The Dune prequels say that people had used computers to navigate before the Butlerian Jihad. They only became dependent on the spice when they outlawed computers.

But what about the original series? On Ix, computer navigators are invented as if they were novel. So how did people ever get to Arrakis to get the spice in the first place?

4 Answers 4


Before there was the Spacer's Guild, Humans used conventional faster than light travel to spread throughout the stars. Those ships used computers to deal with navigation issues. These ships were much slower than the later Holtzman Effect starships.

  • After the Butlerian Jihad and the outlawing of computering devices, Spice from Arrakis became the key element for activating the psychic abilities to successfully navigate using the problematic Holtzman Effect drive.

  • By the time Ix was investigating them, navigational systems WERE novel to Ix, having had centuries of no computerized technology to assist navigation, it would have been as if they had just been discovered.

Space travel came in two major varieties in the Dune Universe: Conventional FTL and Holtzman Effect Space Folding:

  • Conventional FTL: Space travel was used mainly for travel within the confines of a star system (not for interstellar travel). However, before the discovery of the new faster-than-light travel method, it was also used for long-distance space travel. The old method was described as "outraceing photons". Even after space-folding became the primary means of interstellar travel, many Imperial warships still kept their old FTL drives as an alternative to the much faster but less reliable Holtzmann engines.

  • Holtzman Effect Space Folding: This form of travel, while extremely expensive, was also not safe as one in ten ships that used space folding engine disappeared, at least during the early years of the technology's use before the advent of Navigators. It was utilized for both commercial and military purposes. Space-folding made use of two key factors:

    1. The folding of space-time, which was accomplished by the practical application of the Holtzman Effect.

    2. The plotting of a safe course through folded space by a Guild Navigator, who used prescient planning induced by vast amounts of the Spice Melange.

REF: Dune Wikia; The Scattering, Arrakis, Space Travel, The Spacing Guild

  • For Ix, interstellar navigation was being rediscovered. Remember, after the Butlerian Jihad, anything that used any serious computer technology, particularly artificial intelligence was destroyed and information suppressed or erased.

  • It was after the fall of computerization that interstellar travel became the sole province of the Spacer's Guild. Before that, Mankind was able to spread through the galaxy through the use of sophisticated computer technology.

  • I thought there were other drugs used before the spice was discovered.
    – Joe L.
    Oct 8, 2014 at 17:34
  • @JoeL. there were no other drugs used for space travel before the spice, there were different drugs used to induce the bene gesserit transformation other then spice though.
    – Himarm
    Oct 8, 2014 at 18:09
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    @RobertF I think Frank Herbert "resorting to standard sci-fi tropes" is somewhat forgivable, considering he originated many of today's sci-fi tropes.
    – Beofett
    Oct 8, 2014 at 19:32
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    @Himarm: Yes, but that is probably one of the worst things about the prequels and ending. Far too much 'But actually the Bene Gesserit do use computers!' and 'Here, have a mundane explanation of everything!' - so much for mysticism and plot elements that you don't find in every sci-fi series ever.
    – Magus
    Oct 8, 2014 at 20:14
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    @RobertF: If I am not mistaken, it is already meantioned in the original Dune that navigators “only” use their presicent powers to, well, navigate the ships and do not fold space by willpower (as they do in the Lynch movie).
    – Wrzlprmft
    Oct 8, 2014 at 21:16

The only clue I know of in the original Frank Herbert-written books is in Appendix II, the religion appendix in Dune:

Mankind's movement through deep space placed a unique stamp on religion during the one hundred and ten centuries that preceded the Butlerian Jihad. To begin with, early space travel, although widespread, was largely unregulated, slow, and uncertain, and, before the Guild monopoly, was accomplished by a hodgepodge of methods. The first space experiences, poorly communicated and subject to extreme distortion, were a wild inducement to mystical speculation.

So there doesn't appear to be any exact canon answer. But the idea appears to be that early space travellers experimented with FTL drives, wormholes, cryogenic colonization ships, and whatever else they could manage before the invention of the Foldspace drive.


There were certainly other drugs used by Navigators before the Spice.

In fact, it is heavily implied in Dune that the use of Spice by both the Guild and the Bene Gesserit is a very recent thing: perhaps no more than a hundred years, but in any case definitely much more recent than the Butlerian Jihad. Three pieces of evidence:

  • the fact that Guild and BG were dependent on Spice was not widely known, even among the Great Houses;
  • the continued use of the "Old Faithful" spice harvester which dates from the first days of Spice mining, which therefore can't be thousands of years ago;
  • and the fact that there was no planetologist before Pardot Kynes, unimaginable if Arrakis was so signifiant to the Empire for thousands of years.
  • the prequels explain that the navigators never used anything but spice, the originals only vaguely mention anything else. while many people dislike the prequels they are based off of the remaining notes from herbert as well as conversations he had with his son. the navigators had to be slowly get used to massive amounts of spice over years before they were ready to enter the "spice chambers" in which they flew their ships.
    – Himarm
    Oct 8, 2014 at 19:41
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    @Himarm: So Brian says. But it's hard to take him seriously when he marginalizes all the main characters of the original series and brings in his own as the explanation for everything.
    – Magus
    Oct 8, 2014 at 20:19
  • @magus i never said they were good, but they do basically tie everything together, they also basically set the limits to things that were vague in the original books. (except for god erasmus/duncan at the very end lol)
    – Himarm
    Oct 8, 2014 at 20:35
  • I cannot remember the first two pieces of evidence from the first four books. As for the third piece: There are so many things more in the Dune universe that may seem absurd, but aren’t anymore if you consider that the society is fundamentally different from ours. As for this particular case: Basic research never seemed popular to me in the Dune universe. Finally, there is one fundamental problem with this: If there were other drugs that could even remotely substitute spice, then spice would not be that essential and valuable.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Oct 8, 2014 at 21:24
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    @Wrzlprmft: The Honored Matres' drug near the end of the series is the closest anyone manages, and even that only helps deal with the spice addiction. The thing that angered me the most about Brian's continuation is the sudden appearance of 'moody teen Teg' in a world where children who are adults have not previously acted that way.
    – Magus
    Oct 8, 2014 at 21:40

The Dune Encyclopedia (effectively published fanfiction, apocryphal but agreeing with Frank's original books) notes the finding of Arrakis as one of life's great mysteries: "without Spice, no Space; without Space, no Spice". It is highly unlikely that, after the Butlerians shut down FTL navigation, someone funded enough expeditions to find Arrakis by chance.

My own pet theory is that Arrakis had been found before, and the discoverers somehow found the small-scale prescient effects of consuming spice. Rather than reveal the planet and get a fat finder's bonus, they made more money with their predictive skills, either in casinos or day-trading or the like. The fall of computerized navigation cut off whoever from that group was actually on Arrakis, and in desperation they did some massive spice dosing to predict their way out of their situation.


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