“The Best of Jerry Pournelle,” edited by John F. Carr, Baen Books, 2019, 576 pages, $16
Jerry Pournelle was one of the great science fiction authors of the late 20th century. A Korean War veteran, he was a Renaissance man excelling in numerous fields. He brought that knowledge into his science fiction writing. He died a year ago.
“The Best of Jerry Pournelle” edited by John F. Carr is the inevitable “best of” book after an author’s death. Do not ignore it on that basis. Unlike many “best of” books, this one is worth the admission price.
John F. Carr was Pournelle’s longtime editorial assistant and eventual collaborator. The two edited several series of science fiction anthologies and co-authored many books together. Few know Pournelle’s literary accomplishments better.
The book contains 22 stories by Pournelle and essays about the man by his literary friends and collaborators. Several of the Pournelle stories appear for the first time in this collection, or are the first republication of stories unavailable for decades (in one case nearly 50 years).
Are they the “best” stories Pournelle wrote? That can be argued because he wrote so much good fiction, but if they’re not his best, they’re runners-up. And the original and first-time republications are all gems.
Virtually all of Pournelle’s series are visited in this book. There are samples from his Co-Dominium stories, which predicted a coalition between the United States and the Soviet Union, the Laurie Jo Hansen stories, the Nuclear General series, and pieces relating to Lucifer’s Hammer and the Legacy of Heriot.
Several are set in a future we have reached already. Surprisingly, Pournelle’s futures are considerably darker than today’s realities. He extrapolated forward from the predictions of the doomsayers of the 1970s to show how their predictions could be overcome.
The future refused to cooperate with the doomsayers, leaving us a cleaner, better-fed, and less crime-ridden world, one Pournelle helped shape. Yet, Pournelle accurately predicted what could’ve happened had doomsayers been heeded, a warning increasingly relevant today.
“The Best of Jerry Pournelle” is a must-have for Pournelle fans. It’s a book that can be enjoyed by science fans who may not have read him.