournelle: my last post, which was supposed to show the odd crosses in the word “Pournelle” naturally didn’t show any such thing, though I copied & pasted the word with the crosses between the letters thusly: Po++urnelle.

    This time I added pluses, which are not the letters that I see in the article above. What I see does look like actual crosses; I can only hope that this is a sign that Dr. Pournelle has arrived where I hoped he’d go! (I can almost hear him laughing about it!)

  • Walt Gottesman September 14, 2017, 8:53 PM

    Met Doc Pournelle at a conference in Seoul, Korea, in the ’80s. He had a small hand-held computer with him, the first of its kind I’d ever seen. He turned around to see who was looking over his shoulder and I introduced myself, told him my dad had served two tours of duty in the Korean War. He said that Korea had changed a lot for the better since the war. He knew what he was talking about since he too had served there during that conflict. He also talked about the importance of missile defence.
    Years later I read that he’d been a Marine in Korea, serving with an artillery unit. He was only 17 when the Korean War began. He still had a military bearing 35 years later. An honest, brilliant, no-nonsense writer and man of many interests and accomplishments. Found much good info and informed suggestions for solving current problems by reading his Chaos Manor blog posts over the years. Enjoyed reading his disucssions with commenters too.
    Knew he’d been ill but was startled and saddened to learn he had died. Glad though, that his passing was peaceful. May his family find comfort in their good memories of him and may he RIP.