November 21, 2021

Science killed the premise of Dune

The spice doesn't need to flow

The lynchpin of the novel Dune by Frank Herbert, and all subsequent media based on the book and its five sequels, is as follows: Humanity over tens of thousands of years has spread across the universe as a result of faster-than-light travel. Such travel requires on an addictive substance called melange, commonly called "spice", which gives its users the ability to see into the future. It would make sense: By being able to see into the future, a space traveler can avoid, you know, running your spacecraft into a sun or a black hole.

For the Imperium, spice is used by the navigators of the Spacing Guild to find safe paths between the stars. Without spice, interstellar travel is impossible, making it by far the most valuable substance in the universe. -- Filmbook narrator, Dune: Part One (2021)

The Guild...uses the spice produce the limited prescience necessary for guiding spaceships through the void... -- Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)

We're told that spice is only found on a single planet -- Arrakis (also called Dune). Control of that planet and spice is the main focus of the game of thrones in the Duniverse, and that even though humanity has advanced technologically, it has regressed socially and politically. Rather than a democracy or better, humanity is ruled by an emperor in an apparent dictatorship. Control the spice, and you control the Imperium, effectively controlling the universe.

There's one problem: You don't need to worry about collisions in outer space. The chance of a collision in outer space is practically zilch. You can read this Reddit thread for more of the mathematics. In fact, it is unbelievably easy to avoid asteroids in our solar system's asteroid belt, as "dense" as it is -- so much so that you have to try really hard to get to an asteroid.

If it's that easy to traverse the cosmos, assuming all other things remaining the same, then we don't need spice. And that dramatically undercuts the premise of the Dune saga and all its books. No inter-house war for the planet Arrakis, the universe's only source of melange. No revenge jihad by the followers of Muad'Dib. No multi-millennia dictatorship under the iron fist of the God Emperor. It would get pretty dull, but then again so is most of space.