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The Spacing Guild plays a pivotal role in Dune media. Their monopoly on space travel makes them a rich and powerful part of the Known Universe.

They use so-called Navigators as pilots for their starships who use prescience to "fold space", an ability which transports ships over massive distances.

To gain these abilities the Navigators depend heavily on the substance Spice, also known as Melange. This drug, while beneficial, has the major drawbacks that it is addictive and that withdrawal is lethal.

A Navigator needs to be kept in a special tank containing gaseous Spice at all times. This severe exposure mutates the Navigator over a period of time up to the point that the person no longer looks fully human.

Scytale looked at the Guild envoy. Edric swam in a container of orange gas only a few paces away. His container sat in the center of the transparent dome which the Bene Gesserit had built for this meeting. The Guildsman was an elongated figure, vaguely humanoid with finned feet and hugely fanned membranous hands—a fish in a strange sea. His tank's vents emitted a pale orange cloud rich with the smell of the geriatric spice, melange.

From Dune Messiah - 1969

The question: A Navigator sacrifices a lot to become one, but what do they gain from it?

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    Long life and a view of the universe that's unique – Valorum Feb 24 '18 at 20:12
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    Just one quick verification: you are referring to the benefits from being a Navigator, disregarding any effects of melange — yes? I.e. to what social contracts and rewards is a Navigator in the Spacing Guild privy? – can-ned_food Feb 24 '18 at 20:19
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    @Broklynite that's what I remember too - I'm not sure (because I haven't read the later books) but I think the "folding space" thing is an invention of the David Lynch film. In the first book at least, the ships are just travelling through space faster than light, so there's no way to detect debris without prescience. – Nathaniel Feb 25 '18 at 8:02
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    @Broklynite Yep, the books are pretty clear that space travel did exist before navigators did - after all, Arrakis is already in a different star system (Canopus, about 300 ly from the Sun - so quite out of reach even for high-relativistic non-FTL space travel). Foldspace travel is a concept in the books as well (and instantaneous, not just "FTL"), but navigators aren't what makes it work. Before the Butlerian Jihad, ships used computers to safely "jump" - after they were forbidden, jumps became very risky (ships were routinely "lost" in jumps), until navigators were "developed". – Luaan Feb 25 '18 at 21:58
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    "I remember the recruitment poster: 'See the Universe!'. If I'd known they meant "All at Once!", I wouldn't have joined..." – Eric Towers Feb 26 '18 at 14:54
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If we take the Dune Encyclopedia as a source of information, then we learn that the reality is that Navigators (and their accompanying Steersmen) are bred by the Spacing Guild solely for the purpose of navigating ships. They serve their culture because that's literally the reason for their existence.

DNA recombination produced Guildsmen who were transferred directly from the axolotl tank to the prescience-chamber filled with a liquid enriched with oxygen and melange gas. These members of the Fraternity were produced with fish-like gills, in addition to lungs, to aid in respiration. The oxygen-melange mixture in the prescience-chambers was extremely heavy, and the Guildsmen were further equipped with webbed hands similar to those of a frog to maintain their equilibrium. The result was both effective and grotesque,

As to what the benefits are to the individual navigator, there's a brief description of their existence, which seems to suggest that their lives were pretty good.

Whatever faults the Spacing Guild may have had, when the day of the Steersman ended, a real beauty passed from the universe. The experience of the Steersmen, breathing and drinking melange, rocking to the beat of space and time, swaying with the music of the spheres, led in their dance by the pulse of life around them, alive to every note in the pavane both composed and played by their quartet, is beyond the power of words to describe or the imagination to conceive.

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    Impressive answer. I'll give others some time, but this covers my answer better than I could hope for, thanks. – The Sardaukar Knight Feb 24 '18 at 21:17
  • You might want to emphasize (a bit more) that not being a navigator isn't a viable choice for the respective individuals. – Alexander Kosubek Feb 26 '18 at 15:31
  • "Rocking to the beat of space and time" feels like such a bizarre phrase for Dune. – Thunderforge Feb 26 '18 at 22:35
  • The Dune Encyclopedia is not canon – Chris Kent Mar 3 '18 at 8:43
  • @ChrisKent - Indeed, and with every passing edition it seemed to become less so. The original was described as "canon", then the foreword for the second edition (by Herbert himself) described as "Some of the contributions are sure to arouse controversy, based as they are on questionable sources ... As the first "Dune fan," I give this encyclopedia my delighted approval, although I hold my own counsel on some of the issues still to be explored as the Chronicles unfold.". The Herbert Estate (presumably at the urging of Herbert's talentless son) have since rendered it post-facto non-canon. – Valorum Mar 3 '18 at 11:07
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The question: A Navigator sacrifices a lot to become one, but what do they gain from it?

