Author, columnist, and researcher Dr. Jerry Pournelle passed away yesterday at the age of 84, according to his son Alex. Pournelle’s career ran the gamut from science (he worked in areas ranging from manned space flight to missile defense for Boeing, the USAF, and elsewhere) to science fiction (such as The Mote in God’s Eye, Inferno, and Lucifer’s Hammer, co-authored with Larry Niven), and quite a bit in between. He received 5 Hugo and 3 Nebula Nominations, and was the first winner of the Campbell Award. Pournelle had suffered both a brain tumor and a stroke in recent years, but seemed determined to keep writing and staying involved in the community — he attended Dragon Con this past weekend in good spirits, according to his son.
The thing I remember most about Pournelle’s work was his Chaos Manor column in the Byte Magazine of the 1980s, which was an eclectic mix of hardware reviews, opinion, and tech commentary in an era when such things were just getting started at a consumer level. After I described the column to another writer here at BC just now, he replied, “Oh, you mean like a tech blogger before blogging”, which pretty much covers it.
A writer to the end, Pournelle posted on his blog on Thursday noting that he felt unwell, and passed in his sleep sleep at his Studio City, California home the next day.
Dr. Jerry Pournelle received his degrees from the University of Washington in Seattle. He joined the Boeing Company as a Human Factors Engineer and Aviation Psychologist, and headed the Human Factors Laboratory, where they did pioneer work on astronaut heat tolerance in extreme environments, as well as experimental tests for certifying the passenger oxygen system for the Boeing 707.
He later joined a design and analysis group as a Systems Analyst where he was involved in strategic analysis of proposed new weapons systems. In 1964, he joined the Aerospace Corporation in San Bernardino, California to become Editor of Project 75, a major USAF study of all ballistic missile technology which identified and recommended USAF investment in technologies required to build the missile force which would be required in 1975. When Project 75 was completed he became manager of several advanced concept studies. He later joined North American Space division where he took part in the Apollo program and general operations research as well as still classified studies.
The Strategy of Technology (1970), by Stefan Possony, Jerry Pournelle, and Col. Francis X. Kane became a textbook at the USAF Academy and two national war colleges.
In November 1980 following the election, he chaired the committee that wrote the Space and Defense policy papers for the incoming transition team; this committee (Citizen’s Advisory Council on National Space Policy) was
continued, by White House request, after the inauguration, and with Gen. Graham developed a policy of Strategic Defense, called “Star Wars” by opponents, which became the Strategic Defense Imitative. In 1989 the
committee developed the SSX concept, which became the DCX, the first successful reusable vertical landing rocket craft.
Red Heroin, an action/adventure mystery (Berkeley Books), his first novel, was published in 1968. He has been a full-time writer since 1972, as well as successfully managing political campaigns; science columnist for the
National Catholic Press; Analog SF Magazine columnist; and Science Editor/Columnist of Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine. After 1982 his BYTE Magazine column was one of the two best known columns in the computer
industry, continuing from 1980 to 2008.
He has 5 Hugo and 3 Nebula Nominations, and was the first winner of the Campbell Award (previously known as the Best New Writer Hugo). He has authored or co-authored at least seven national best-sellers, of which
Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle is probably the best known, having been 21 weeks on the New York Times best-selling list. He is working on at least four books now.
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