Jerry Pournelle Week Continues

Tuesday , 12, September 2017 3 Comments

Jerry Pournelle Week continues with Glenn Reynolds’s tribute to Jerry Pournelle.

Jerry Pournelle died on Friday, peacefully in his sleep. With his death, America lost an important figure… But Pournelle didn’t just write fiction. His 1970 book with Stefan Possony, The Strategy of Technology, outlined a strategy for winning the Cold War (with among other things, an emphasis on strategic missile defense) that was largely followed, and successfully, by the Reagan administration. He was a driving force behind the Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy in the 1980s that helped lay the groundwork for today’s booming civilian space launch industry. And, for me, his wide-ranging columns in Galaxy Magazine, back when it was edited by star editor James Baen, were particularly influential.

I was a kid in the 1970s, which was not a great era to be a kid. We had Vietnam and Watergate, the Apollo space program quit abruptly, oil prices skyrocketed and so did inflation. Even a hamburger was expensive.

And while that was going on, the voices in the media were all preaching gloom and doom. Stanford professor Paul R. Ehrlich, in his book The Population Bomb, was predicting food riots in America due to overpopulation. A group called The Club of Rome published a report titled The Limits to Growth that suggested it was all over for Western technological civilization. Bookstore displays were filled with books like The Late Great Planet Earth that announced the end times. And if that weren’t enough, most people figured we were heading for a global thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union. It looked like we were headed for some sort of apocalyptic future in which Charlton Heston would be the only survivor besides a few apes or mutants.

But Jerry Pournelle never bought it. In his Galaxy columns — eventually collected and published in book form, and still in print — he actually did the math. The fact was, he reported, we could not only survive but, in his words, survive with style.

Castalia House is republishing The Strategy of Technology later this year. Also, today and tomorrow, we are giving away our chief editor’s favorite volume in the entire There Will Be War series, namely, Volume II. It is edited by Jerry Pournelle and features 19 stories, articles, and poems. Of particular note are “Superiority” by Arthur C. Clarke, “In the Name of the Father” by Edward P. Hughes, “‘Caster” by Eric Vinicoff, “Cincinnatus” by Joel Rosenberg, “On the Shadow of a Phosphor Screen” by William Wu, and “Proud Legions”, an essay on the Korean War by T.R. Fehrenbach.

These stories are great and many of them remain relevant today. Just last month, Castalia House was contacted by a U.S. military war college and asked for permission to give out copies of There Will Be War Vol. II to the officers in the class, which permission we obviously granted.

That is what real influence looks like. Most of the authors and the editor are gone now, but the beauty of the written word is that it provides the author with a voice even after death.

  • deuce says:

    If Jerry had to go, at least we have this great move/gesture/gift from CH to console us. I’ve already turned on a couple of people who were just vaguely aware of JP before and are now curious.

  • Chris L says:

    Dr. Pournelle was very much a creature of the cold war. He was trained and educated to fight it on both a military and ideological level. That’s why his work always sounded like it came from someone who knew what he was talking about. He did.

  • Lance A. Leventhal says:

    Jerry was indeed an amazing and colorful guy, and I often find myself telling people stories about him. Here is a typical one.

    This is from almost 60 years ago. It is 1959 in Seattle, and I am at Jerry’s house on a Saturday morning. Actually, I am at Jerry’s house most Saturday mornings. This particular morning we are discussing the posterior analytics. That is not exactly true – Jerry is talking about posterior analytics and I (who am 13 years old) am listening without understanding a word he is saying (not an unusual situation with Jerry).

    Finally he gets frustrated. “Lance, ” he says, “You will have to read a book on the subject. And I have just the book you need.”

    This does not sound good. The books Jerry gives me are usually way beyond my capabilities. In fact, even today when I have three college degrees and 25 published books of my own, they are still beyond my capabilities.

    Jerry heads for a closet, deftly avoiding piles of dog poop on the floor. Jerry is currently single and his housekeeping is slovenly (thank goodness for Roberta, who will soon appear on the scene). He opens the closet door. Books come tumbling out, along with a large cloud of dust. I am sure he will never find anything in that mess – I am saved!

    Jerry reaches into the closet and pulls out a book. “That’s just the book I wanted,” he exclaims. How can that happen? There are hundreds of books in the closet and they are still shifting and falling. So much for my hopes. He holds up the book. I can tell only that it is a very large book. “That must be over 800 pages,” I think to myself. If he gives it to me, I will have to carry it home. Home is 35 blocks from where he lives, and this is Seattle remember so it’s uphill and downhill and it is drizzling. I’m not going to like this!

    He hands me the book. It is a big one and very dusty. I open the book. “Jerry,” I say plaintively, “This book isn’t in English.” He responds immediately with, “Of course not. It was written in the 14th century and all scholars then wrote in Latin. You are taking Latin, aren’t you?”

    He knows perfectly well what I am taking, since he signs my schedule. My mother turned the task over to him (he was a friend of one of my elementary school teachers who introduced us) since he obviously knew a lot more about what I needed to take than she did. No one in my family had ever been to college.

    “Jerry,” I complain, “I am only in Latin 1. And we don’t read 800 page books.” He brushes off my complaints with, “You’ll do just fine. We’ll talk about it next week.”

    Thank goodness there is a week in-between. I lug the book home in the rain and hide it in my closet. The next week we go sailing. He has a race and needs a crew (all I have to do is hang on and be dead weight). I hate sailing – I get seasick just looking at a boat on a quiet lake. I would have been better off with the 800 page book!

    What happens to the book? He never mentions it again. I bet it is somewhere in the basement of my house collecting dust – and I sure wouldn’t be able to pick it out. How did he know so many things? How had he read so many books and how could he do so many things? I still have no idea. In fact, he was not even 13 years older than I am, but he was from another world. And I still don’t know anything about the posterior analytics.

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