Sci-Fi titan Jerry Pournelle passes,
New Wave giant, journalist, essayist and Byte columnist now a mote in God's eye
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, Pournelle gave the world fiction that put a lasting imprint on many sub-genres of sci-fi: The Mote in God's Eye is one of the great “first contact” novels; Lucifer's Hammer has informed decades of survivalist narratives; 1987's The Legacy of Heorot (with Steven Barnes as the third contributor) imagined a nightmarish exobiology.
Aside from his output as a novelist, Pournelle was also a prodigious columnist. Writing as a non-specialist user-reviewer for Byte under the column named Chaos Manor, he's credited with coining “Real Soon Now” to describe the delivery schedule of vapourware.
To this writer, Pournelle's earlier work, as the A Step Farther Out columnist in Galaxy magazine is also memorable. He wrote frequently about the importance of America's space program, something he believed was crucial to humanity's survival; he dove deep into difficult science, bringing readers along for adventures with various Texas Instruments scientific calculators, During the United States' energy crisis in the 1970s, he explored and explained alternative energy all the way up to orbital solar plants beaming electricity back to Earth.
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.