Sir Isaac Newton, one of the most brilliant minds the human race has ever produced, left a profound mark on history. His laws of motion and gravity forever changed the way people observe, study, and interact with the physical universe. Known mostly for his scientific discoveries, Newton was also a man of humility, leaving society with the popular quote, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” The essence of Newton’s quote is something that everyone should take to heart–no matter how successful, powerful, or accomplished one becomes, it is always a result of other people’s influence, whether good or bad. Jerry Pournelle, the late sci-fi author and technology writer, was one of the giants referred to in Newton’s quote. Jerry Pournelle’s passing is a humble reminder not only of the preciousness of life, but also of the importance of honoring the lives of those who have profound impacts on those around them.
Pournelle’s Passing and Legacy
Jerry Pournelle’s passing came rather quickly as a result of a sudden illness, according to reports. On Thursday, September 7th, he wrote blog post noting that he had come down with the flu while at DragonCon in Atlanta. His passing was announced via a post on his website a day later on September 8th at 3:45pm PDT. Pournelle passed away at 84 years old, a full life with plenty accomplishments to boast of. He is credited as having been the first person to write a full length published novel entirely on a computer.
In fact, he purchased his first computer in 1977 for $12,000 (roughly equivalent to $50,000 in today’s dollars). His reasoning behind this purchase was simple–it made him a more productive writer, editor, and publisher. The cost of the computer was paid for within a year, as the computer allowed him increase sales much more rapidly than if he stayed with his typewriter.
Pournelle was in many ways to quintessential man–he was a Korean War veteran who also held a doctorate in political science. His professional career included employment with Boeing and NASA assisting with the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. In the public sector, Pournelle held some important roles, including taking charge of the Reagan administration’s Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy.” He also worked briefly with then Senator Newt Gingrich. He wasn’t, however, a man without controversy. He was known to push the envelope with his writing, having been described as “a deeply conservative and polarizing figure within the science fiction community, who often described his political beliefs as ‘somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan.’” He was both lauded and critiqued by those in the sci-fi sphere for helping spark the military sci-fi genre, but he was known by all as an extremely intelligent and well spoken man. Those that praise Pournelle point to his ability to connect sci-fi settings and themes to realistic world scenarios, ones that challenge readers to act in the present day and age.
Aside from his actual works and literary pieces, Pournelle was a pioneer in his methods and actions. His own purchase of a computer and subsequent novels were an inspiration to writers around him–so much so that 40 years later, novels are regularly written on computers–if not entirely. His boldness and willingness to go where no man has gone before paved the way for many to follow in his footsteps. The sci-fi and tech world will greatly mourn Jerry Pournelle’s passing, but thankfully, he will go down in history as a giant.
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