What is Spice in Dune? The space drug to end all space drugs, Spice is the epicentre of Frank Herbert’s Dune universe. Everyone wants it, the entire economy relies on it, and only one planet, Arrakis, has it. Cue the bloody struggle depicted in Denis Villeneuve’s science fiction movie for control of the mines.
The mysterious substance grants a user many new abilities, most notably heightened cognitive function. Such is its power that travelling through space is only feasible thanks to Spice’s side-effects. In Dune, we see that having control of the Spice output is a coveted position, and something other parties are willing to die for, if need be.
Not one for spelling things out, Villeneuve’s adventure movie doesn’t quite get into exactly what the mystical stimulant fully does to a person. Yes, many people in the universe are addicts, or want to be, but to what end? We have the answers to your queries, and all without taking a single huff of that sweet, sweet, sweet red powder that unlocks the future – I’m sorry, you were saying?
What is Spice?
In Arrakis, you can find “melange”, a naturally occurring chemical unique to the desert planet’s specific conditions. Getting a whiff of the stuff expands the senses, granting what’s close to clairvoyance, telepathy, and other psychic abilities. Prolonged use can affect the mind and body in more severe ways.
Named “Spice” by the people of Dune, the drug became essential to the entire economic and political structure of the known universe. This is largely due to it making faster-than-light travel possible – if you take enough Spice, you can see through time, allowing you to guide ships going warp speed.
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But this comes at a cost: high usage mutates the body and mind, and the highest-ranking pilots, known as Guild Navigators, become humanoid, slug-like creatures that exist in cells shrouded by Spice smoke. Others, like the Bene Gesserit, an all-female cult of time-seers whose abilities come from Spice, prefer to keep dosage to lower, routine amounts.
You can tell exposure by brilliant blue eyes – the pigment is altered through more gentle exposure, like for the Fremen on Arrakis, surrounded by gaseous excretions from below the planet’s surface. Regular usage is highly addictive, and the health benefits can triple a person’s lifetime – you wouldn’t find that in the bathroom of your local nightclub.
Spice is incredibly valuable, and basically everybody either uses it, or partakes in the trading of it. This means whoever controls the mines is very powerful indeed; at the start of Dune, it’s House Harkonnen, but when the Padishah Emperor changes that to House Atreides, it raises a lot of eyebrows.
How is Spice made?
Like everything worthwhile in Dune, sandworms are involved. First excretions from sandtrouts, the small, larval-like creatures that coalesce with water to become sandworms, mix with hydration. Then, when the internal reaction causes this to bubble up closer the surface, the pressure and heat of Arrakis’s environment turns it into melange.
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This chemistry produces a cinnamon-like scent, filling the air with its noxious smell. The mining operations drill down to get the purest form imaginable, cultivating as much Spice as possible. We’ll stick with our pumpkin spice lattes, at least until Dune 2 comes around.