The death has been announced of Jerry Pournelle, aged 84.
He was a contentious figure who, both in life and in his fiction, strongly advocated for the military, co-editing the long-running anthology series, There Will Be War. He believed in the (American) militarization of space, and was one of the science fiction writers whose thinking was behind President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative, also known as Star Wars. Pournelle was at one point rumoured to have written that part of Reagan’s 1983 State of the Union Address that announced the SDI (though Pournelle vehemently denied this). At roughly the same time, in novels like the alien invasion story, Footfall, which he co-wrote with Larry Niven, he used the fiction to propose a space-based weapons system, and also presented a panel of thinly disguised science fiction writers to brainstorm ways to counter the threat from space, echoing the writers like Robert Heinlein, Gregory Benford and Poul Anderson who were on the actual Citizens’ Advisory Council on National Space Policy.
Pournelle’s politics put him at odds with many other sf writers, and in public he seemed to enjoy upsetting people and making enemies. Though behind the scenes, as President of the Science Fiction Writers of America, he is reputed to have been both generous and keen to help younger writers, and in private he seems to have been a good friend to people across the political spectrum.
His fiction, including the books he wrote in collaboration with Larry Niven, Steven Barnes and others, tended to feature honourable military figures, while civilians, especially politicians and bureaucrats, are usually presented as corrupt, self-serving, and in opposition to the greater noble goals of humankind. This is particularly apparent in his early solo fiction such as the Janisarries series, beginning with the novel Janissaries, and in the Falkenberg series (Falkenberg’s Legion) which would in turn grow into the huge CoDominium future history which also incorporated the numerous War World anthologies, and The Mote in God’s Eye the first and possibly the best of his collaborations with Larry Niven, a first contact story that is often reckoned one of the finest of its kind.
Pournelle would go on to write a further 11 novels in collaboration with Niven (sometimes also with Steven Barnes or Michael Flynn), plus other collaborations with S.M. Stirling, Dean Ing, Roland J. Green and Charles Sheffield. Even these collaborative novels tended to share many of the military characteristics of Pournelle’s solo work, but he seemed to thrive on working with others and these are generally his best novels.
The collaborations that stand out particularly include Lucifer’s Hammer (with Niven) which details the struggle to survive after a comet’s catastrophic collision with earth; Oath of Fealty (with Niven) which concerns the near-feudal society that evolves within an arcology constructed just outside Los Angeles, and the ways they have of defeating an attack by anti-technology terrorists; The Legacy of Heorot (with Niven and Barnes) which tells of human colonists on an alien world who have been intellectually impaired by the suspended animation technology that brought them to the planet; and Fallen Angels (with Niven and Flynn), winner of the Prometheus Award and the Japanese Seiun Award, in which science fiction fans rescue crashed astronauts in the face of opposition from governments and military in a novel that also consists of a savage satirical attack on politicians, environmentalists, journalists and most other civilians.
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.