In remembrance of Jerry Eugene Pournelle
I have been asked today to say his eulogy. From the Greek, as he would tell us, meaning true words, spoken in praise of the dead. And as the eldest of his children, presumed by age to know the most about his life, that duty falls to me.
But how is it possible to write truth in praise of a master of fiction? How is it possible to eulogize a man who rose to public acclaim while I was mostly away? Away to school, away to the Army, away to university, away to build my own career?
I cannot say truth about the personality—the public figure, known far better to many of you here than to me. I can only do my best to say truth about the person; about the man. About what I know to be true about the son, the husband, the father, the grandfather—and the loyalist of friends, to those fortunate to know him as a friend.
I begin with what we all know of him: his insatiable intellectual appetite. His breadth of subject was literally encyclopedic: as a child, alone on the farm, his parents away working, he entertained himself by reading the Britannica from A to Z. That reading foreshadowed an essential, but surprisingly inobvious, core trait of his character: iron discipline. Not imposed on others, but imposed on himself. The chaos we all observed around him, immortalized in the household epithet “Chaos Manor,” was actually symptomatic: the result of him making everything—absolutely everything—secondary to being done.
He quite openly expressed this sense of discipline about his writing: writing, he often said, was work. It was not difficult: you merely sat in front of a typewriter until beads of blood popped out on your forehead. Yet he did it, time and again: dozens of novels and anthologies authored and co-authored—eight of them bestsellers. Hundreds of columns, delivered weekly, on time, over decades.
But both his joking aphorism and prodigious output belie the other disciplines that lay behind them. First, his disciplined reading. He read voraciously. He read everything, on every subject. His walls at home are literally lined with enough books to fill a small library—and those are only the ones he kept. Thousands more no doubt fill others’ shelves today, donated to book sales or simply given away. And that’s the books: the breadth of periodicals, online and in print, is staggering.
Read the rest at Chaos Manor.
I only met Jerry Pournelle once, in my early 20s, at a computer trade show, possibly Comdex. It was a brief encounter, I merely shook his hand, told him that I enjoyed his Byte column and was a big fan of his There Will Be War series. There is no chance he would have remembered it.
But he was, and is, one of my few intellectual heroes. Like Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Guy de Maupassant, and Umberto Eco, I encountered his works at a key nexus in my life and they left an impression on me that has lasted until this day.