Jerry Pournelle, Science Fiction Novelist and Computer Guide, Dies at 84

Dr. Pournelle was also known to many through lively columns for Byte magazine in which, beginning early in the home-computing age, he talked about personal computers and the software for them. Much of any given column was about his own experiences at “Chaos Manor” — his name for his home, and for the column — trying out new software products and wrestling with bugs, glitches and viruses.


Mr. Pournelle’s “Footfall” made it to the top of The New York Times’s paperback best-seller list in May 1986.

Random House

He named some of his computers — Zeke and Bette among them — and his columns, though well informed, were filled with humor and a dash of snark. In one, intended for the August 1998 issue of Byte (the magazine ceased print publication the month before, so Dr. Pournelle posted it on his website instead), he complained that Bill Gates’s Microsoft was no longer bothering to fix flaws in Windows 95 because it wanted customers to buy Windows 98.

“Probably it’s just hard to get bright young people to work on tedious stuff like fixing bugs when they can be adding new features and bringing in more sales,” he wrote. “Probably Gates is no longer really in control of his company, and people do what they want to do, and no one wants to fix bugs.”

He applied that same curmudgeonly tone to his endless blog posts on politics, public issues, movies, science, technology and practically any other subject imaginable.

Jerry Eugene Pournelle was born on Aug. 7, 1933, in Shreveport, La. His father, Percival, was a radio advertising executive and later general manager of several stations. His mother, Ruth, was a teacher and worked in a munitions factory during World War II.

When Dr. Pournelle was a boy the family moved to rural Tennessee, where the school he attended was small, to say the least.

“We had two grades to a room and four teachers for the whole eighth-grade school system,” he recalled in a 2013 interview.

But he supplemented the schoolhouse learning by reading the family Encyclopaedia Britannica. Dr. Pournelle, taking advantage of the G.I. Bill after serving in the Army during the Korean War, would eventually receive multiple degrees from the University of Washington.

He spent years working in the aerospace industry, including at Boeing, on projects including studying heat…

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