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Spice and Ecology in Herbert's Dune: Altering the Mind and the Planet

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Abstract

The characterization of spice in Frank Herbert's science fiction novel Dune plays a significant role in world-building and focusing readers' attention on natural enhancements to the human mind. Herbert uses historical and social contexts relevant to real-world spices to create layers of meaning by tapping into emerging trends in ecology, psychology, and politics. These include the historic spice trade, drugs in the countercultural movement, the disciplines of ecology and psychology, and foreign interference in the Middle East. Such linkages help position spice as a valuable commodity as well as a psychoactive substance that various characters must consume to accomplish extraordinary feats. In the world of Dune, everything is dependent on one substance, and although spice may give advantages, it also takes its toll. The consequences of spice consumption on an individual level then mirror the larger ecological disruptions in the novel in the realms of politics and the environment. In this way, spice represents a key feature of world-building that assists in tying the threads of the novel together and driving through to readers the ecological message about the interconnectedness of life.
Spice and Ecology in Herbert’s Dune: Altering the Mind and the Planet
1
Kara Kennedy
ABSTRACT: The characterization of spice in Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel Dune plays
a significant role in world-building and focusing readers’ attention on natural enhancements to
the human mind. Herbert uses historical and social contexts relevant to real-world spices to
create layers of meaning by tapping into emerging trends in ecology, psychology, and politics.
These include the historic spice trade, drugs in the countercultural movement, the disciplines of
ecology and psychology, and foreign interference in the Middle East. Such linkages help position
spice as a valuable commodity as well as a psychoactive substance that various characters must
consume to accomplish extraordinary feats. In the world of Dune, everything is dependent on
one substance, and although spice may give advantages, it also takes its toll. The consequences
of spice consumption on an individual level then mirror the larger ecological disruptions in the
novel in the realms of politics and the environment. In this way, spice represents a key feature of
world-building that assists in tying the threads of the novel together and driving through to
readers the ecological message about the interconnectedness of life.
KEYWORDS: Dune, Frank Herbert, science fiction, world-building, ecology
1
This article was originally published in Science Fiction Studies, vol. 48, no. 3, 2021, pp. 444-461,
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5621/sciefictstud.48.3.0444
Spice and Ecology in Herbert’s Dune: Altering the Mind and the Planet Page | 2
Can you remember your first taste of spice?
It tasted like cinnamon.
But never twice the same...Its like lifeit presents a different face each time you take it.
Frank Herbert, Dune 64
he substance known as melange in Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965) is no ordinary spice.
Considered the “spice of spices,” melange is an addictive substance that can only be found
on the desert world of Arrakis, known as Dune, where it is part of the sandworm lifecycle and is
expensive to mine due to the constant threat from sandworms and the harsh environment (Dune
523). Described as having a cinnamon-like odor, it permeates the atmosphere of the planet and is
ingested by every inhabitant through the air as well as in food and drink. Spice also dominates
the politics of Dune, as factions vie for control over this most precious resource, highly valued
for its use as a consciousness-opener, a ceremonial toxin, and a geriatric (the term Herbert uses
for life-extending and immunity-giving properties). Its rarity makes it extremely valuable—a
handful can buy a home—and the narrative positions it as the key factor in the intense struggle
for control of Dune between the feuding House Atreides and House Harkonnen and the
involvement of other groups such as the Spacing Guild and the Bene Gesserit. In addition, the
narrative reinforces the importance of spice through the sheer volume of mentions: although the
word “mélange” appears only a handful of times, the word “spice” appears around two hundred
times, an average of once every two or three pages.
Far more than another 1960s science-fiction narrative about drugs, Dune grounds its
characterization of spice in relevant historical and social contexts to build a world in which
complex themes surrounding humanity and ecology can emerge. As a substance with real-world
analogies, spice functions as an effective tool of world-building by enabling an appropriate blend
of the principles used in secondary-world development as described by Mark J.P. Wolf. As a
commodity regularly consumed by humans in order to empower them in various ways, spice
focuses readers’ attention on natural rather than technological enhancements to the human mind
and body, and develops a stronger message about dependence and addiction than a resource such
as oil would have. Once readers accept that so much of the universe depends on this one
substance, spice assists in directing their attention to the psychological, environmental, and
political disruptions it engenders, illuminating Dune’s ecological lesson about the dangers
inherent in human interference with the natural world.
World-Building Role
As Wolf explains in his discussion of world-building, when authors create their fictional
worlds, particularly those in the science-fiction and fantasy genres, they must consider how to
combine elements in a way that will hold together logically. Furthermore, “[i]f a secondary
world is to be believable and interesting, it will need to have a high degree of invention,
completeness, and consistency” (33). According to Wolf, invention refers to elements that have
been changed from what actually exists in the real world; these may include geography,
T
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language, biology, and cultures. Authors must make any inventions credible and in line with
readers’ prior knowledge to avoid implausibilities. Completeness refers to how many
explanations and details are given to readers to suggest that a world is fully developed and
feasible, though fictional. Authors must provide enough information to enable readers to answer
questions about a world or at least speculate on answers. Consistency refers to how well a
world’s details are integrated to avoid contradictions or impracticalities. Authors must pay
attention to the interrelationships among the different parts of the world to maintain consistency.
Using Wolf’s theory to examine the role of spice in Dune, it becomes clear that spice
contributes to effective world-building in large part because it is an invented substance that is
nonetheless feasible and familiar due to its grounding in real-world contexts. Spice in Dune
invites readers to draw parallels with spices in the historic spice trade, oil in the Middle East, and
hallucinogenic drugs in the twentieth-century counterculture.
Spices in general have long been valued by humans for their uses in food and drink,
medicines, and religious and ritualistic practices. The intense pursuit of them resulted in
significant impacts on populations, cultures, and environments around the world. Wolfgang
Schivelbusch describes the lofty status accorded to spices in the medieval era, wherein the
“aroma of spices was believed to be a breath wafted from Paradise over the human world” (6).
