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Spice of Life
The spice must flow.
Dune

Space Is an Ocean for all science fiction and it shows with two dimensional space and Space Whales. So what do we need to complete the trope?

Spices. Space spices.

For some reason, all kinds of futures have a high demand for something called "spice", though it tends to be only tenuously related to flavorings on Earth. Space spice (try saying that ten times fast) is often a valuable Mineral MacGuffin, sometimes being the point of contention for all the known nations and smugglers. Sometimes controlling it is directly followed by controlling fates. In other futures, spice is just a valuable trade commodity. It is nearly always consumable but, depending on the canon, can do other things, such as fuel starships and act as drugs.

This trope probably derives from the East Asian spice trade in the early modern era. These spices were enormously valuable in their day. For example, the cargo of cloves carried by the one ship of Magellan's that made it back reimbursed his backers for the entire cost of the expedition. The idea of a rare, extremely valuable product that cannot be synthesized artificially (along with reasonably Casual Interstellar Travel), serves as a justification for otherwise economically dubious interstellar trade, which is a necessary background for many standard Space Opera tropes such as independent traders, merchant princes, smugglers, pirates, trade convoys and so on.

Also see Alien Catnip.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Film 
  • In Star Wars, Han Solo is in debt to Jabba the Hutt due to jettisoning a shipment of spice he was supposed to be transporting for him to keep it from being seized by The Empire. His spice was apparently some kind of drug.
    • Expanded on in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, where it's made clear that "spice," also known as "glitterstim," is a drug from Kessel that makes people both high and (in concentration) mildly telepathic, as well as paranoid and twitchy. "Glit biters" is an in-universe term for people who take the pure form.
    • Spice Miners on the moons of Naboo were the primary suspects of Padme's assassination attempt in Episode 2.

    Literature 
  • Dune, the Trope Maker. Spice is produced only by the sandworms of Arrakis, making the planet the most strategically important planet in the galaxy. The spice gives various psychic organizations their abilities, and allows (safe) use of the setting's manual FTL travel. Since it also extends life somewhat, nearly the entire ruling class is addicted to it. And withdrawal is fatal. Painfully. Critics generally see the spice as a metaphor for oil, making the Fremen Space Arabs.
  • The second volume of the Space Captain Smith series is a Dune parody with tea instead of melange.
  • In Poul Anderson's Polesotechnic League stories, Nicolas van Rijn heads the Solar Spice and Liquors Company. Of course, Old Nick has his pudgy (but very strong) fingers in a lot of other profitable endeavors, as well.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe. Several versions of spice exist, and many, but by no means all, are mined. The most expensive and worst is the "glitterstim" Han was running for Jabba; see the "Film" section of this page.
    • In the X-Wing Series, the Rogues have to talk a glitbiter — someone who regularly takes glitterstim and shows it - via hologram, and the glitbiter apparently forgets that he's using a hologram. Glitterstim telepathy doesn't work on someone who's aware of the glitbiter's ability and hostile, so because this guy couldn't read Rogue Leader, he got defensive.
  • Ordinary ginger turns out to be an addictive drug and aphrodisiac to the vaguely reptilian members of the Race in Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series. The setting isn't Space Opera, but trade ends up developing fast.

    Live Action TV 
  • The 1984 Doctor Who serial "The Caves of Androzani" featured a textbook example ("spectrox", a life-prolonging substance), with the added twist that the unrefined stuff was extremely toxic.
  • In Firefly, regular spices are prized as much as they were in olden times due to the bland flavor of packaged protein that most space crews eat. Shepherd Book notes, "A man can live on packaged food from here 'til Judgment Day if he's got enough rosemary."
    • They are prized as much as a high class chef of the twentieth century would at least. No evidence is given that they are prized as much as they were at the time when people would fight wars for spice.
    • Given that apples, tomatoes, and strawberries are treated by the crew as rare and wondrous delicacies, one can assume that even modern common spices are prohibitively expensive for the average spacefarer. The supplemental material indicates this to be the case.
  • In Star Trek: Enterprise, the Enterprise trades a rack of Earth spices for the recipe for Trellium-D. Justified as the Enterprise was extremely far from Earth, making Earth spices effectively irreplaceable (and therefore quite valuable).
    • When selling the trader on the deal, Trip references the old spice wars: "On our planet, wars were fought over these."

