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Jerry (Eugene) (Wade Curtis) Pournelle (1933–) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

Born 1933, in Shreveport, LA; Education: Attended University of Iowa, 1953–54; University of Washington, B.S., 1955, M.S., 1957, Ph.D. (psychology), 1960, Ph.D. (political science), 1964. Politics: Republican. Religion: "Anglo-Catholic." Hobbies and other interests: Sailing, backpacking, computers, war gaming.


Agent—Eleanor Wood, Spectrum Agency, 111 8th Ave., Ste. 1501, New York, NY 10011.


University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, research assistant, 1954–57; Boeing Corp., Seattle, aviation psychologist and systems engineer, 1957–64; Aerospace Corp., San Bernadino, CA, manager of special studies, 1964–65; systems scientist, North American Aviation, 1964–65; research specialist and proposal manager, American Rockwell Corp., 1965–66; Pepperdine University, Los Angeles, CA, professor of history and political science, 1966–69; executive assistant to mayor of Los Angeles and director of research, 1969–70; freelance writer, lecturer, and consultant, 1970–. Member of Republican Board of Governors, San Bernadino County, 1960–64; chairman of board, Seattle Civic Playhouse, 1962–63; member of board of directors, Ocean Living Institute. Adviser to numerous futurist and space-oriented organizations. Military service: U.S. Army, 1950–52.


Science Fiction Writers of America (president, 1973–74), Mystery Writers of America, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Operations Research So-ciety of America (fellow), American Association for the Advancement of Science (fellow), American Academy of Arts and Sciences (fellow), American Rocket Society, Institute for Strategic Studies, American Security Council, University Professors for Academic Order (director, 1971), Society for Creative Anachronism, Military and Hospitaler Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem (officer).

Honors Awards

Bronze Medal from American Security Council, 1967; Republic of Estonia Award of Honor, 1968; John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer of 1972, World Science Fiction Convention, 1973; Evans-Freehafer Award, 1977; Nebula Award nomination (with Larry Niven), Science Fiction Writers of America, 1977, for Inferno; Hugo nomination (with Niven), World Science Fiction Convention, 1978, for Lucifer's Hammer; American Book Award nomination for best sciencefiction hardcover, 1980, for Janissaries; Robert Heinlein Award (with Niven), Heinlein Society, 2005.



A Spaceship for the King, DAW (New York, NY), 1972, revised and expanded version published as King David's Spaceship, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1980.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (novelization of screenplay), Award, 1974.

(With Larry Niven) The Mote in God's Eye, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1974.

Birth of Fire, Laser (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1976, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1978.

(With Larry Niven) Inferno, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1976.

West of Honor, Laser (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1976, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1978.

The Mercenary, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1977. 1977.

(With Larry Niven) Lucifer's Hammer, Playboy Press, 1977.

High Justice (short stories), Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1977.

Exiles to Glory, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1978.

Janissaries, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1979.

(With Larry Niven) Oath of Fealty, Phantasia Press, 1981.

(With Roland Green) Janissaries: Clan and Crown, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1982.

(With Larry Niven) Footfall, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1985.

(With Roland Green) Janissaries III: Storms of Victory, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1987.

(With Larry Niven and Steven Barnes) The Legacy of Heorot, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1987.

(With Larry Niven, Dean Ing, and S. M. Stirling) Man-Kzin Wars II, Baen (New York, NY), 1989.

(With John F. Carr) The Crash of Empire, Baen (New York, NY), 1989.

Prince of Mercenaries, Baen (New York, NY), 1989.

Falkenberg's Legion, Baen (New York, NY), 1990.

(With S. M. Stirling) The Children's Hour, Baen (New York, NY), 1991.

(With S. M. Stirling) Go Tell the Spartans, Baen (New York, NY), 1991.

(With Larry Niven and Michael Flynn) Fallen Angels, Baen (New York, NY), 1991.

(With Larry Niven) The Gripping Hand, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1993.

(With S. M. Stirling) Prince of Sparta: A Novel of Falkenberg's Legion, Baen (New York, NY), 1993.

(With Larry Niven and Steven Barnes) Beowulf's Children (The Dragons of Heorot), Tor Books (New York, NY) 1995.

(With Charles Sheffield) Higher Education: A Jupiter Novel, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1996.

Starswarm, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.

(With Larry Niven) Lucifer's Hammer, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1998.

(With Larry Niven) The Burning City, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2000.

(With S. M. Stirling and Dean Ing) The Houses of the Kzinti, Baen Books (New York, NY), 2002.