Highly valuable spices such as pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg were very much “status symbols
for the ruling class, emblems of power which were displayed and then consumed” (7). Paul
Freedman’s study of the European craving for spices during the Middle Ages goes into further
detail, discussing the importance of spices as not only food flavorings but also medicines,
incense, perfumes, cosmetics, and symbols of material comfort and social status. He argues that
the “medieval infatuation with spices, encouraged by their mysterious origins and high prices,
stimulated attempts to find the lands where they originated and to take over control of their
trade,” essentially fueling the European colonial enterprise that “remade the demography,
politics, culture, economy, and ecology of the entire globe” (2-3). Spices became an addiction
and people were willing to do anything to satisfy their cravings. Cinnamon, in particular, became
one of the most highly prized and costly spices, leading to struggles for control over the areas in
the East where it grew, such as the “cinnamon paradise of Ceylon [Sri Lanka]” (Nierstrasz 47).
Indeed, as Schivelbusch reflects, “the hunger for spices was capable of mobilizing forces very
much as the present-day need for energy sources has done” (9).
This historical context provides one layer of meaning for spice in Dune, for as a
commodity wrapped up in the politics of colonial extraction, it mirrors the spices that facilitated
European oceanic explorations to “exotic” lands, as well as the petroleum that expedited the
expansion of Western interests in the Middle East. Spice can certainly be viewed as an analogy
for oil, as critics and readers have often done. The desert in Dune is an example of an
extrapolation of one type of ecosystem to cover a whole planet, a common occurrence in science
fiction that enables authors to focus attention on a particular environment (Heise 100). Given the
characterization of the indigenous population of Dune known as the Fremen, the use of a
language derived from Arabic, and the inclusion of a name for the planet, Arrakis, that sounds
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like Iraq, this desert cannot but remind readers of the Middle East.
2
Herbert makes it possible for
readers both to recognize the similarities in the struggle for resources in such an environment and
to accept the world in Dune as feasible. Drawing on the emerging field of petrocriticism, Gemma
Field analyzes the parallels between the political and economic structures that surround the two
substances—spice and oil— to conclude that even in the world of Dune, “a political/energy
hegemony based on neo-imperial force and monopolistic, exponential expansion will run into the
problems of scarcity and limit” (136). Foreign companies had come to control a majority of the
means of petroleum production and distribution in the Middle East in the post-World War II
period (Rustow 95-96). But local government leaders began to see the strategic value in oil and
demand a higher percentage of the profits as oil increasingly became the world’s major source of
fuel (Rustow 89; Amuzegar 11-12). Because of the large concentration of oil reserves in the
Middle East, it “bestow[ed] upon the countries of the Gulf an importance far out of proportion to
their population, power and development” and became a strategic battleground between the
Eastern and Western blocs (Abir 1; Shwadran 3). The Eisenhower Doctrine of 1957 pledged US
armed forces to secure Middle East nations against aggression from communist nations such as
the USSR; the US maintained troops in Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, sending troops to
Lebanon and Iraq as well to restore or preserve the pro-Western governments there (Rustow 84-
85). In an attempt to reclaim more control over oil profits through a unified approach, in 1960
Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran founded the Organization of the Petroleum
Exporting Countries (OPEC). Although OPEC only made small gains at first, as it gained
traction it proved there was considerable potential in forming a united front to make gains at the
expense of foreign companies. The inclusion of spice as such a valuable resource in a desert
ecosystem fought over by external powers contributes to the sense that, as Gerry Canavan
argues, “Dune ranks among the best allegorizations of U.S. energy policy and Middle East
imperialism ever achieved in SF” (266-67). Indeed, Herbert himself suggested that the
development corporation in the novel—known as Combine Honnete Ober Advancer Mercantiles
(CHOAM) —is analogous to OPEC (Herbert, “Dangers98).
The use of the term spice for this fictional substance in Dune is significant in linking
these historical phenomena with the connotations of the word itself. In his analysis of the literary
and cultural significance of spice in Romantic literature, Timothy Morton argues that spices offer
“extraordinarily rich objects of investigation” in large part because they prompt a study “of
riches and value” (Poetics 7). The term derives “from the Latin species, from which we obtain
notions of appearance and particularity, and also of money, specie” (Poetics 21). Spice as a word
tries to engage the senses by encapsulating the “brilliant colours and powerful tastes” and the
fragrances and flavors of real spices, but it can also take on the properties of a quasi-material,
transcendental, sublime object when functioning as a luxury commodity (Poetics 34). In this
sense, Morton suggests, spice in Dune is the strongest instance in twentieth-century literature of
2
For discussions of the connections between Dune and Arabic language and culture, see Kennedy’s “Epic World-
Building”; also see Ryding, Senior, and Zaki.
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spice being a luxury commodity (Poetics 32). The other name for spice, melange, derives from
the French mêler, “to mix,” and means a mixture or medley (Speake and LaFlaur). This term
may refer to the variety of effects that melange has on its users, rather than that it is a blend of
other spices.
Alongside the terminology, the characterization of spice as both smelling and tasting like
cinnamon aids in the world-building process by connecting it to something familiar before
unfolding its more fantastical properties. When characters are near spice or spice-filled items, the
text uses similar descriptors: the “odor of cinnamon—heavy and pungent,” “a rich cinnamon
odor from the spice,” “the rich smell of cinnamon,” or the “redolence of cinnamon” (Dune 121,
133, 247, 352). Even for readers who are unaware that cinnamon was once one of the most
valuable substances in the real-world spice trade, they will still be familiar with cinnamon as a
common spice. In addition, although current Westerners may consider cinnamon to be a sweet
spice “appropriate only for desserts,” it is still found in meat and seafood dishes in South Asia
and the Middle East (Freedman 25). This makes it plausible as a natural fit with the diet and
culture of the Fremen, whose characterization draws heavily on Middle Eastern
cultures.
3
(Kennedy, “Epic,” Ryding, Zaki). The term spice and its connection to cinnamon, then,
prompt a more multi-layered reading than a neologism would, allowing readers to consider the
connotations of spice from a variety of historical and cultural perspectives.
As a mind-altering substance, spice reflects the psychoactive drugs that have been used
by a variety of cultures for millennia but that were popularized by the countercultural movement
in the US in the 1960s and 1970s. The term takes on a euphemistic quality, avoiding any explicit
connection with a real-world drug yet offering descriptions that indicate it replicates the effects
of hallucinogenic substances. Scott M. Fitzpatrick and Mark D. Merlin discuss how humans
across the world seem to have a need to alter their reality, often through psychoactive substances,
and that these have been “an integral part of living, surviving, and ruling” in societies throughout
history (13). They define the term psychoactive as “of or pertaining to a substance having a
profound or significant effect on mental processes” (1). Psychoactive drugs include those that are
legal, such as coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol, and those that are illegal, such as heroin and
cocaine. Hallucinogens comprise one of four major categories of psychoactive drugs and include
mescaline (in certain cacti), psilocybin (in magic mushrooms), and synthetics such as lysergic
acid diethylamide (LSD). It is important to note that Dune anticipated some of the
countercultural desire for the latter drug, for at the time of publication “LSD was not yet widely
available, and even the term ‘hallucinogen’ had not come into general use (melange is described
as an ‘awareness-spectrum narcotic’)” (O’Reilly 82). But spice is more than just a pathway to a
fleeting mind-altering experience, as will be discussed in further detail. Ultimately, in merging
the characteristics of a psychoactive compound, a consumable substance, and a commodity,
Dune represents spice as a multi-layered item rich with interpretive possibilities.
