Crazy Eddie is one of the more interesting ideas in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's book The Mote in God's Eye*. Crazy Eddie is clearly the key to understanding the Moties. The question is, does Crazy Eddie help us understand humanity?

Who's this Crazy Eddie guy? (for the unlettered)

The Mote in God's Eye is about humanity's first encounter with another intelligent species, the Moties. As the book's human characters get to know the Moties, they repeatedly hear about a legendary fellow called "Crazy Eddie." Crazy Eddie seems to be very important to the Moties, since the aliens mention him when they talk about almost all important historical events.

As it turns out, Crazy Eddie is as much a concept as a character. To understand Crazy Eddie, it is necessary to know a little about Motie biology. A Motie must reproduce regularly if it is to continue living. Obviously, this double incentive--genetic offspring plus extended life--is so compelling that very few Moties will ever choose abstinence. Since there aren't sufficient environmental pressures to balance out all the new offspring, the Motie population keeps increasing at an exponential rate.

This population pattern creates a truly vicious cycle. Moties breed and breed, all the while creating cultural solutions to support the burgeoning population. You can't fight mathematics, though, especially when there's an exponent involved. Eventually, the Motie population just gets too big to support. War, famine, and all hell in general breaks loose, most Moties die, and civilization is wiped out. The surviving Moties start to breed and build and innovate again, and the cycle begins anew. The Moties have been around a lot longer than humans, but their population biology puts them in a more primitive state. To make matters worse, the Moties are confined to a single solar system, increasing the pressure.

Sometimes, though, a Motie will try to break out of the cycle. Usually a sterile mediator, this individual will come up with some grandiose plan to change biology or escape the solar system or institute population controls. Invariably, though, the scheme fails, usually making matters worse, and sometimes prompting the collapse of Motie civilization. The individuals who try these schemes are said "to have gone Crazy Eddie." Crazy Eddie is the one who has a well-intentioned but misguided plan to cheat fate, which is a very real thing for Moties.

Crazy Eddie may be the most important character in the novel. The humans discover the Moties because of the "Crazy Eddie probe" sent out from the Motie system. A deadly "Crazy Eddie point" in space is what keeps the Moties bottled up, without hope of interstellar travel. Each section of the book is named after Crazy Eddie. And perhaps most importantly, Crazy Eddie provides almost all the dramatic conflict in the novel, with both humans and Moties constantly arguing over whether to pursue Crazy Eddie schemes or to hold to a grimmer, more pragmatic course of action.

What does Crazy Eddie mean to a human?

On the one hand...

Crazy Eddie is a science fiction kind of guy, and The Mote in God's Eye is a sci-fi novel. A lot of science fiction, including the kind Niven and Pournelle usually write, is pretty optimistic stuff, with adventures in space and marvelous technology and, generally, a bright future for humanity. Despite pessimistic elements (organleggers, war, horrible destruction from the center of the galaxy), Niven and Pournelle are upbeat writers. All the heroism and clever ideas and amazing technology and consequence-free sex and adventure make their future worlds seem like fun places to be.

In other words, Niven and Pournelle make their livings by saying how great Crazy Eddie ideas could be. Even the specific examples the Moties give of Crazy Eddie's schemes--a time machine, a solar sail probe, FTL travel, world government--are sci-fi staples which have appeared in the authors' works as well as many other science fiction pieces**. The Mote in God's Eye makes the case that humans could be in the same spot as the Moties, except for the fact that humans' Crazy Eddies have succeeded on occasion. The characters refer to what a disaster Earth itself is repeatedly, but because humans invented FTL travel (Crazy Eddie #1), broke out of the Sol system (Crazy Eddie #2), and established a galactic Empire (Crazy Eddie #3), things turned out okay for H. sapiens.

In this interpretation, then, The Mote in God's Eye says that Crazy Eddie is important because he holds the spirit of human invention that science fiction shows us.

On the other hand...

A closer look at the human characters suggests another interpretation. It is fairly easy to divide the major characters into two groups, hard nosed pragmatists and starry eyed optimists. Again and again, the book pits a character from one group against a character from the other on some question about the Moties (or the Brownies). The most obvious pragmatist is the admiral Kutuzov, whose job is to use as much force as is necessary to keep the Moties from getting FTL technology from the humans. A more reluctant pragmatist is the main protagonist, Rod Blaine, who wants to trust the Moties but will ultimately do what is militarily prudent. On the other side are the optimists, who are willing to take a leap of faith in order to get what the Moties have to offer. Kutozov's mirror image on the optimist side is the scientist Horvath, who is sure that the Moties are a peaceful group who can only bring good to humanity. Blaine's counterpart is the anthropologist Sally Fowler, who knows that the Moties might not be as innocuous as they appear but still believes that the aliens are basically friendly and a source of great opportunity.

