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Pournelle, Jerry

Entry updated 31 July 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1933-2017) US author with PhDs from the University of Washington in psychology (1960) and political science (1964); he was employed for fifteen years in the US space programme, working for both government and private firms, and at one time was a political campaign manager. Before entering sf, Pournelle wrote some technical nonfiction and some fiction, occasionally using pseudonyms and House Names. His first books were a nonfiction text, The Strategy of Technology (1970) with Stefan T Possony, and two non-sf novels as by Wade Curtis: Red Heroin (1969; 1985 as Pournelle) and Red Dragon (1971; 1985 as Pournelle); he also used the Curtis name for a few stories in Analog, though his first sf story, "Peace with Honor" (May 1971 Analog), appeared under his own name.

This tale, the first fiction published under his own name, also marks the initiation of Pournelle's most extended enterprise, the CoDominium sequence, earlier parts of which are named after their chief military protagonist, a cunning, honourable mercenary and military genius named Falkenberg whose adventures begin during a period of stupidity and venality on the part of blinkered, Earth-bound civilians (civilians are not infrequently so depicted in Pournelle's work), a time that roughly coincides with the merging of American and Soviet interests in the conquering of space (see Space Flight). Falkenberg conspires with the CoDominium military force to maintain a human presence in those worlds already colonized by mankind in its first outward thrust towards Galactic Empire (see also Colonization of Other Worlds). Falkenberg appears in West of Honor (1976) and The Mercenary (fixup 1977), the latter title reworking "Peace with Honor" and other stories, both volumes being assembled as Future History (omni 1980), then with added material as Falkenberg's Legion (omni 1990); and in Prince of Mercenaries (fixup 1989), Go Tell the Spartans (1991) and Prince of Sparta (1993), both with S M Stirling, all three, plus Falkenberg's Legion, being assembled as The Prince (omni 2002).

Set considerably later in the CoDominium world – after the rise and fall of a first Empire of Man, an interregnum or Long Night, and the birth of the Second Empire, a full-blown Galactic Empire with all the trappings – A Spaceship for the King (December 1971-February 1972 Analog; 1973; exp vt King David's Spaceship 1981) also features a tough military genius, whose resemblance to Falkenberg is obviously of thematic importance, for Pournelle argues implicitly in the sequence that civilization can be sustained only through a hierarchical structuring of society which – perhaps rather magically – manages to avoid bureaucratic sclerosis, and through the maintenance of such military virtues as honour and loyalty. The Laurie Jo Hansen sequence – comprising High Justice (coll of linked stories 1977) and Exiles to Glory (September-October Galaxy; 1978), both assembled as Exile – And Glory (omni 2008) – fits the model, though the implications are more pessimistic in this case.

These arguments are most clearly on view in the series' climax, The Mote in God's Eye (1974) with Larry Niven, again set in the Second Empire period. The fascinating Aliens depicted in that novel of First Contact (and its aftermath) reflect his collaborator's conceptual ingenuity as clearly as the human Empire reflects Pournelle's sustained fictional argument for that kind of solution to the problems of just government. The sequel to The Mote in God's Eye, The Gripping Hand (1993; vt The Moat Around Murcheson's Eye 1993), lacks the thrusting innovativeness of the first volume. Pournelle also edited, usually with John F Carr (not always credited), the There Will Be War sequence of military anthologies, beginning with There Will Be War (anth 1983) and pausing for many years at There Will Be War, Vol IX: After Armageddon (anth 1990), until the final volume from a different Small Press publisher: There Will Be War: Volume X (anth 2015) with Vox Day. The more recent War World sequence of Shared World anthologies – beginning with War World, Volume 1: The Burning Eye (anth 1988) with John F Carr and Roland Green and ending with War World, Volume 8: Invasion (anth 1994) – carries the CoDominium concept into broader waters.