3
For discussions of the connections between Dune and Arabic language and culture, see Kennedy’s “Epic World-
Building”; also see Ryding, Senior, and Zaki.
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The positioning of spice as analogous to valuable commodities in the real world helps
provide a realistic explanation for other aspects of the Dune universe and contributes to the
illusion of a complete secondary world. Wolf in fact utilizes spice as an example in his
discussion of completeness in world-building, stating that since Dune’s main export is the
expensive spice, and spice is essential for interstellar travel, spice makes the planet both
politically important and economically profitable (41). This can answer readers’ questions about
why a desert planet would be of interest and how an economy there might work. There is a
higher likelihood that readers will believe the feasibility of this world, even though not all of the
details of the political and economic systems surrounding spice are provided.
Regarding the world-building principle of consistency, spice acts as an aid to bringing
together various threads in the world and integrating them, tying everything together: sandworms
and spice, Fremen and the desert, the Great Houses and Arrakis, the Emperor and his throne, the
Guild and interstellar travel, the Bene Gesserit and their abilities, and Paul Atreides and
prescience.
The novel does not include much detail about the relationship between the sandworms
and spice, adding to the mystery. Paul’s perspective provides various clues about the importance
of this relationship, once he suspects that the Imperial Planetologist Dr. Liet Kynes is not being
forthright about his knowledge of the subject: “His truthsense, awareness of tone shadings, told
him that Kynes was lying and telling half-truths. And he thought: If there’s a relationship
between spice and worms, killing the worms would destroy the spice” (Dune 116; emphasis in
original). In “Appendix I: The Ecology of Dune,” the circular relationship is described, albeit
briefly: “little maker to pre-spice mass; little maker to shai-hulud; shai-hulud to scatter the spice
upon which fed microscopic creatures called sand plankton; the sand plankton, food for shai-
hulud, growing, burrowing, becoming little makers” (Dune 497). Despite the lack of detailed
information, Herbert indicated in an interview that he intended the sandworms and spice to be
familiar to readers, with spice analogous to the gold guarded by the archetypal black beast or
dragon, in this case called Shai-Hulud, Shaitan , or the Maker (Herbert and Herbert).
To the Fremen, sandworms are a deity, a means of transportation, and producer of a rare
substance with domestic, cultural, and economic significance. Spice facilitates their survival in
the desert: they use it in their diet, religious rituals, manufacturing, and bribes. Yet this same
spice also attracts the colonizers of the Imperium, the Great Houses, who then interfere in the
Fremen’s lives to varying degrees ranging from brutal oppression to more benign tolerance.
Meanwhile, the Emperor in charge of handing out fiefs to the nobility of the Houses has
been allowed to succeed his father to the throne only on “the assurance that [he]’d keep the spice
flowing” (Dune 477). The Spacing Guild’s loyalty to the Emperor is dependent on this condition,
since they need spice to guide ships through space and maintain their monopoly on transport.
The Bene Gesserit, too, require spice to enhance their special abilities, such as Truthsaying, and
to access the memories of their female ancestors. Their political influence and placement in high
positions rely in part on such enhancements. As the offspring of the Bene Gesserit Jessica and a
product of their breeding program, Paul Atreides also gains special abilities enhanced through
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spice, which enable him to fully open his consciousness to prescience. His dominance comes full
circle to threaten the existence of spice itself. In all these groups, spice is a significant
component, helping to tie together the logic of the world.
That Herbert would build a world with such interconnectedness aligns well with his
interest in ecology. The novel that can be credited for “bring[ing] ecological awareness to the
center of the genre” of science fiction had its roots in a trip Herbert took to sand dunes on the
coast of Oregon (Latham 87). As a San Francisco newspaper reporter, he was tasked with going
to Florence, Oregon, to write a story about a successful US Department of Agriculture project to
control sand dunes ecologically by planting hardy grasses rather than by building new walls.
4
(As biographer Timothy O’Reilly tells it, “Herbert became fascinated by sand dunes” and “was
hooked, both on ecology and on sand” (39). He then combined this interest with his desire to
write about messianic myths and chose the medium of science fiction to show how scarcity of a
resource could drive politics and religious fervor, all within a desert ecosystem. Indeed, he
dedicates Dune to “the people whose labors go beyond ideas into the realm of ‘real materials’—
to the dry land ecologists, wherever they may be, in whatever time they work.” But he knew that
readers would expect to see something that would believably attract people to live in such a
desolate environment, so he invented the valuable commodity of spice (O’Reilly 40). Such a
substance with psychedelic properties fits in with the cultures of the desert dwellers he had in
mind for the native population of Dune, the Fremen, who are based on the Native Americans of
the Southwest as well as the nomadic peoples of North Africa and the Arabian peninsula, among
others (O’Reilly 41). Native Americans used around 100 different types of hallucinogenic plants,
including peyote, mescal beans, and psilocybic mushrooms (Courtwright 56), and the Bedouin
and other peoples in the Arab world are known for their use of hashish, a drug prepared from the
cannabis plant (Iversen 22). Through the development of spice, Herbert demonstrates his
awareness that invented components need to fit with other parts of the world to be believable and
to enable readers to immerse themselves in the fictional world (Wolf 37-38).
Herbert’s attention to ecology reflected a movement toward more consideration of
ecological issues in both the real world and the sf genre. Ecology is the study of interactions
between living beings and their environment, the study of “patterns, networks, balances, and
cycles” where the goal is to understand whole systems rather than break them down into separate
parts (Callenbach 34). An ecological approach recognizes that everything, including humans, is
interconnected: an important maxim is that one can never do just one thing (Cain et al. 9).
