Jerry Pournelle, RIP

I found out this week that Jerry Pournelle had passed away after Dragoncon. There was almost nobody in my life that had a bigger impact.  My greatest regret is that I only met him personally once and was probably too much of a fanboy and made his hand sore when he signed all my books. That did lead though to a wonderful two hour or so conversation at jersey devil con.

My story with Jerry starts with high school in the 1970’s. Now the 1970’s were not a good time for technical minded kids who were trying find any optimism for the future.  As far as all the media was concerned, doom was coming. We all knew, because the experts told us, that Western civilization was hopeless, that we needed to become more sustainable, more socialized.

At a time when technical optimists were as scarce as hen’s teeth, at least in the public eye, Jerry was unabashedly that technical optimist.  I did a post about  A Step Farther Out when I started this blog and how relevant it still remains today.

At a time when the language of the day all across the media was how we were all DOOMED, DOOMED by the monsters of our own creation and that there was nothing that could be done to save us.  Even the best stuff in media, like the classic series Connections was mildly pessimistic. Contrast that with any column in A Step Farther Out. 

Consider this column from 1974,on the fact that once you get to orbit you are halfway to anywhere:

Along with a discussion of laser launching spacecraft.  This, in a time when the average science program on TV was pure hokum.  with Leonard Nimoy talking about ancient aliens and other nonsense.  As far as science goes, the 1970’s were the crazy years.  We haven’t recovered fully. The idea that that was a way out, any way out, was heady stuff for a fifteen year old. Which was when I first encountered it.

Not that Jerry didn’t know about the possibility of a more Orwellian future.  You can see that in his 1970’s fiction, like Exiles To Glory.

He thought though that, that people wouldn’t just collapse into a series of unending ghettos and endless tyranny.  he thought that people would use the skill and minds, the technologies that humans had created to overcome the problems we had.  He never accepted that we would just surrender and mostly die. he was also optimistic that with a little more oomph people would reach for the stars and create wealth for all.

We never got the Jerry Pournelle future of the 1970’s. Considering some of the downers in that future and that it consisted, in part, of the McGovernites taking over. that was a good thing. Not that he cared. He continued to advocate for that future because he believed in it. He formed the presidential committee for  space(Whatever it was really called, I don’t feel like looking it up.  I don’t think we appreciated just how much impact that had until the Reagan administration ended.  The sad part is just how much the Bureaucracy in aviation has turned the industry into more or less static version of itself.  I don’t think that anybody in the 1960’s would have believed that the aircraft flying in 2017 would be essentially the same aircraft of 1969. That happens in technology.

Jerry moved on. though and became the reporter and advocate for a new technology that emerged in the late 1970’s.  That was the small computer.  He started his columns in Byte magazine and recorded his adventures with Zeke and his frustrations with an infant technology that then was on the brink of so much potential, but back when jerry started was essentially the province of teenagers with the technological maturity to match. Very few people understood the potential for what those machines could do.  Jerry did and may have been one of the first to actually get useful work from one of them and write about actually using the machines, rather than just geeking off about them.  It was because of Jerry that I bought my first computer and was willing to put up with the frustrations that those early machines had. It’s hard to remember just how user unfriendly those early machines were.

The downside of Jerry playing around with computers was that he wrote less Science fiction   as the years went by.  I still want to more Jannisaries and Codominium stories and now they will never be finished. I understand the economics of being paid far more for playing around with small computers and writing about it for a million subscribers and how addictive small computers are.  I know that one all to well, especially after the internet.  It was one thing to write about the information superhighway before it happened.  Jerry did that.  Then he lived on it, writing his blog and entertaining us for some 25 years or so.

I will miss Jerry. I only met him once and I wish that I had had the gumption and courage to make Jerry’s future happen It didn’t. which says perhaps more about ourselves and our inability to face the our fears,  We may be one step from doom, but we are also one step from glory.  That is what Jerry Pournelle wrote about.  He looked at all the crybabies and doomsayers of that horrible period in the 1970’s and said “We don’t need to go down if we don’t want to.” Maybe not in those exact words but look at A Step farther out and the rest and tell me that I’m wrong. Here’s some more links about Jerry.

