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"The spice must flow."

Space Is an Ocean for all science fiction and it shows with two-dimensional space and Space Whales. So what do we need to round things out?

Spices. Extremely valuable space spices.note 

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 is usually a food or Fantastic Drug but, depending on the story, can do other things such as fuel starships or act as a Super Serum. It's often a Mineral MacGuffin, sometimes being the point of contention for all known nations and traders. Sometimes controlling it will allow you to control people's fates, either sociopolitically or magically. But it might just be a valuable trade commodity.

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 necessary for many standard Space Opera tropes such as independent traders, merchant princes, smugglers, pirates, trade convoys and so on.

This trope probably derives from the historical Eurasian spice trade, which was enormously valuable for centuries and a major motivator of European maritime exploration in the Age of Discovery. When Magellan's fleet circumnavigated the globe in the 1500s and only one ship out of five made it back, that ship's cargo of cloves and cinnamon was enough to repay all of the expedition's backers.

See also Alien Catnip.


Examples:

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    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Wars:
    • Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope: Han Solo is in debt to Jabba the Hutt due to jettisoning a shipment of spice he was supposed to be transporting to keep it from being seized by The Empire. His spice was apparently some kind of drug. As with a number of other elements in the movies, this is ultimately inspired by Dune.
    • Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones: Spice miners on the moons of Naboo are the primary suspects of Padme's assassination attempt, until Obi-Wan finds the real culprits.
    • Solo: A Star Wars Story: A large portion of the film takes place on a planet dedicated to the production of spice. They're an equivalent of salt mines Recycled In Space in that they're a dangerous hellhole using slave labor.

    Literature 
  • Dune, the Trope Maker (also counts for the 1984, 2021-2023 films and Frank Herbert's Dune). Spice is produced only by the sand worms of Arrakis, making the planet the most strategically important planet in the galaxy. The spice gives various psychic organizations their abilities, and allows (safenote ) use of the setting's manual FTL travel. Since it also extends life somewhat, nearly the entire ruling class takes some occasionally (often consumed as flavoring — the taste is described as somewhat similar to cinnamon). Addiction is rare off Arrakis — on Arrakis, Spice is everywhere, even if in concentrations too small for mining. This leads to an interesting case of irony. . . off Arrakis, the blue-within-blue eyes that signify Spice addiction are rare and a sign of either great personal wealth or having a very wealthy benefactor, as Piter DeVries is a Spice addict supplied by his master, Baron Harkonnen. On Arrakis, not having the Eyes of Ibad is a sign that you're wealthy enough to have most of what you consume imported, and thus free from Spice. And withdrawal is fatal. Painfully. Critics generally see the spice as a metaphor for oil, making the Fremen Space Arabs.
  • Polesotechnic League: 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.
  • Space Captain Smith: The second 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. It Builds Moral Fibre, old boy. Very important.
  • Star Wars Legends: 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. It's a drug from the planet 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.
    • X-Wing Series: The Rogues have to talk to 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 can't read Rogue Leader, he gets defensive.
    • Jedi Academy Trilogy introduces a second type of spice, ryll, which is more common and named for the Twi'lek world of Ryloth where it was generally found.
    • Andris spice is another variety from Kessel. It acts as a stimulant and sharpens concentration. In the Young Jedi Knights series, an andris addict is reasonably proficient with a lightsaber due to her habit, even though she's not Force-sensitive.
    • The Han Solo Trilogy: It's stated spice is legal, just so expensive due to the Empire's monopoly over its mining for smuggling to be very profitable.
  • Worldwar: Ordinary ginger turns out to be an addictive drug and aphrodisiac to the vaguely reptilian members of the Race. The setting isn't Space Opera, but trade ends up developing fast.
  • Known Space: Boosterspice is engineered from an alien plant and stops the human aging process, letting people live indefinitely if taken regularly.

    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.
  • 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."
    • 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, an Enterprise crewmate remarks: "On our planet, wars were fought over these."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Space 1889 has bhutan. Not the country. It's a mildly narcotic Martian spice, perhaps Mars's third most important export. Monopolized by the Boreo-Syrtan League.
  • In SPI's Star Trader, "spice" is one of the four commodities the players trade in, alongside alloys, isotopes and monopolies.
  • 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 
  • Quafe can be said to be an 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.
  • In No Man's Sky, there's the NipNip plant and its derivative product GekNip, which is a valuable drug used by the Gek race to make their pheromones smell better.
  • Non-science fiction example: Spice in Sly 2: Band of Thieves is the equivalent of cocaine. Eating it causes a person to enter an Unstoppable Rage. Arpeggio plans to use the rage caused by spice to fuel his One-Winged Angel transformation.
  • 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. Generally speaking, 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... they sound... "happy". Occasionally colonies, including the homeworld (99.9% of the time, red spice) will have different accents.
  • In Starport, a obscure game in the vein of Star Control, Spice is a resource that can produce valuable warp fuel for the player and earn some money. Obviously as a Shout-Out to Dune, desert planets produce this product.
  • Stellaris has Riggan spice, a strategic resource only available from one specific Trader Enclave. It provides bonus happiness to your people for 120 months, and renewing the spice trade will even quote the trope maker.
  • 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.
  • X-Universe: Packaged spices are a Terran trade good 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 , Terran Spices are the most valuable of the flavorings. 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. It's a parody of Dune and its sequels, particularly God-Emperor of Dune, 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.

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