Ecology became widely known to the public in the 1960s, helped along by texts such as Rachel
Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) and Herbert’s Dune. Carson was a biologist whose influential
book warned of the negative impact of pesticides, and she has been credited with starting applied
ecology and spurring on the environmental and conservation movements (Pimentel). In science
fiction, magazine editor John W. Campbell, Jr.—with whom Herbert worked in serializing his
original Dune stories for Analog in 1963-1965—pushed writers to more carefully consider the
4
For more on Herbert’s interest in the Oregon sand dunes, see McNelly and O’Reilly.
Spice and Ecology in Herbert’s Dune: Altering the Mind and the Planet Page | 8
believability of their fictional stories, “including the ecological issues relevant to ‘world
building’” (Stableford 129). Dune represents a classic example of how the science of ecology
can form the basis for a new world (Page 41). It is considered the “first planetary ecology novel
on a grand scale” (Slonczewski and Levy 183), although many other science-fiction texts have
focused on ecological themes as well.
5
Spice may only be one part of Dune’s ecosystem, but it is
a driving force in many of the decisions made about the planet’s future.
Consumable Substance
More than simply an analogy for oil, spice is significant in that it is a resource that must
literally be consumed—eating it “involves the irrevocable incorporation of things into the body;
once past the lips and down the gullet the substance becomes at least cognitively a part of the
organism” (Rozin and Rozin 38). This enables its tie-in with emerging themes in science fiction
and popular culture, as well as its redirection of readers’ attention to the human mind and body
and the consequences of dependence and addiction. It shifts the science-fiction novel’s emphasis
away from technology and raises the stakes for the ecological consequences of disruption in its
supply.
Spice represents a natural alternative to reliance on increasingly sophisticated technology,
reflecting emerging themes in sf including the New Wave’s concern with inner space and
American popular culture’s interest in the mind, drug-expanded consciousness, and nature, in
opposition to the bomb and industrialization. Like ecology, psychology was having an increasing
impact on American culture, especially in regard to exploration of the nature of consciousness.
The combination of a shift in psychological theories and the discovery of LSD, along with an
emerging countercultural movement, facilitated an uptick in drug use, and the characterization of
spice in Dune anticipated this new avenue of interest. In the 1950s and 1960s, psychologists who
acknowledged the limitations of the behavioral school of thought became interested in how the
mind processed information, leading to the so-called cognitive revolution and study of states of
mind (Gardner 19). American psychology also saw the emergence of what Abraham Maslow
named the third force, an alternative to Freudianism and Behaviorism that sought to study human
motivation and potential and the “tendency of the human species to seek growth and self-
actualization” (Goble 49). Disillusionment with traditional techniques led some therapists to
apply ideas from Zen Buddhism, existentialism, and transcendental experiences (Mogar 390).
Once the psychedelic properties of LSD were discovered, some psychiatrists began
experimenting with it and other psychoactive substances such as psilocybin and mescaline
because of their “unique effect on the human psyche of bringing into awareness forms of
consciousness that are usually hidden or unconscious” (Pahnke and Richards 399). Indeed, the
CIA had been conducting LSD studies for years in an attempt to find a new tool of mind control,
and Harvard University had allowed a psilocybin research project under the direction of clinical
5
For other examples of sf narratives with ecological themes, see Stableford, and Canavan and Robinson’s Green
Planets.
Spice and Ecology in Herbert’s Dune: Altering the Mind and the Planet Page | 9
psychologist Timothy Leary, though he was later dismissed in a storm of controversy, becoming
instead LSD’s “foremost proponent” in the public eye (Lee and Shlain 88). Herbert himself had
some experience with hallucinogenic drugs, having been offered sweets containing hashish and a
morning-glory seed drink in Mexico in 1953, but did not advocate their use in seeking visionary
experiences. Rather, he was interested in the sense of heightened awareness and how each person
could experience a drug differently (O’Reilly 82-83). Eventually, “LSD shed its early persona as
an experimental psychopharmacological agent from the 1950s and slowly transformed, in the
1960s, in the public view, into ‘acid,’ a revolutionary street drug” that was criminalized in 1968
(Dyck 5).
Yet despite the enactment of various restrictions on popular drug use, psychoactive drugs
both licit and illicit continue to be popular among the world’s population for offering a chemical
pathway to altering the human body and mind (Courtwright 167). This is reflected in Herbert’s
novel when various groups seek after spice due to the extraordinary abilities that can only be
unlocked through ingesting it. It is not a one-time buy or a piece of technology, either, but rather
an ongoing purchase of a substance that must be harvested from the natural world.
Within the narrative, rather than being an abstract resource akin to oil—valued for its role
in powering machinery—spice is a concrete substance desired for the changes it initiates in the
human mind and body when inhaled or ingested. This fits in with Herbert’s historical backdrop,
wherein the event known as the Butlerian Jihad—a crusade against thinking machines—resulted
in a ban against advanced machines or computers; the term “Butlerian” refers to the ban on
inventions in Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872). In response, humans adapted by enhancing their
own skills, including through the use of spice. The understated role of technology in the novel
shows Herbert’s emphasis on the social sciences rather than the hard sciences in his world-
building designs (Kennedy, “Softer”). Space is left for the exploration of humanity’s potential,
which along with ecology is a key theme in the novel. The significant role spice plays in human
enhancement signals readers to pay attention to the mind and body but also to the consequences
of dependence and addiction, since spice’s addictive yet geriatric nature means that access to it
holds life or death consequences.
Within the world of the novel, the Guild’s use of spice is perhaps the most critical, for
without it there would be no interstellar transportation. The Guild relies on spice to attain
prescience in order to navigate ships through space, which shows how humans are able to
harness the power of previously untapped parts of their consciousness. The fact that it is humans,
not technology, that are the key to such travel draws readers’ attention to human capabilities as
enhanced through the natural means of spice. Rather than needing spice to power their ships,
they themselves need it; these operators are thus bound up with spice in a much more intimate
fashion than with a resource such as oil. Members of the Guild, however, also are characterized
as being notably affected by its usage, alluding to the increasingly severe toll of spice on the
body. The Guild appears to keep some of its pilots hidden, even from its own agents. Paul
suspects it is “because they’ve mutated and don’t look...human anymore” (Dune 46; emphasis in
original), and this foreshadows the changes he will experience when his family moves to the
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spice-rich planet of Dune. As his mind reaches a higher plane of awareness, it is he who lets
readers in on the secret of the Guild pilots: that they use spice to live life “in the mind-groping-
ahead-through-possible-futures that guided hurtling spaceships” safely through space, and
“[w]ithout the spice they’re blind!” (Dune 194, 447). The implication is that their use of spice
gradually mutates their bodies to the point they prefer to keep them secret. Paul’s initial
excitement at the prospect of catching a glimpse of a strange-looking pilot turns to condemnation
of their order by the end of the novel, as he labels them parasites for relying on others to mine
the spice they require (Dune 472). Their characterization somewhat matches this description, for
they seem quite dull. The Guild representative at the dinner banquet is described as “lean and
remote” (Dune 128), “pale and austere” (133), and “a whistle-faced scarecrow” (134); the Guild
agents accompanying the Emperor are described as having “bland gray eyes” (457) and wearing
the “Guild gray, unadorned” (465). The Guild’s rigid focus on attaining prescience through spice
appears to have blanched them. The toll of spice on the bodies of those in the Guild serves as a
warning about the potential consequences of becoming singularly focused on a drug habit.