The distinction between the two groups is important because the optimists are, in essence, Crazy Eddies. They want to do the wrong thing for the right reason: they trust the Moties because of what the Moties could represent, instead of what the Moties actually are. Even after the humans discover the Moties' secret, the optimists remain as Crazy Eddies. Sally, in particular, is convinced that humans can break the cycle of breeding, war, and collapse. The pragmatists know that the Crazy Eddies are willing to take risks that humanity can't afford.

It's pretty clear that the pragmatists have the authors' sympathies. For one thing, the pragmatists end up being right. Kutozov has to destroy Blaine's ship, the humans have to flee the Motie system, and the Moties turn out to be duplicitous and quite dangerous to humanity. Moreover, the pragmatists are written as intelligent, level headed, worldly, and thoroughly professional characters. In contrast, the optimists are all ivory tower types who make bad decisions because they let their ideology trump the realities of strategy, diplomacy, and war. Reading the book from this perspective, it is obvious that the authors' regard Crazy Eddies the same way Moties do, at least in potentially military matters. This interpretation is bolstered when one considers the politics of the book. The Mote in God's Eye is a pretty conservative book, and the pragmatists are clearly the conservatives of the novel. They are the hawkish men of the world in contrast to academics like Horvath and Fowler who love peace but don't understand war. Jerry Pournelle, at least, was a ardent cold warrior, and The Mote in God's Eye is very easily calqued into a tale of why liberal doves are wrong despite their best intentions. ***

In this interpretation, Crazy Eddie is important because he is present when humans foolishly let their hopes and ideals obscure reality. This interpretation is particularly salient if The Mote in God's Eye is read as a novel of the Cold War.

On the gripping hand...

One can take the novel at face value. Crazy Eddie is important to the Moties because he is part and parcel of their genetic heritage. Humans, free to control their population by a number of means, don't have to live with Crazy Eddie. Even though Niven and Pournelle show that humans have wars and collapses and population problems, humanity is clearly free of the Motie's hamster wheel.

But what fun is that? You can't just leave a guy with a name like Crazy Eddie out in the cold. If nothing else, Crazy Eddie would make a great meme. Imagine a politician: "Don't get me wrong, I'm no Crazy Eddie. If we can manage to pass my bill, though..."


* - This writeup is based only on the original The Mote in God's Eye . Since that novel was clearly written as a stand-alone work, I feel this is perfectly legitimate. If you think the sequel The Gripping Hand sheds more light on the question of Crazy Eddie, though, please add to this node.

** - Well, the light sail wasn't yet a sci-fi staple in 1974. It was actually the best idea in The Mote in God's Eye, followed by the Moties themselves and, in third place, Crazy Eddie. The worst idea in the book was the notion that you could write an entire novel using only one dimensional characters. Then again, Henry James never thought of a new kind of spaceship.

*** - If you aren't convinced that The Mote in God's Eye is about attitudes toward war and peace, consider that another Kutuzov is chief of the Russian army in Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace.


Niven, Larry and Jerry Pournelle
1974 The Mote in God's Eye. New York: Simon and Schuster.

CRAZY EDDIE!

His prices are INSANE!

Sam Antar and his son Eddie, started the first Crazy Eddie electronics store in Coney Island, and the stores spread like mushrooms throughout the 70's until they were all over the New York area. By the 1980's, their TV ads were inescapable. I was very young but I can still remember "Crazy Eddie" (played by Jerry Carroll) flailing around bellowing rock bottom prices as quickly as possible, with a deranged look in his eyes. The production values were non-existent, the schtick was all too obvious, but I still smile when I think of them. I think Jerry knew how corny he looked in that cheap suit and turtle neck, gesticulating and jibbering at TV's and stereo components, but he went over the top in a different way every time and that made it interesting. And their prices were pretty darn good: I got my first Commodore 64 from there.

In the early 90's, though, things took a turn. Many local electronics chains closed down or had serious trouble and CE was no exception, but Eddie himself had even worse troubles. The SEC investigated him for cooking the books and there were rumors that he had been buying things that "fell off the back of a truck". He fled the country, ending up in Israel. While he hid, a $73 million judgement was issued against him. In 1992, he was extradited and in 1996 he pled guilty to racketeering, and got seven years on top of the monetary judgement. Ouch.

Now Crazy Eddie is a just a single discount electronics store. Like many other discount outlets, it exists because New Yorkers are such skinflints, they're willing to travel out to "The Garden State" to save on sales tax. "The Most Trusted Name in Discounted Consumer Electronics Since 1969", says www.crazyeddie.com. I'm not so sure about "most trusted" but they sure were fun and had great prices while they lasted.


Sources:
http://pocketcalculatorshow.com/crazyeddie/
http://www.crazyeddie.com

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