After The Mote in God's Eye, Pournelle collaborated with Niven on several further novels, most of them singletons and most extremely successful in the marketplace. They include Inferno (August-October 1975 Galaxy; exp 1976), which reworks Dante Alighieri's Inferno as melodrama, explaining evil as part of a project in theological engineering, and dooming anti-Nuclear Energy propagandists to endless torture in Hell; Kurt Vonnegut Jr is consigned to a fiery tomb in the Circle of Heretics, perhaps for jesting about Religion but with hints that the collaborators (like the protagonist, another sf author) envied his success. The sequel, Escape from Hell (2009) with Niven, is weakly uplifting. Lucifer's Hammer (1977) is a long, ambitious Disaster novel about a Comet's impact on Earth, which sophisticatedly marries sf techniques with the bestseller idiom familiar from the many disaster films of the early 1970s. In Oath of Fealty (1981), which rewrites CoDominium feudalism in mundane (indeed, suburbanized) terms, an arcology in Los Angeles (see California; Keep) – ignoring governmental attempts to interfere – defends its wealthy inhabitants from Ecology freaks and terrorists. Footfall (1985), about an Alien Invasion of Earth – including a warm plea for space-based Weapons systems, as devastatingly employed by the intruders – turns into Recursive SF through its enlisting of a group of readily identifiable sf writers to brainstorm solutions to the threat from space. The Heorot sequence – comprising The Legacy of Heorot (1987), with Niven and Steven Barnes and The Dragons of Heorot (1995 UK vt Beowulf's Children 1995), also with Niven and Barnes – replays a loose version of the Beowulf saga on a colony planet, the natives of the planet being forced to play the Monsters; as often in Pournelle tales, even in collaboration, a disaffected military officer is at the centre of the action. The Near Future Fallen Angels (1991), with Niven and Michael Flynn, features yet another government betrayal, this time of its own astronauts, and once again treats environmentalists concerned with Climate Change as Villains while playing with recursive elements: the resistance to the anti-technology US regime is here centred on Fandom. Political subtexts – always evident in both main collaborators' solo work – tend in their joint efforts to surface rather more frequently, to the discomfort of some readers, especially those unaccustomed to the restricted range of political discourse utterable in America without arousing contumely (though within that narrow range its expression is singularly open); other readers find the books refreshingly "robust".

Solo or in the absence of Niven, most of Pournelle's work not devoted to the CoDominium also focuses on issues of Future War and the decorums and tactics of waging war. The Janissaries sequence – Janissaries (1979), Janissaries: Clan and Crown (1982) with Roland J Green and Janissaries 3: Storms of Victory (1987), again with Green – returns to explicit warfare, describing a mercenary leader's efforts to unify the planet to which he and his soldiers have been transplanted. The short Jupiter sequence – comprising Higher Education (February-May 1996 Analog; 1996) with Charles Sheffield and Starswarm (1998), initially confronts settlers with problems of Ecology on Jupiter, and is relatively calm.

Pournelle was the first recipient of the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1973, and very rapidly established himself as a dominant creator of the politically conservative-libertarian Hard-SF tale. His Military SF significantly shaped that subgenre as well; it would be unfair to blame him for the excesses of some of his imitators, though his contempt for the stereotyped Villains in his work – liberals and Ecology activists prominent among them – was perhaps more suitable to traditional Space Opera than to nuanced Politics. For many decades he unswervingly advocated the benefits of Invention and vigorously applied Technology in the making of a better world, an advocacy that shapes even his lightest works of fiction. His nonfiction, too, is notable for its engaging clarity, its constant presentation of political agendas, and its eagerness to convey knowledge; on a more technical though always popular level, he was particularly known for his long-running "Chaos Manor" columns on home computer systems in Byte from June 1980 (initially as "The User's Column") until the printed magazine ceased in 1998, and thereafter online.

A sense of deep cultural pessimism about our willingness to benefit from our strengths, though alleviated by explicit avowals of Libertarian hopefulness, pervades and – for many readers – humanizes his work. [JC]

see also: Cities; Communications; Destinies; Economics; Eschatology; Galaxy Science Fiction; Gamebook; Gods and Demons; Mythology; Outer Planets; Overpopulation; Panspermia; Rays; Robert A Heinlein Award; Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America; Seiun Award; Social Darwinism; Spaceships; Stars; Tuckerisms; Utopias.

Jerry Eugene Pournelle

born Shreveport, Louisiana: 7 August 1933

died Studio City, California: 8 September 2017




For CoDominium Shared-World anthologies, see works as editor below.

CoDominium: Falkenberg

CoDominium: Laurie Jo Hansen

  • High Justice (New York: Pocket Books, 1977) [coll of linked stories: CoDominium: Laurie Jo Hansen: pb/Ed Soyka]
  • Exiles to Glory (New York: Ace Books, 1978) [CoDominium: Laurie Jo Hansen: pb/Boris Vallejo]
    • Exile – And Glory (New York: Baen Books, 2008) [omni of the above two: CoDominium: Laurie Jo Hansen: hb/Clyde Caldwell]

CoDominium: Moties





Mana: Burning City

individual titles


nonfiction (selected)

works as editor



CoDominium: There Will Be War

Co-editor status not clear with each title up to 1990; John F Carr's involvement is likely.

CoDominium: War World

Co-editor status not clear with each title; John F Carr's involvement throughout is likely.

Endless Frontier

Co-editor status not clear with each title; John F Carr's involvement is likely.

Far Frontiers

Imperial Stars

individual titles


previous versions of this entry

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