Meanwhile, the Bene Gesserit do not appear to be visibly altered by their spice usage;
rather, they are significantly affected in terms of the enhancement of their minds, indicated by
references to the abilities unlocked by the Truthsayer drug and the Water of Life. In Reverend
Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam’s conversation with Paul at the novel’s beginning, they discuss
how Bene Gesserit take the Truthsayer drug to improve their ability to determine falsehood, as
well as to gain gifts of insight by looking into avenues of the past in the body’s memory. Readers
see a variation of this latter situation in Jessica’s experience when she ingests the Fremen’s
version of the drug: the Water of Life, the “liquid exhalation of a dying sandworm,” which tastes
of spice (Dune 359). It differs from the drugs she has tasted as part of her Bene Gesserit training,
and her recollection that “[a]t the school there had been rumors that some did not survive the
Reverend Mother ordeal, that the drug took them” signals to readers the danger in this endeavor
(Dune 354). The drug is mentally transformative in that it provides her access to all of the late
Reverend Mother Ramallo’s memories and those of the Reverend Mothers before her, as well as,
presumably, all of Jessica’s own female ancestors, though this aspect remains unclear. The
implication is that the Bene Gesserit have acquired this ability to empower themselves with self-
knowledge through intimate access to the wisdom of their ancestors without the need of external
technology, though they do require the “spice liquor” (Dune 477). This expansion of
consciousness is presented as something unique and impossible to describe, yet not unpleasant.
Jessica thinks to herself, “I’m like a person whose hands were kept numb, without sensation from
the first moment of awareness—until one day the ability to feel is forced into them.… And I say:
‘Look! I have no hands!’ But the people all around me say: ‘What are hands?’” (Dune 359;
emphasis in original). The spice drug brings life to a part of her she did not know could come
alive and elevates her both in her mind and in the Fremen society, which bestows the honorific
title of Reverend Mother on her as the new keeper of the tribe’s history and their respected
advisor. Spice is thus a key component in some of the Bene Gesserit’s special abilities; as Paul
concludes, “There are other poisons the Reverend Mothers can use for their tricks, but once
Spice and Ecology in Herbert’s Dune: Altering the Mind and the Planet Page | 11
they’ve used the spice liquor, the others no longer work” (Dune 477). The loss of spice could
also mean the loss of the Bene Gesserit’s influence and status, tethering them, like the Guild, to a
dependence on spice.
Paul’s exposure to spice gives him an expanded prescience, which shows how humans
can achieve a type of self-actualization and balance between different parts of their personalities.
For Paul, whose genes are the culmination of hundreds of generations of selection through the
Bene Gesserit’s breeding program, being on a planet saturated with spice “begin[s] to trigger the
powers latent in his genes” (McNelly and O’Reilly 656). It has awakened the “sleeper” and
brought things normally left in the unconscious to his conscious awareness, including the
hyperawareness that enables prescient visions (Dune 195). The novel’s continual emphasis on
his mental processing and coming to terms with his new abilities reminds readers of the potential
for natural enhancements to the mind and body. Paul’s hunger for more enhanced awareness and
his risk-taking behavior are in keeping with drug addiction but also reflect an understandable
desire for self-actualization. Having achieved some prescience, he is not satisfied until he probes
its limits, and the spice drug is the vehicle to achieve this.
Indeed, spice is key to Paul’s “resurrection” as the Kwisatz Haderach of the Bene
Gesserit’s plans after falling into a coma upon secretly drinking the Water of Life. His concubine
Chani’s keenly perceptive senses give her a clue about his reckless action, as she looks at his
“waxen, rigid” skin and bends close to his face: “She sensed an immediate difference in the air
about his face...but it was only the spice, the ubiquitous spice whose odor permeated everything
in Fremen life. Still….” (Dune 440-41). All it takes is having the Water of Life’s charged odor
near his nose to awaken him, and his weak voice tries to explain about the “many places” he has
been (443). Paul describes “look[ing] inward and confront[ing] the raw force of your own life
unshielded” as a perilous endeavor, but one that enables him to access a world beyond normal
awareness (445). The spice drug takes him on this journey of self-discovery and grants him self-
actualization—a natural albeit dangerous trip that unmasks his latent abilities—but it also locks
his mind into the prescient visions that control how he views the world.
Yet the price of the longevity and enhancement that spice provides is addiction to what
Paul discovers is a “poison—so subtle, so insidious...so irreversible. It won’t even kill you unless
you stop taking it. We can’t leave Arrakis unless we take part of Arrakis with us” (Dune 196).
This sets up a noticeable irony for readers in showing that the geriatric, life-extending,
consciousness-expanding spice that is so valued is actually poisonous. Addiction is signaled by a
clear change in one’s eyes—they turn “totally blue, no whites in them” (Dune 39). In the
narrative, this is explained by Dr. Wellington Yueh as being “linked to saturation of the blood
with melange” (Dune 39). In Mycelium Running, mycologist Paul Stamets describes meeting
Herbert in the early 1980s and hearing him say that he based several elements of Dune on the
fungal life cycle, including the blueness of the eyes of those ingesting spice, due to the cerulean
blue of Psilocybe mushrooms (127). Karin Ryding notes a parallel between the blue eyes in
Dune and the Touareg in North Africa with their indigo veils and clothing that leaves blue dye
on their skin (111). The repetition of the image of blue eyes across the novel contributes to the
Spice and Ecology in Herbert’s Dune: Altering the Mind and the Planet Page | 12
omnipresence of spice, continually focusing readers’ attention on mind and body alterations.