As was typical his last post was trying to find solutions to thorny problems.

Here’s a post I did with Jerry talking to some people

And some other’s people’s goodbyes.

Possible Futures


Just Plain Stupid About Space

Some times a piece comes in that is just mind boggling in it’s stupidity.  Like this one.

At this rate, would-be space travelers will be able to choose their favorite tech company, find its richest guy and buy a ticket on his craft of choice. Why does everyone who achieves economic dominance over the planet immediately turn around and try to get off it?

The “boys and their toys” explanation is the obvious one – once you’ve bought all the cars and boats and planes you want, why not buy a rocket? (We don’t have a “girls and their toys” ethos yet because the cards are stacked against women getting to this level of obscene wealth, but I suspect a lot of us would want to buy rocketships, too.) Space is inherently cool, and even if it weren’t, space is inherently other – which matters a lot to the man who has everything terrestrial. By the same token, someone who already has a watch that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars can buy a watch that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars but comes from space.

Of course, uber-wealthy tech entrepreneurs aren’t just buying rockets for their personal amusement. They’re founding or investing in space travel – they want to get you off-planet, too. Well, not you-you, but someone like you with much, much, much more money.

And that’s where the vogue for billionaire space travel magnates gets a little weird –and maybe even sinister. It’s already very true that money expands your world; the person with the funds to have a car is less restricted in her movements than the person without one, and the person with a huge plane and the money to fly it is less restricted still.

I’m going to take it as a given that Laura Ingalls Wilder was never part of HER childhood.  It’s just not a Brooklyn thing.The people in Brooklyn are the people who came after the pioneers built a comfortable environment after somebody else “built that.”  At least Jess’s community is.  She’s the child of people who live off the things that other people came before and built.  For somebody like her it’s easy to say “you didn’t build that,” because her ancestors didn’t.  They came over from Poland and Germany in the earliest part of the 20th century and settled in doing the same kinds of things that their ancestors did in the “old country.”

When the pioneer spirit has never been part of your culture I imagine that you have a hard time what drives people to look beyond the next hill. My family, way back, had to do that, at least twice.  Once to cross the Atlantic in a ship that was just a bit smaller to a Massachusetts where the Native Americans and woods were still the prevalent part of the landscape.  They helped to found the town of Roxbury, or I should say the little wooden hut village of Roxbury.   About the only thing Mass. had going for it was that it was far away from the king.   When things got rough in New England, members of the family pioneered again and moved to Ohio, where I imagine that things still weren’t a bed of roses, at least in the beginning.

That’s the way it’s going to be, at least in the beginning, in space.  The first settlements,  are going to be rough and crude, well at least relative to a Park Ave apartment or a Bel Aire Estate. The wealthy can already afford to separate themselves from most of the consequences of tyranny.  The people who will pioneer space are going to be the people fed up with how the government is screwing things up. It’s government that creates the ecological disasters, unleashing the poisons on the unsuspecting  populace. You only have look at the ruins of the Former Soviet Union to see that.

It also doesn’t look like the Billionaires are planning to leave any time soon. If they are planning to leave, it’s not going to be the toxic environment, but the toxic culture that they would be leaving.  Jerry Pournelle used to write stories about that.

It’s always been intolerable toxic cultures that people leave, toxicity created by people like Ms. Zimmerman, who cannot see what they are doing.  Always demanding that life arrange itself around them, rather than building better lives for themselves. That’s what people leave.  When things get too toxic, the pioneering and the troublesome get going and build new places to live for themselves.  Here’s a few posts I’ve done on how to do it.  I’m working on more.

In the end it’s people who lack any degree of vision or tolerance that drag us back.  People like Ms. Zimmerman can only selfishly see what they want and don’t really care how many bodies they have to walk over to get what they want. They are incapable of admitting reality or seeing beyond their own bloated self interest. They have no sense of art, culture or vision and go through life with only a crude appetite to drag everyone to their level and destroy everything they touch. That’s the great tragedy of the SJW.

Here’s some space station pics to keep it happy.