The science fiction community is celebrating the contributions and mourning the departure of Jerry Pournelle (1933-2017) on September 8. The most well known obituary in national media I know of is the one written by Glenn Reynolds in USA Today. There are a number of things I wish to share about his life.
He spoke to our strength, dreamed of our success
Jerry Pournelle will be remembered for his collaborations with Larry Niven. Niven is an acclaimed science-fiction writer in his own right. Their partnership started in 1974 with The Mote in God’s Eye, a tale of humanity’s first contact with non-human intelligent life. This fertile partnership would continue until 2012, with many books, collections, and sequels. I consider this an illustration of one of the steps and teachings of Steps to Knowledge, the book of spiritual practice of the New Message from God. What’s a group effort? Everything. Everything that matters. Everything that helps someone. Step 45 of Steps to Knowledge declares:
“Alone you can do nothing. Nothing has ever been accomplished alone, even in your world. Nothing has ever been created alone, even in your mind.There is no credit to be received by doing something alone. Everything is a joint effort. Everything is the product of relationship.”
Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven had a fruitful relationship.
He spoke to our strength, dreamed of our success. Niven and Pournelle explored various aspects of humanity’s emergence into a greater community of intelligent life. In the 1985 book Footfall, humanity experiences an alien invasion. I realize that doesn’t seem particularly inventive. But the invasion is an act of desperation by a race whose home world has experienced environmental destruction. The value of this book is the why, as opposed to the what.
He spoke to our strength, dreamed of our success. Maybe there are conflicts out there in Known Space, as Niven called it. How will humanity respond? Larry Niven introduced us to the Kzinti, a warlike species of cat-like aliens in the 1960s. Pournelle and Niven presided over fourteen volumes of the Man-Kzin Wars series as writers and editors.
He spoke to our strength, dreamed of our success. One of the distinctives of the New Message from God is a great deal of teaching and emphasis on humanity’s forthcoming emergence into a greater community of intelligent life. The books Greater Community Spirituality and Life in the Universe are instances of this. The interstellar neighborhood described in these books doesn’t resemble what has been imagined by Pournelle and Niven, but I appreciate the effort made to contemplate the future.
He spoke to our strength, dreamed of our success. The only Niven and Pournelle book I have actually read is Fallen Angels, written in 1991 with Michael Flynn. I took enjoyment in this book because it imagined a world where science and technology have been rejected in favor of crystals and feelings. It imagined a world where combating global warming had succeeded all too well and resulted in an ice age. Finally, it was a valentine to the golden age of science-fiction fandom in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
He spoke to our strength, dreamed of our success. Pournelle and Niven were known as “hard” science fiction writers. That means they not only imagined certain futures, but wrote about how the futures they imagined might actually exist. Fallen Angels is an instance of this, where there is a discussion of global temperature over the past few thousand years. And because of this, there was a certain strength to their optimism. In the future of Niven and Pournelle, humanity has a future. In the future of the New Message from God, humanity has a future if and only if it will prepare for it.
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