Even Jessica is taken aback upon seeing such eyes: the “wash of deepest, darkest blue without
any white—secretive, mysterious” (Dune 52). Paul’s prediction that he and his mother will live
among the Fremen and “acquire the blue eyes” comes true (Dune 198; emphasis in original).
This physical alteration marks both off-worlders who consume large quantities of spice and
inhabitants of Dune, including creatures of the desert such as bats and the people of the Fremen,
who use spice as part of their daily lives. It is an outward signification of their bondedness to the
planet Dune, but also a marker of the trap in which they exist. The Guild agents shown at the
close of the novel wear contact lenses to mask their dark blue eyes, suggesting a desire to hide
the evidence of their heavy spice usage. Nonetheless, they demonstrate full awareness of their
addiction, indicating that withdrawal equals death when Paul threatens to destroy spice
production: “You would blind yourself, too, and condemn us all to slow death. Have you any
idea what it means to be deprived of the spice liquor once you’re addicted?” (Dune 476). Access
to spice becomes the difference between life or death.
Ecological Disruptions
Such consequences of spice consumption on an individual level mirror the larger
ecological disruptions that occur in the novel. Central to ecology is the idea of
interconnectedness: changes in one place lead to changes elsewhere. One of the key messages of
Dune is that one cannot simply ingest a geriatric, psychoactive substance that extends life and
expands awareness without consequences. Spice gives, but it also takes. On an individual level, it
causes consumers to become addicted, and at high intakes leads to them viewing themselves and
their surroundings in new ways. In this way, spice signals a connection between body and mind,
and the irreversible consequences on both of ingesting such a potent substance. On a larger scale,
due to its properties, spice engenders significant political maneuvers around which the novel’s
ecological message manifests itself. In Morton’s extended exploration of the representation of
spice in Dune in relation to imperialism, colonialism, and consumerism, he argues that “Dune
embodies through spice the issues of indeterminacy and empire upon which the narrative
depends” (“Imperial”). Spice is fought over by noble families, whose “dynastic structures are so
many interstices in a network sustained by the value of spice” (“Imperial”). As with real-world
spices or oil, demand plays a significant role in politics. The Guild and the Bene Gesserit must
ensure they have continuous access to spice and make political decisions accordingly. It was the
Guild that permitted the Emperor to succeed his father, and it was the Bene Gesserit who made
him agree “to place a Bene Gesserit on the throne” (Dune 479). A ruler’s fate, in this universe, is
inextricably tied to spice. And because spice is only found on Dune, it is a key territory for
colonial resource extraction. As a driving force for the narrative, spice produces ripple effects as
each faction seeks to ensure its supply and responds to the actions of others in the interconnected
web of the Imperium.
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A seemingly insatiable desire for the wealth and power provided by spice leads House
Harkonnen to set in motion the events that precede the opening of Dune, which then begin the
chain reaction that leads to their downfall. Positioned as the villains of the narrative, the
Harkonnen represent exploitative colonial figures who care only about extracting as much spice
as possible from Dune. In the Atreides’ eyes, the Harkonnen are malevolent rulers who “sneered
at the Fremen, hunted them for sport,” and are known for spending as little as possible to
maintain the people on the planets they control (Dune 45). At the novel’s opening, Baron
Harkonnen has conspired with the Emperor to transfer control of the planet to House Atreides
with the intent of sabotaging Duke Leto’s political popularity, which threatens imperial power,
by setting him up to fail in the adequate production of spice. Although valuable, spice requires
massive investment in mining equipment and labor—including harvester factories, carryalls to
fly them in and out, ornithopters for surveying and weather observation, spice drivers, spice
hunters, and weather scanners. The desert conditions and sandworms also contribute to high
maintenance and replacement costs. Knowing this, the Harkonnen have left the Atreides near-
broken equipment, having already spent decades building up a stockpile for themselves. As Paul
surmises to his father, “They mean spice production to fail and you to be blamed,” explaining to
readers the reason why the Harkonnen would give up the spice planet to the Atreides, with whom
they have a longstanding feud (Dune 43).
This sets up the Atreides, in contrast, as a family who want to rule justly and reduce
corruption and graft. In a pivotal scene in Duke Leto’s characterization, he and Paul fly out to
observe a sandcrawler mining spice and they rescue a group of workers who would have
otherwise perished due to an approaching sandworm. Kynes is awestruck that the “Duke was
concerned more over the men tha[n] he was over the spice” and the loss of expensive machinery,
and readers can see his changing loyalty: “Against his own will and all previous judgments,
Kynes admitted to himself: I like this Duke” (Dune 126; emphasis in original). Thus, Leto’s
seeming indifference to the colonial enterprise in the face of potential human tragedy paves the
way for Kynes to later help Paul and his mother escape the Harkonnen, an act of kindness that he
pays for with his life. The Atreides also appear sympathetic to the desires of Kynes and the
Fremen to turn Dune into a water-rich planet. In the banquet scene, when Leto is challenged by
the water-shipper Lingar Bewt about whether the existing conservatory in the ducal castle will be
flaunted in the people’s faces, Jessica responds, “We intend to keep it, certainly, but only to hold
it in trust for the people of Arrakis. It is our dream that someday the climate of Arrakis may be
changed sufficiently to grow such plants anywhere in the open” (Dune 130). Kynes stares at her
“transfigured—like a man in love...or caught by a religious trance,” showing how her
acknowledgment of the validity of the transformation of Dune has further solidified his loyalty
(Dune 130).
Although the Atreides have a more humane approach to ruling, however, they still see
spice as a resource that will fuel their family’s wealth and security. Spice drives their decision-
making as they respond to the Harkonnen’s sabotages and adjust to the political necessities on
their new planet. Leto tells Paul, “It’ll require patience to exploit [the Fremen] secretly...But
Spice and Ecology in Herbert’s Dune: Altering the Mind and the Planet Page | 14
the...spice wealth is there,” showing his intention to use the Fremen as a fighting corps to bolster
their own troops (Dune 45). Once forced into hiding after the Harkonnen kill his father and take
back control of Dune, Paul integrates with the Fremen along with his mother and helps them
resist the Harkonnen oppressors. Yet he also uses the ecological knowledge he gains living
among the Fremen to use the spice as a bargaining chip in Imperial politics to his own advantage.