(With S. M. Stirling) The Prince, Baen Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Burning Tower, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Also author of Man-Kzin Wars III.


20/20 Vision, Avon (New York, NY), 1974.

(And contributor) Black Holes, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1979.

(With John F. Carr; and contributor) The Endless Frontier, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1979.

(With John F. Carr) The Survival of Freedom, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1981.

(With John F. Carr) The Endless Frontier 2, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1981.

(With John F. Carr) Nebula Award Stories 16, Holt (New York, NY), 1982.

(With John F. Carr; and contributor) There Will Be War, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1983.

(With John F. Carr; and contributor) There Will Be War: Men of War, Volume II, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1984.

(With John F. Carr) There Will Be War: Blood and Iron, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1985.

(With John F. Carr) Imperial Stars: Stars at War, Baen (New York, NY), 1985.

(With John F. Carr) Silicon Brains, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1985.

(With John F. Carr) Science-Fiction Yearbook 1984, Baen (New York, NY), 1985.

(With John F. Carr) There Will Be War: Day of the Tyrant, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1985.

(With Jim Baen and John F. Carr) Far Frontiers, seven volumes, Baen (New York, NY), 1985.

(With John F. Carr) There Will Be War: Warrior!, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1986.

(With John F. Carr) Republic and Empire: Imperial Stars, Volume II, Baen (New York, NY), 1987.

(With John F. Carr) There Will Be War: Guns of Darkness, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1987.

(With John F. Carr) Warworld, four volumes, Baen (New York, NY), 1988–94.

(With John F. Carr) There Will Be War: Call to Battle, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1988.

(With John F. Carr) There Will Be War: Armageddon, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1989.

1,001 Computer Words You Need to Know, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2004.


(With Stefan T. Possony) The Strategy of Technology: Winning the Decisive War, Dunellen, 1970.

That Buck Rogers Stuff, edited by Gavin Claypool, Extequer, 1977.

(With R. Gagliardi) The Mathematics of the Energy Crisis, Intergalactic Publishing, 1978.

A Step Farther Out (essays), W. H. Allen, 1980, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1983.

(With Dean Ing) Mutual Assured Survival: A Space-Age Solution to Nuclear Annihilation, Baen (New York, NY), 1984.

The User's Guide to Small Computers, Baen (New York, NY), 1985.

Adventures in Microland, Baen (New York, NY), 1985.

Pournelle's PC Communications Bible: The Ultimate Guide to Productivity with a Modem, Microsoft Press (Redmond, WA), 1992.

Jerry Pournelle's Guide to DOS and Easy Computing: DOS over Easy, Brady Publishing, 1992.

Jerry Pournelle's Windows with an Attitude, Brady Publishing, 1995.


(Under pseudonym Wade Curtis) Red Heroin (novel), Berkley Publishing, 1969, published under name Jerry Pournelle, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1985.

(Under pseudonym Wade Curtis) Red Dragon (novel), Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1971, published under name Jerry Pournelle, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1985.

Also author of Human Temperature Tolerance in Astronautic Environments, 1959, Stability and National Security, 1968, Congress Debates Viet Nam, 1971, and The Right to Read, 1971. Contributor of articles to Analog, Galaxy, Info World, and American Legion. Author of column "Notes from Chaos Manor," Byte; science columnist, Galaxy Science Fiction magazine; computer columnist, Popular Computing. Contributor to The Craft of Science Fiction, edited by Reginald Bretnor, Harper (New York, NY), 1976.


With his background in the field of technology, author Jerry Pournelle writes in what is known as the "hard" science fiction genre. Advances in technology are directly related to the progress of the human race in Pournelle's fast-paced adventure novels, while complicated social issues are dealt with as they relate to these technological advances. "Pournelle develops his plots logically," noted Don D'Ammassa in the St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, "with a good sense of timing and judicious use of suspense and other devices. Most of his fiction is essentially action-oriented, with clear-cut issues and sympathetic characters."

Born in 1933, in Shreveport, Louisiana, Pournelle graduated from high school and went on to earn degrees in history and engineering from the University of Washington before continuing his education by obtaining advanced degrees in psychology and political science. During the late 1950s he got a job in the space industry, spending two years as chief of the experimental stress program at Boeing's Seattle-based Human Factor Laboratories. After government budget cuts reduced the demand for space research in the 1960s, he decided to become a science-fiction writer. "It wasn't really a big jump," Pournelle told Jeffrey M. Elliot in Science Fiction Voices III: Interviews with Science Fiction Writers, "especially since I had done considerable research on alternative futures and technologies."

