Monday, September 11, 2017

In Memoriam: Jerry Pournelle

We lost Jerry Pournelle last Friday, and like a lot of senior authors in my field, I only happened to meet him because I had won the Writers of the Future contest. While he had been in declining health these past few years, that didn't discourage him from traveling or attending conventions, even as recently as a couple weeks ago when he went to DragonCon.

Jerry was the kind of man who embodied the word "cantankerous" more than any other person I've ever met. It was difficult to argue with him, because not only was he sharp and opinionated, but he was also hard of hearing.

As a newbie in the field I was afraid to approach him, because I figured getting away with a light burn would be a best case scenario. I probably would not have talked to him at all if Brennan Harvey hadn't approached him first at our local Loscon convention, where Jerry was a regular. Brennan waved me over and introduced me to Jerry as a former WotF winner.

I figured Jerry had forgotten all about me, and even though I introduced myself again, he still didn't recall my name. That was all right. There are a dozen winners every year and after a while I'd be surprised if anyone could remember all the names. By then it had been a few years, so forgetting me wouldn't be unusual. But then Jerry asked me to tell him what my winning story was.

I explained that my story was called "Living Rooms" and it was about the daughter of a magician who had come home to discover her father had passed away, leaving her with a magical house, if only she can stave off a rival magician who wishes to claim it.

Jerry did not remember my name, but he remembered my story.

Each quarter of Writers of the Future has four judges. I had known who three of mine were, but the fourth had remained a mystery. It turned out that Jerry was the fourth. I was surprised, because he's a hard science fiction author, and my piece was clearly fantasy, but as Larry Niven told me, it's not that Jerry disliked fantasy. He just didn't write it himself.

For the next two Loscons, whenever I ran into him and had to introduce myself again, I always told him my story, because otherwise he wouldn't remember.

But once he did, it was easy to talk to him again, and he was an entertaining man to listen to. He was one of the first established authors I told the premise of my upcoming novel to. At the time I was nervous, because speaking about it was like jinxing it, but Jerry liked the idea. He laughed, with a big smile on his face, and said it sounded good.

It was incredibly encouraging, and I hope when it finally comes out, other people will smile and laugh as well.