In fact, his desire to reclaim his title leads him to threaten to destroy spice entirely:
“The Water of Death,” he said. “It’d be a chain reaction.” He pointed to the floor.
“Spreading death among the little makers, killing a vector of the life cycle that includes
the spice and the makers. Arrakis will become a true desolation—without spice or
maker.” (Dune 446)
In demonstrating his ability to disrupt the sandworm lifecycle to the Guild, he proves that “[h]e
who can destroy a thing has the real control of it” (Dune 446). Here, spice becomes an essential
tool to his replacing the Emperor; and unlike his father, he seemingly places his own desires
above all else. There is a sense of disregard toward the collateral effects of upsetting the
ecological balance of the planet, with Chani “shocked to numb silence by the blasphemy pouring
from Paul’s lips” (Dune 446). Paul exploits his knowledge of ecology to play politics. He
understands, as Kynes does, that “A system has order, a flowing from point to point. If
something dams that flow, order collapses. The untrained might miss that collapse until it was
too late. That’s why the highest function of ecology is the understanding of consequences”
(Dune 498). By wresting control of the future of spice production on Dune, he makes the
potential consequences of not acceding to his wishes very clear to his enemies, ultimately
enabling him to assume the mantle of emperor.
On the other hand, there are the Fremen and the Imperial Planetologist-gone-native, Dr.
Liet Kynes, whose well-intentioned attempts to terraform the planet are poised to eventually
destroy the ecosystem and spice along with it. Liet’s character is a means for Herbert to include
an explicit voice of ecology—someone who understands the science and shares his knowledge
with other characters and, by extension, readers unfamiliar with such concepts. For example, his
explanation about the importance of preserving water on Dune, even when it is in the blood of a
human corpse, clarifies the Fremen’s belief that a person’s water belongs to their tribe while also
mentioning a “rule of ecology”: “The struggle between life elements is the struggle for the free
energy of a system. Blood’s an efficient energy source” (Dune 137).
Liet and his father, Pardot Kynes, the first Planetologist of Arrakis, are also used to warn
of the dangers of interfering with ecological processes. Their vision of making Dune a water-
filled paradise for the desert-dwelling Fremen appears to be well-intentioned. As explained in
“Appendix I: The Ecology of Dune,” Pardot viewed Dune as a planet that could be reshaped to
fit humans’ needs and saw the Fremen as the people who could do it: “an ecological and
geological force of almost unlimited potential” (Dune 493). After marrying a Fremen woman and
having a son, Liet, he began teaching the Fremen children “ecological literacy, creating a new
language with symbols that arm the mind to manipulate an entire landscape, its climate, seasonal
Spice and Ecology in Herbert’s Dune: Altering the Mind and the Planet Page | 15
limits, and finally to break through all ideas of force into the dazzling awareness of order” (Dune
493). Eventually, Pardot’s research discovered that there was a circular relationship between the
sandworms and spice, and that new plantings could be used to create a barren zone with
poisonous water that the sandworms would not invade.
Having to conduct their terraforming project without disturbance, Pardot, Liet, and the
Fremen find spice to be an essential lever in their own maneuverings. First, they find a way to
work the spice to manufacture equipment needed in the project, such as plastic dew collectors, as
Jessica and Paul discover when they enter a Fremen sietch for the first time. In addition, they
begin paying spice bribes to the Guild to prevent weather satellites from being set up or other
vehicles flying over the land. The bribes continually increase and require more spice harvesting,
but as long as spice is flowing, the Guild are satisfied. Upon Pardot’s death, Liet assumes his
father’s dual role, assisting the Fremen with the project while begrudgingly having to deal with
the various official rulers who only care about “grubbing for spice” (Dune 113). The Fremen
demonstrate their willingness to utilize spice to realize a long-term vision of ecological
transformation. Even as oppressed peoples, they maintain access to the most valuable currency in
the Imperium and successfully leverage it in the political arena.
But the Fremen’s dilemma remains: how to terraform the planet without destroying the
sandworms; and there are hints that this long-term project begun by the Kynes family is flawed
(Slonczewski and Levy 183). In the chapter where Liet is dying after being left injured in the
desert without a stillsuit by the Harkonnen, he hallucinates his father lecturing to him about the
project and how they “need control only three per cent of the energy surface [...] to tip the entire
structure over into our self-sustaining system” (Dune 276). Liet then has a flash of insight and
sees a different potential for the planet than his father, and as the spice-blow underneath him
explodes, he thinks “that his father and all the other scientists were wrong, that the most
persistent principles of the universe were accident and error” (Dune 277). Although these cryptic
concerns are not resolved in the first novel, they point toward a future with a retreating desert
and a collapse of the ecosystem that sustains the sandworm lifecycle and, crucially, the spice.
Liet’s insight into ecology—and his literal death due to spice—conveys the naivety of the notion
that a water-filled paradise can coexist with an arid desert full of sandworms, which “are the
heart of the ecological matrix of the planet, source of the spice, the sand, and thief of water”
(O’Reilly 3).
Both Liet and his father “overlooked crucial consequences of the ecological
transformation” of Dune, despite being ecologists (Schmitt-v. Muhlenfels 29). Ironically, then,
“even the careful use of ecology intended by Kynes was an arrogant shaping of the planet to
human needs” (O’Reilly 99). More immediately, Liet’s belief that assisting Paul in surviving to
ascend to the Imperial throne would hasten the transformation of Dune helps ensure that the
ducal heir is later in a strong enough position to threaten to destroy the ecosystem that produces
spice altogether. Through the Kynes family, the novel is able to demonstrate that even well-
intentioned attempts at manipulating the environment lead to unintended consequences, even the
loss of what is most precious to a people.
Spice and Ecology in Herbert’s Dune: Altering the Mind and the Planet Page | 16
Clearly spice in Dune is more than just a psychoactive drug used by characters to alter
their consciousness or a stand-in for oil. Being grounded in real-world historical and social
contexts such as the historic spice trade, Middle Eastern conflicts over oil, the 1960s drug
culture, and trends in psychology, spice aids in the world-building process by enabling readers to
immerse themselves in a world that resembles their own but contains humans who have pushed
their potential to extraordinary heights through consumption of this precious substance. Spice is
distinct in its combination of addictive, geriatric, and psychoactive properties into one
consumable substance that showcases natural enhancements to the mind and body, as well as the
consequences of addiction and political actions taken to safeguard its continued production. In
addition, as a driving force for the narrative, spice helps illuminate the principles of ecology and
interconnectedness that underpin the novel and contribute to its continuing popularity. The
impact of Herbert’s integration of ecological messages with science fiction has been far-
reaching, and arguably he succeeded in his effort to write “an environmental awareness
handbook” called Dune, “a title chosen with the deliberate intent that it echo the sound of
‘doom’” (Herbert, “New World” 249). Chris Pak calls Dune “one of the most influential
examples of ecological sf” that has “informed sf discourse and influenced popular culture, thus
helping to shape sf’s future ecological vision” (118). Spice is essential as a focal point around
which the ecological messages of the novel take shape, prompting readers to reconsider attempts
to alter ecosystems to fit their own desires.
