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
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
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.
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
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
** - 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
*** - 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.