The issue I see with this question is that it implies that individuals have the freedom of choice to pick their own career trajectory. That, however, is strongly not the case in the Dune Universe. The Faufreluches class system's mantra is "A place for every man and every man in his place.". This system keeps a strict social hierarchy in the empire and severely limits (upward) mobility.

So in addition to Valorum's answer that navigators are "bred by the Spacing Guild solely for the purpose of navigating ships." I would argue that in general you simply do not pick your profession. You do not chose to become a Sardaukar or a Guild Navigator, your status is determined by the rank of your family at your birth - even more so if you're breed for this purpose alone.

  • You have a good point there. I don't remember, offhand, any indication that a bright boy could ace an entrance exam and get a full scholarship to some sort of "Spacing Guild Academy" as a form of social mobility if that was his heart's desire. – Lorendiac Feb 25 '18 at 22:24
  • But what if I'm crap at my job or just don't make the cut? – Valorum Mar 3 '18 at 9:46
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    @Valorum, well you can always file a complaint with my brother. – Ghanima Mar 3 '18 at 11:02
  • @Ghanima - He seems like a reasonable sort of boss – Valorum Mar 3 '18 at 11:02
4

Here we have an actual inconsistency. Valorum's answer is most likely correct as far as it goes; however in the end of the original Dune there are navigators on the surface of Arrakis. It's pretty obvious the navigators are playing for power as well, yet at the same time trying to hide their identity. But they did not expect another preescent as preescents can't see each other in the future.

Their immediate goal is fulfilling their spice addiction. The obvious benefit of that level of spice intake is extreme long life (while this would not be mentioned until a later book, this follows absolutely from the total metabolic control exhibited quite a few times). It gives the appearance that their culture is so other than the rest of human culture that they have as little to do with other humans as practical.

Here's your quote. On finding the actual words, finding a linkable source was easy. Varolum had uploaded it for me. https://scifi.stackexchange.com/a/84684

  • Can you give further reference (maybe quote a paragraph) to show this? (I don't recall it, but it has been a few years.) – Lyndon White Feb 26 '18 at 10:14
  • Why should "navigators on the surface of Arrakis furthering their own political goals" be an inconsistency with "navigators being bred by the Guild and having no control over existing as navigators"? – Alexander Kosubek Feb 26 '18 at 15:26
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    @AlexanderKosubek: The physical descriptions don't match. I don't have a copy right now so I couldn't quote it exactly. Something to do with a contact slipping revealing the spice-tinted eye behind it. – Joshua Feb 26 '18 at 16:12
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    @joshua You are right: I clearly remember that there are 2 navigators present when Shaddam visits Arrakis. They still look quite human except that they need to wear contact lenses to hide the fact that the whites of their eyes are completely blue due to their Spice addiction. One of them looses a contact. This is explicitly mentioned in the book. – Tonny Feb 26 '18 at 16:31
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    @Joshua That is true, but that is the only place that they are described as resembling humans. In Dune Messiah the navigator Edric is very mutated from a humanoid form. Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune both make note of the navigators mutations too. Dune also has Duke Leto stating that not even the navigators guild own agents see the navigators themselves, which would lead me to believe that the two with Shaddam are agents of the guild and not actual navigators. – Forral Feb 26 '18 at 17:19
3

The infamous prequel (I believe it was the "House Atreides") provides a slightly different answer:

In the book two twin brothers (normal humans) from a middle class family are trying to join the Guild and become the navigators. They are expecting a difficult exam (for which they have been studying for years), but instead they are simply submerged in the spice gas, in hope to start developing the mutation.

The point here is - they don't seem to know that navigators are mutants. They are simply looking for a chance to get an amazing job: see the universe, get rich, get all the girls, bring honour to their parents. For them it is not much different than trying to get any other difficult job.

Once one of the brothers started turning into the navigator he didn't look back - he entered completely different level of perception and intelligence and nothing in his old life was comparable to his current state.


tl;dr Candidates might not know about about the mutation. Being navigator is awesome.

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