Spice and Ecology in Herbert’s Dune: Altering the Mind and the Planet Page | 17
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... The company possesses the mining contract of melange that indirectly gives them total control of the spice, indicating that the government's errand in Arrakis is under the shadow of business. The particular case of melange as a luxurious matter that reflects high status in the Dune universe is observed to retain a similar position with the spices in the Age of Discovery (Kennedy, 2021), where in this story, the Harkonnens act as the coloniser and CHOAM as the party that monopolise. ...
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Employing ecology as the pivotal basis of its narrative, Dune by Frank Herbert is regarded as the pioneer of ecological science-fiction novels. This qualitative study intends to examine the exploitation and conservation of nature and how human background influences such behaviours in Frank Herbert’s Dune. The researcher employs an ecocritical approach to literature to discuss the compiled textual data. Through the thematic analysis technique, this article reveals how Dune highlights the issues of the authority party and the indigenous society of Arrakis triggered by the abundance of the spice melange and the absence of water and vegetation, where these two sides of the population have contradictory intentions towards natural resources—exploiting and conserving. Moreover, the study unveils that the extortion attempts of the Galactic Imperium, the Harkonnens, CHOAM, and the Spacing Guild are driven by political and economic motives, and the conservation effort of the Fremen and the Atreides is the outcome of their ecological awareness.
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This concluding chapter provides an overview of other interesting avenues of interpretation of Dune, some of which have not yet been well-explored in the scholarship. Perspectives that have received some attention include those from philosophy, classical studies, and comparative literature, while emerging areas of study include world-building, linguistics, translation studies, postcolonialism, and posthumanism. The chapter concludes by discussing Dune’s ambiguity and openness to multiple interpretations, which make it ripe for new critical perspectives and debates.
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This chapter discusses how Dune was groundbreaking in terms of its characters not because it gave them superhuman abilities, but because it made them three-dimensional and focused on the power of their minds. It looks at Herbert’s intense interest in the nature of human consciousness and his use of different narration styles to make characters seem like real people struggling to survive on an alien planet. The chapter examines the complexity of the characterization of the Bene Gesserit with their extraordinary abilities based on Eastern philosophical traditions such as Zen Buddhism and Yoga. It also explores Paul Atreides as a superhuman figure who takes the reader on his journey of expanding awareness and points to the possibilities of the human mind.KeywordsScience fictionFrank HerbertConsciousnessPsychologyMindEastern philosophy
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This chapter focuses on the depiction of the environment and people of the planet Arrakis, otherwise known as Dune. It explains the origins of Herbert’s story in his research on the control of sand dunes in Oregon, and how the book tapped into the emerging movements of ecological awareness and environmentalism in the wake of ecologist Rachel Carson’s revolutionary book Silent Spring. The chapter discusses the role of the ecologist, Dr. Liet-Kynes, in explaining scientific principles to readers even as he overlooks the consequences of his terraforming project and his trust in a hero figure. It recognizes the pivotal role of Dune in offering detailed world-building and an important environmental message about humans’ disruption of ecosystems.KeywordsScience fictionFrank HerbertEcologyEnvironmentScienceTerraforming
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Mind-altering substances have been used by humans for thousands of years. In fact, ancient societies sometimes encouraged the consumption of drugs. Focusing on the archaeological study of how various entheogens have been used in the past, this volume examines why humans have social and psychological needs for these substances. Contributors trace the long-term use of drugs in ancient cultures and highlight the ways they evolved from being sacred to recreational in more modern times. By analyzing evidence of these substances across a diverse range of ancient cultures, the contributors explore how and why past civilizations harvested, manufactured, and consumed drugs. Case studies examine the use of stimulants, narcotics, and depressants by hunter-gatherers who roamed Africa and Eurasia, prehistoric communities in North and South America, and Maya kings and queens. Offering perspectives from many different fields of study, contributors illustrate the wide variety of sources and techniques that can provide information about materials that are often invisible to archaeologists. They use advanced biomolecular procedures to identify alkaloids and resins on cups, pipes, and other artifacts. They interpret paintings on vases and discuss excavations of breweries and similar sites. Uncovering signs of drugs, including ayahuasca, peyote, ephedra, cannabis, tobacco, yaupon, vilca, and maize and molle beer, they explain how psychoactive substances were integral to interpersonal relationships, religious practices, and social cohesion in antiquity.
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Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965), a classic of twentieth century American science fiction (sf), describes a fantastic universe where noble families, corporate interests and shadowy, cultish organisations vie for power and monopoly over a fantastic resource, the spice-melange. It is inarguably the power source of the novel’s setting and its narrative. The immensely valuable and addictive substance increases longevity and radically expands the capabilities of the human mind – enabling movement, commerce, and communication on an epic scale. Positioning sf as “the literature of cognitive estrangement”, I regard the spice-melange as a discursive platform for oil and the ideological, social and political formations that are inextricable from reliance on black gold, while its deleterious aspects are disavowed or deferred. I argue that this collective response constitutes oil as offshore: the degree to which it is implicated in modern political and social formations is fundamentally understated. On the contrary, it is framed as an object of science and political economy, not as their material basis; a mentality only made possible by a utopian discourse of everlasting, ecstatic innovation; itself a discourse made all the more potent by oil’s power and mutability. I argue furthermore that sf is the approach best suited to combat the dominant discourse of oil as an offshore object of our society. Sf’s utopian projects and excessive spectacles may serve as a spark to imagine new, alternative energy futures; as the estranging mechanisms of sf allow us to explore our energy present through extrapolations and analogies of new ways of powering human life. My final argument is that, by highlighting the centrality of energy to modern life and culture, sf is framed as an immediate and terrestrial concern in texts such as Dune.
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