Pournelle's first novel was 1972's A Spaceship for the King, later republished as King David's Spaceship. Highlighting its author's belief in the importance of scientific advancement, the novel recounts the efforts of a planet's Imperial Navy to regain its technological aptitude so that it can join a rejuvenated galactic empire. Also characteristic of many of Pournelle's later novels, King David's Spaceship takes place in the future—in "future history," as Pournelle terms it. Comparing the novel to the "old-fashioned science fiction" of the 1930s and 1940s, Washington Post Book World contributors Alexei and Cory Panshin called King David's Spaceship "a romp, a technological fairy tale" that "can't be taken seriously for a moment. Even to partake of its exuberance, you must close your eyes, promise not to think, and turn the clock back."

"My work reflects my own view of the world, particularly my view of science and technology," the author explained to Elliot. "As I see it, not all technology is good, but it's certainly not all bad. It affords you a host of choices." This theme characterizes much of Pournelle's fiction: scientific advances create options for mankind, but the outcomes that result from human choices about the best use of those advances may be good or bad. In Higher Education, for example, the increasing fear of lawsuits and a corrupted educational system have ultimately created an illiterate work force, but technological advances have also created opportunities for some young people in the area of asteroid mining. While the working conditions for miners-in-training like Higher Education protagonist Rick Luban are at least as unpleasant as army boot camp, the payoffs prove to be great in this young-adult novel by Pournelle and coauthor Charles Sheffield.

Space travel provides Pournelle with another means of creating options, and it figures strongly in such novels as West of Honor, The Mercenary, and Exiles of Glory, all of which were first published in the 1970s.

Although he has been successful as a solo novelist—his 1979 adventure novel Janissaries was nominated for an American Book Award—and has served as editor or coeditor of numerous collections of short stories, Pournelle's fiction writing in collaboration with fellow writers such as Larry Niven has brought him perhaps the greatest recognition. As Niven remarked of his work with Pournelle to Charles Platt in Dream Makers Volume II: The Uncommon Men and Women Who Write Science Fiction, "I would say that we're the most successful collaboration in science-fiction history." The two men first joined forces on The Mote in God's Eye, a novel that takes place in Pournelle's future history. More recent novels, such as Lucifer's Hammer, Oath of Fealty, and a sequel to Mote titled The Gripping Hand, established the duo as bestselling authors even among non-science-fiction buffs. Describing what happens after a comet strikes the earth, Lucifer's Hammer "is one of the most ambitious disaster novels to date," wrote Richard Freeman in the New York Times Book Review, describing one of the pair's more popular collaborative efforts. "For all its portentous length, the narrative pace seldom flags, and the stick-figure characters are sufficiently animated."

Another collaboration between Pournelle and Niven, Oath of Fealty relates the efforts of an independent, self-contained city called Todos Santos to prevent outsiders from destroying it. While some critics have faulted Oath of Fealty for being somewhat one-dimensional, Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review contributor Lawrence I. Charters maintained that the novel differs from most escapist science fiction: "Most SF dealing with explosive political or social issues is placed in the far future," Charters explained, noting that "Oath does not provide this soothing distance; try as you might, the world about you and the world you are reading about seem uncomfortably close…. Oath of Fealty is, without question, a book worth reading, and arguing about."

Pournelle and Niven's 1985 novel, Footfall, is the account of an alien invasion of earth by the elephant-like Fithp, which land in Kansas amid a hail of deadly meteorites. Achieving the initial surrender of the earthlings, the simple-minded Fithp eventually come under nuclear attack from the combined forces of Earth's superpowers. Praising the coauthors for presenting a detailed portrait of an alien culture and history, Chicago Tribune Book World contributors James Park Sloan and Eugene Sloan called Pournelle "the master of plot and adventure, while Niven … provides the leavening of hard science." The critics also praised the authors for giving a unique perspective to humankind by depicting them from an alien point of view. While some critics have objected to the length of the novel, Science Fiction Review writer Richard E. Geis termed Footfall "gut tensing, emotional bedrock stuff," "impossible to put down," and praises it as "probably the finest novel of alien invasion ever written."

The Gripping Hand, which Pournelle and Niven wrote as a sequel to their popular The Mote in God's Eye, was published in 1993. In the original novel, a group of Earth-born explorers encounter an alien race known as Moties. Because these quickly regenerating and amazingly adaptive aliens have evolved in a highly specialized manner—with biological characteristics grouped around several subspecies that include artists, warriors, and engineers—the humans quarantine the Moties within their own planetary system. Now, twenty-five years later, the aliens are about to escape their confines and their superiority, not to mention their animosity, will undoubtedly pose a threat to Earth. "Some of the intriguing subtexts, such as the prevailing xenophobia, are disturbing," commented Sybil Steinberg in Publishers Weekly, "while others, including warnings about overpopulation, enlighten."