     Tabletop Games 

  • Space 1889 has bhutan. Not the country. Itís a mildly narcotic Martian spice, perhaps Mars' third most important exports. Monopolized in by the Boreo-Syrtan League.
  • Traveller: Downplayed. There are a lot of exotic products available from thousands of different planets. These do include spice. The "dust-spice" is loved by both Aslan and Vargr.
    • In the volume Far Trader one possible adventure is the yearly race to bring the "loam truffles" from the planet where they are grown to a posh court.

    Video Games 
  • Basically every other space trader game has a spice commodity.
  • Most 4X space games will have spice as a very expensive resource to buy and sell.
  • In Spore, most of the stuff you trade for sporebucks in the space stage is Spice, in various colors and ranks of rarity. The homage to Dune is obvious, down to the spice blows, although the Sporepedia states that most of the spices are used for food.
    • Additionally, the different colors of Spice from different worlds change the speech of the colonist's you put there, and although none of the creatures actually say anything identifiable, the tone and the accent is different. For example: Blue Spice, which is described as a sleep aid, results in colonist with a sort of smooth and relaxed tone. The sour Yellow Spice colonists sound somewhat high strung, and as for Pink Spice... Well, let's just say they sound ..."happy".
      • Only generally. Occasionally colonies, including the homeworld (99.9% of the time, red spice) will have different accents.
  • Starport, a obscure game in the vein of Star Control. Spice is seen as a resource that can produce valuable warp fuel for the player and earn some money. Obvious as a Shout-Out to Dune, desert planets produce this product.
  • The Space Captain Smith novel, God-Emperor of Didcot is by and large one long parody of Dune, with Tea taking the place of Melange. Yes, the brown stuff in a cup with milk and two sugars. Apparently it's what gives the British Space Empire the edge over everyone else.
    • Builds Moral Fibre, old boy. Very important.
  • Non-science fiction example: Spice in Sly 2: Band Of Thieves is the equivalent of cocaine. Eating it causes the eater to enter an Unstoppable Rage. Arpeggio plans to use the rage caused by spice to fuel his transformation into something akin to Clockwerk.
  • In the backstory of Sword of the Stars, spices are stated to be one of the main trade goods humans sell to the Hivers, along with smoked cheeses and other very fragrant foodstuffs. The Hivers have vastly different sensory organs and biochemical makeup than humans, and to them, strongly tasting and smelling food is something of a narcotic.
  • Quafe can be said to be EVE Online drug, despite it being a soda.
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, Spices are some of the most valued mundane items. They are rather hard to come by unless you are farming for them, and they are a necessary ingredient for most high-quality foods. The only ways to reliably get them are if you are a Pastamancer with one of the two spirits that can give them, or if you expend a ten-leaf clover (which are themselves pretty valuable and hard to come by) to retrieve some from the sewers.
    • However, there are a number of unreliable methods of getting ahold of spices, so they're not too rare in the grand scheme of things.
  • Packaged spices are a Terran trade good in the X-Universe, under the name "Flavor Packs". The text describes actual spices like cinnamon and paprika.
    • On the Commonwealth side, we have Stott Spices and Massom Powder.
      • Between the 3 major spice selling powers however, Terran Spices are the most valuable of the flavorings. And the Split and Boron are at war with one to compete as the other dominant spice selling group.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, as Future!Mandy uses her "cinnamon mines" to support her tyrannical regime.
    • The whole episode is a parody of Dune and it's sequels, with Mandy as an immortal giant-worm God Empress who has had thousands of Billy clones (one at a time) created over the years to serve as her constant companion and Unwitting Pawn in her Evil Plan.

Solid Gold PoopAlien TropesStronger with Age
Spell BookSpeculative Fiction TropesSplit at Birth

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