Melange

Melange

[mey-lahnzh, -lahnj]
Melange is the name of the fictional drug (also known as [the] spice) central to the Dune series of science fiction novels by Frank Herbert, and derivative works.

The most essential and valuable commodity in the universe, melange is a geriatric drug that gives the user a longer lifespan, greater vitality, and heightened awareness; it can also unlock prescience in some subjects, depending upon the dosage and the consumer's physiology. This prescience-enhancing property makes interstellar travel possible. Melange comes with a steep price however: it is addictive, and withdrawal is a fatal process.

Description

Herbert is vague in describing the appearance of the spice. However, he hints at its color in Dune Messiah when he notes that Guild Navigator Edric "swam in a container of orange gas ... His tank's vents emitted a pale orange cloud rich with the smell of the geriatric spice, melange." Herbert also indicates fluorescence in God Emperor of Dune when the character Moneo notes, "Great bins of melange lay all around in a gigantic room cut from native rock and illuminated by glowglobes of an ancient design with arabesques of metal scrollwork upon them. The spice had glowed radiant blue in the dim silver light. And the smell — bitter cinnamon, unmistakable." Herbert writes repeatedly, starting in Dune, that melange possesses the odor of cinnamon.

In Dune, Lady Jessica notes that her first taste of spice "tasted like cinnamon." Dr. Yueh adds that the flavor is "never twice the same .. It's like life — it presents a different face each time you take it. Some hold that the spice produces a learned-flavor reaction. The body, learning a thing is good for it, interprets the flavor as pleasurable — slightly euphoric. And, like life, never to be truly synthesized."

Origin

In Dune, there is only one source of melange: the sands of the planet Arrakis, colloquially known as Dune.

Herbert notes in Dune that a pre-spice mass is "the stage of fungusoid wild growth achieved when water is flooded into the excretions of Little Makers," the "half-plant-half-animal deep-sand vector of the Arrakis sandworm. Gases are produced which result in "a characteristic 'blow,' exchanging the material from deep underground for the matter on the surface above it." Liet-Kynes describes such a spice blow in Dune:

Then he heard the sand rumbling. Every Fremen knew the sound, could distinguish it immediately from the noises of worms or other desert life. Somewhere beneath him, the pre-spice mass had accumulated enough water and organic matter from the little makers, had reached the critical stage of wild growth. A gigantic bubble of carbon dioxide was forming deep in the sand, heaving upward in an enormous "blow" with a dust whirlpool at its center. It would exchange what had been formed deep in the sand for whatever lay on the surface.

Herbert writes that the pre-spice mass, "after exposure to sun and air, becomes melange." He later indicates its color in Children of Dune, when Leto II passes "the leprous blotches of violet sand where a spiceblow had erupted."

Collecting the melange is hazardous in the extreme, since rhythmic activity on the desert surface of Arrakis attracts the worms, which are four hundred meters (1,300 feet) in length on average, and very dangerous, capable of swallowing a mining crawler whole. Thus, the mining operation essentially consists of vacuuming it off the surface with a harvesting machine until a worm comes, at which time a carry-all aircraft lifts the mining vehicle to safety. The Fremen, who have learned to co-exist with the sandworms in the desert, harvest the spice manually for their own use and for smuggling off-planet.

Later in the series, an artificial method of producing the spice is discovered by the Bene Tleilax, who develop in secret the technology to produce melange in axlotl tanks. Still, the technology is not fully successful in pushing natural melange out of the marketplace.

Use

Spice is in general use all over the universe, and is a sign of wealth; in Dune, Duke Leto Atreides notes that of every valuable commodity known to mankind, "all fades before melange. A handful of spice will buy a home on Tupile."

Although it is referred to as "spice" and can be mixed with food, melange is indeed a drug in the clinical sense, its use being physically addictive and having intense psychotropic effects. Spice is also a powerful entheogen, which suitably trained adepts can use to initiate clairvoyant and precognitive trances, and access racial memory. A melange user, once addicted, is thereafter compelled to continue using it for the rest of his or her life, as any discontinuation of its use will induce excruciating withdrawal symptoms, and if not quickly resumed, will invariably be followed by death. Taken daily, however, melange can extend its user's lifespan by hundreds of years. Due to its rarity and value, and its necessity as a catalyst for interstellar travel, the group controlling spice production on Dune controls the fate of the Empire, a form of hydraulic despotism.

Guild Navigators

The Navigators of the Spacing Guild depend upon melange for the heightened awareness and the prescient ability to see safe paths through space-time, allowing them to navigate the gigantic Guild heighliners between planets. The Navigators must exist within a cloud of spice gas in a tank; this intense and extended exposure mutates their bodies over time.

Physiological side effects

Extensive use of the drug tints the sclera, cornea and iris of the user to a dark shade of blue, called "blue-in-blue" or "the Eyes of Ibad, which is something of a source of pride among the Fremen and a symbol of their tribal bond. Paul Atreides, the main character in the original Dune novel, initially has green eyes, but after several years on Arrakis his eyes begin to take on the deep, uniform blue of the Fremen. On other planets, the addicted often use tinted contact lenses to hide this discoloration. In Dune, Paul sees two Guildsmen and notes:
The taller of the two, though, held a hand to his left eye. As the Emperor watched, someone jostled the Guildsman's arm, the hand moved, and the eye was revealed. The man had lost one of his masking contact lenses, and the eye stared out a total blue so dark as to be almost black.

In both the 1984 film and 2000 miniseries versions of Dune, the eyes of spice users are shown as a luminous bright blue, with iris still distinct from sclera.

When aerosolized and used as an inhalant in extremely high dosages — the standard practice for Guild Navigators — the drug acts as a mutagen. In the first chapter of Dune Messiah, Guild Navigator Edric is described in his tank of spice gas as "an elongated figure, vaguely humanoid with finned feet and hugely fanned membranous hands — a fish in a strange sea."

References and notes

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