In 1987 Pournelle and Niven joined fellow author Steven Barnes in writing The Legacy of Heorot, a reworking of the classic Beowulf legend; the novel was followed eight years later by Beowulf's Children. Set on a planet called Avalon, which appears to have a simple ecology and present little danger, the novel depicts the attempts of a group of Earth-born scientists to colonize the planet. All goes well until a group of deadly amphibious predators appear and surround their island home. Dubbed "grendels" by the colonists, these beings are unlike the clumsy monsters of many science-fiction stories. They come equipped with complex body mechanisms that allow for rapid attack and escape. After security chief Cadmann Weyland defeats the monsters, the colonists realize that their own presence on the planet is upsetting the ecological balance of this peaceful world and sparking the creation of yet another race of killer creatures. While questioning the wisdom of dressing the classic Old English epic up in sci-fi clothing, Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Mary Dryden noted that The Legacy of Heorot "undertakes that presumptuous exercise not only without disappointment but with substantial success."

In Beowulf's Children, which takes place twenty-five years later, members of the next generation—sons and daughters of the original colonists—attempt to move to the mainland, only to encounter a race of man-eating insects and a grendel that has evolved into an airbreathing creature even more threatening than its predecessors.

Pournelle and Niven pair again for The Burning City, a novel set in Southern California some 12,000 years ago. The fire god Yangin-Atep is able to control men's minds and provoke them to start fires, although he is usually sleeping. A rigid caste system governs the relationships among various groups within the city, and periodically portions are burned to the ground to appease the angry god. The Burning City, so-called because of the many fires that have struck there, is therefore in constant danger. Young Whandall Placehold, a young boy growing up in the city, discovers that Yangin-Atep is losing his powers, but as he weakens, the god is more determined than ever to cause destruction. Together with a wizard, Whandall conjures elementals to battle the dying god and save his people. "The yarn is big and a bit sprawling," according to Roland Green in Booklist, but the critic concluded that The Burning City is "another absorbing book" from Pournelle and Niven. A critic for Publishers Weekly dubbed the book "yet another hefty fantasy … sure to delight fans."

When asked why his collaboration with Niven has been so successful, Pournelle explained to Elliot that his frequent collaborator brings an exceptional imagination to the table. "He comes up with some great ideas, but he's not always capable of executing them in the context of a realistic story…. On the other hand, I'm not as good at coming up with these fantastic attention-getters. Larry's much better at that than I am. I tend to do the nuts-and-bolts work, making sure that all the loose ends are well thought out. The end result," concluded Pournelle, "is that we usually come up with a product that neither of us could have created separately."

Among Pournelle's other novels is Higher Education: A Jupiter Novel, written with Charles Sheffield. In the story, Rick Luban's practical joke turns deadly serious when it gets him kicked out of school amid the rampant unemployment of a near-future America. Fortunately for Rick, there is a second chance, but not an easy one; an asteroid mining company looking for tough young recruits decides to take a chance on him. Rick's second education includes all the difficulties of the first, as well as skills he has never dreamed of. The ability to read and work a mathematical equation are as likely to mean the difference between life and death as the know-how to steer a space shuttle or the stamina to survive a mining accident. The most challenging problem surfaces when Rick and the others are called upon to save the victims of a mining disaster. Carl Hays, writing in Booklist, concluded that "fans of hard sf will revel in this absorbing adventure's abundant technical detail."

In 1998 Pournelle published Starswarm, in which teenaged Kip Brewster lives with his Uncle Mike at the remote Starswarm research station on the planet Paradise. Unknown to the others there, Kip has a communications link built into his head to a powerful computer system set up by his late mother. The computer's "voice" in his head, an artificial intelligence program called Gwen, helps Kip protect himself on the hostile planet, and also outsmart those who may wish to harm him. While the computer link has its advantages, Kip discovers that it also has its dangers. Meanwhile, the research station is engaged in a project that may harm potentially salient creatures who resemble aquatic plants. As the human settlers on Paradise begin to clash with the planet's native life forms, Kip learns that Gwen holds the key to his identity and destiny. A critic for Publishers Weekly concluded: "Kip is an engaging teenage protagonist, the novel is competently written and the plot moves along crisply to its expected end."

