Jerry Pournelle, 1933-2017

A few years ago I stumbled upon Fred Pohl’s weblog. Born in 1919, for a few years there before his death in 2013 Pohl was a living breathing window back to the “Golden Age” of science fiction. He knew men like Asimov and Heinlein personally. He was a witness, a participant, to history. It was great to have someone like him on the internet.

Today we lost another piece of history. This evening I learned that Jerry Pournelle passed away in his sleep. I have had a few interactions with Pournelle over the years, and it was really strange in light of the fact that I read many of his books as a child. His collaborations with Larry Niven, in particular, The Mote in God’s Eye, were always great in my opinion (each author had their own strength, and together they were better).

One thing about Pournelle’s science fiction is that their politics and sociology always struck me as unrealistic when I first encountered them. I believe in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction he identified himself as a “13th century liberal.” As in, he was on the side of the nobles against King John. Even if tongue-in-cheek that had at the time seemed a ridiculous assertion (Pournelle’s right-wing politics was in the news in the 1990s when he was associated with Newt Gingerich).

But over the years I’ve come to realize that my teen years in the 1990s were excessively suffused with The End of History. Pournelle was older and had a longer view of things. I didn’t necessarily end up agreeing with Jerry Pournelle in all his views, but as I got older I began to realize that there was a lot I didn’t understand.

Tales from the Middle Cosmos

Over at Marginal Revolution Tyler Cowen positively mentioned an anthology of Chinese science fiction, Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation. I got a copy and I have to say it really is good (on reading only a few stories). #Recommended and #Seconded.

It is often said, correctly, that science fiction is mostly a window upon the sensibilities of the society in which it is written. In the American context this matters in relation to time. Though Isaac Asimov was a liberal on sexual matters (and frankly, a sexual harasser at conferences by even the most lax modern standards) he admitted that the fact that he came up in the “Golden Age” period when there were many taboos in regards to sex had a lifelong impact on the depiction of those matters in his fiction. In contrast writers who came up in the 70s or later didn’t have these restrictions and so did not have the same hang-ups in their fiction.

And I’ll also admit I have Amish Tripathi’s work in part because I’m curious at an Indian take on fantasy (and also because too much Western fantasy is pretty derivative).