Whether writing in tandem with Niven or alone, Pournelle maintains that his work should entertain his readers. "I see myself as the modern-day counterpart of the chap in the Bronze Age who used to wander around from camp fire to camp fire with a lyre in his hand," he told Elliot. "He would see this group of guys sitting around a camp fire, and he'd say, 'Boys, if you'll fill up my cup with some of that wine, and cut me off a chunk of that roast boar, I'll tell you a story about a virgin and a bull that you just won't believe.' Well, that's what I do for a living. I sing songs for my supper and, fortunately, I get a pretty good supper out of it. Hopefully, Raised in a high-tech space station, Kip begins to question why he has been given a link to the colony's artificial intelligence, and ultimately discovers his destiny: to act as guardian for the colony as well as a nearby planet's native species. (Cover illustration by Romas.)they're pretty good songs, too." "And given any luck at all," Pournelle once told Something about the Author, "I'll live to write a column from the moon."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Acres, Mark, Combat Command in the World of Jerry E. Pournelle's Janissaries, Lord of Lances, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1988.

Elliot, Jeffrey M., Science Fiction Voices III: Interviews with Science Fiction Writers, Borgo Press (San Bernadino, CA), 1980.

Platt, Charles, Dream Makers Volume II: The Uncommon Men and Women Who Write Science Fiction, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1983.

St. James Guide to Science-Fiction Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1995.


Analog, December, 1979, p. 167; February, 1986, p. 177; January, 1996, pp. 273-274.

Booklist, June 1, 1987, p. 1466; July, 1987, p. 1655; October 15, 1995, p. 389; May 15, 1996, Carl Hays, review of Higher Education, p. 1573; May 15, 1998, Roland Green, review of Starswarm, p. 1604; February 15, 2000, Roland Green, review of The Burning City, p. 1091.

Chicago Tribune Book World, March 22, 1981; July 28, 1985, James Park Sloan and Eugene Sloan, review of Footfall, p. 10; October 13, 1985.

Choice, January, 2005, J. C. Shane, review of 1,001 Computer Words You Need to Know, p. 828.

Detroit News, April 19, 1981.

Extrapolation, spring, 1988, Glenn Webster, "Niven and Pournelle's Footfall: Reflections on the Probable Natures of Alien Technical Civilizations," pp. 46-52.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1996, review of Higher Education; February 15, 2000, review of The Burning City, p. 217.

Kliatt, March, 2004, Deirdre Root, review of Starswarm, p. 27.

Library Journal, April 15, 1979, p. 979; January 15, 1981, p. 168; November 15, 1988, p. 30; April 15, 1996, Sue Hamburger, review of Higher Education, p. 125; April 15, 1998, Jackie Cassada, review of Starswarm, p. 118; March 15, 2000, Jackie Cassada, review of The Burning City, p. 131.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 8, 1981; February 24, 1985; August 2, 1987, Mary Dryden, review of The Legacy of Heorot.

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August, 1985.

New York Times, February 26, 1985.

New York Times Book Review, January 12, 1975; November 13, 1977, Richard Freeman, review of Lucifer's Hammer, p. 26; September 8, 1985; January 31, 1993, p. 25.

Omni, July, 1993, Keith Ferrell, review of The Gripping Hand, p. 6.

Publishers Weekly, March 8, 1985; December 28, 1992, review of The Gripping Hand, p. 62; October 16, 1995, review of Beowulf's Children, p. 46; March 9, 1998, review of Starswarm, p. 52; February 28, 2000, review of The Burning City, p. 67.

School Library Journal, January, 1982, p. 92; December, 1985, p. 113; January, 1988, p. 97; February, 1997, Cathy Cahurette, review of Higher Education, p. 135.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review, April, 1982, Lawrence I. Charters, review of Oath of Fealty.

Science Fiction Review, February, 1976; May, 1985, Richard E. Geis, review of Footfall, p. 45.

Studies in Medievalism, summer, 1983, Madison U. Sowell, "The Niven-Pournelle Dante: A Twentieth-Century Odyssey through Hell," pp. 73-78.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), July 12, 1987.

Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1982, p. 40; October, 1983, p. 216; August, 1985, p. 192; December, 1991, pp. 324-235; August, 1993, p. 169; February, 1999, review of Starswarm, p. 430.

Washington Post Book World, April 26, 1981, Alexei and Cory Panshin, review of King David's Spaceship; December 27, 1981; July 28, 1985.

West Georgia College Review, May, 1983, William S. Doxey, "Christianity and Science Fiction: An Analysis of the Religious Aspects of The Mote in God's Eye," pp. 1-5.


Jerry Pournelle Home Page, http://www.jerrypournelle.com (May 26, 2005).

Additional topics

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