Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

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Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby Redstar » 09 Mar 2015 23:45

In David Berri's Time article Highly Illogical: What Sci-Fi Writers Get Wrong About the Future, an argument is made that future society will more than likely be democratic rather than feudal as empires typically promote technological stagnation that would not be conducive to creating and maintaining itself.

I feel he's wrong and that Frank made a point to address this very issue throughout the series.

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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby lotek » 10 Mar 2015 05:32

Well at least as far as Dune is concerned "In such a society, technological change is not only not encouraged" is already there.
Butlerian Jihad for smart computers, and Ix is not what you would call the most popular planet in the Imperium.

Herbert’s classic Dune also envisions an empire, and, through the book’s basic conflict, we see what generally happens when extractive institutions dominate a society. In the story, one aristocratic family battles another for the right to rule and extract resources from the planet Dune. The outcome of the battle topples the empire.


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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby Freakzilla » 10 Mar 2015 05:50

...(this is explicit in Herbert’s Dune). But, such societies would not generally promote the technological change necessary to settle and connect millions of planets.

FH points out that the empire was stagnant and the events he writes about eventually (thousands of years later) lead to the break up of the empire. I believe he was saying that the feudal empire was a good way to maintain the status quo, not to expand and grow. We know very little about the events before Dune. Dune takes place 10,000 years after the formation of the spacing guild and there was 10,000 years of space travel before that. We don't know that there was a feudal empire that whole time. I believe the Landsraad had only been meeting regularly for 1,000 years before the Butlerian Jihad, which was a huge factor in how civilization was run in itself. IMO Dune supports his argument.
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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby Freakzilla » 10 Mar 2015 06:37

lotek wrote:Yeah, and it rains on a pug dog in the end.


I like to think the Pug died in the Battle of Arrakeen.
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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby lotek » 10 Mar 2015 09:17

The slow blade penetrates the pug shield.
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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby lotek » 10 Mar 2015 09:18

Freakzilla wrote:...(this is explicit in Herbert’s Dune). But, such societies would not generally promote the technological change necessary to settle and connect millions of planets.

FH points out that the empire was stagnant and the events he writes about eventually (thousands of years later) lead to the break up of the empire. I believe he was saying that the feudal empire was a good way to maintain the status quo, not to expand and grow. We know very little about the events before Dune. Dune takes place 10,000 years after the formation of the spacing guild and there was 10,000 years of space travel before that. We don't know that there was a feudal empire that whole time. I believe the Landsraad had only been meeting regularly for 1,000 years before the Butlerian Jihad, which was a huge factor in how civilization was run in itself. IMO Dune supports his argument.


But not in the way he tells it though.
I understand he's saying that the Imperium couldn't have come to exist at all.
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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby Omphalos » 10 Mar 2015 10:01

Freakzilla wrote:
lotek wrote:Yeah, and it rains on a pug dog in the end.


I like to think the Pug died in the Battle of Arrakeen.


Yes, but the aardvark was condemend to Salusa Secundus for cowardice.

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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby lotek » 10 Mar 2015 10:15

Hence the word, cowaardvarkdice
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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby Freakzilla » 10 Mar 2015 11:21

lotek wrote:
Freakzilla wrote:...(this is explicit in Herbert’s Dune). But, such societies would not generally promote the technological change necessary to settle and connect millions of planets.

FH points out that the empire was stagnant and the events he writes about eventually (thousands of years later) lead to the break up of the empire. I believe he was saying that the feudal empire was a good way to maintain the status quo, not to expand and grow. We know very little about the events before Dune. Dune takes place 10,000 years after the formation of the spacing guild and there was 10,000 years of space travel before that. We don't know that there was a feudal empire that whole time. I believe the Landsraad had only been meeting regularly for 1,000 years before the Butlerian Jihad, which was a huge factor in how civilization was run in itself. IMO Dune supports his argument.


But not in the way he tells it though.
I understand he's saying that the Imperium couldn't have come to exist at all.


Right, but like I said, we don't know what kind of government was in place when the 'known universe" was first settled. They could have become imperialistic and that could have been the cause for the halt in expansion.
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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby lotek » 10 Mar 2015 12:37

I always had the feel of "borrowed" tech', as in the enveloppe/decoration style was the Empire, but the tech' itself was older.
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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby Freakzilla » 10 Mar 2015 13:17

lotek wrote:I always had the feel of "borrowed" tech', as in the enveloppe/decoration style was the Empire, but the tech' itself was older.


Right, Holtzman generators (shields, suspensors, space folding) could have been thousands of years old. The only new tech we see is the no-field which Leto II practically sponsored and that was the death knell of the Imperium.
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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby georgiedenbro » 10 Mar 2015 15:47

I honestly think that the author of the article has simply misunderstood what FH was predicting. I don't think Frank was saying that we have a wonderful democracy now and that in the future it will degenerate into feudalism. I think part of the message of Dune as commentary on the current world is that we already are in a state of corporate feudalism and that it is this system which has advantaged expansion and development in the 20th century while primarily benefiting elite parties. Many people trumpet liberal democracy as being a great achievement of the modern age, yet seem to be missing the small fact that we have yet to achieve this.
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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby Redstar » 10 Mar 2015 18:19

Freakzilla wrote:IMO Dune supports his argument.

I agree with this, but Mr. Berri fails to realize this because he doesn't look at the book (and series) as a whole. It proves his argument by presenting it, the subverting it.

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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby JasonJD48 » 11 Mar 2015 13:24

lotek wrote:
Freakzilla wrote:...(this is explicit in Herbert’s Dune). But, such societies would not generally promote the technological change necessary to settle and connect millions of planets.

FH points out that the empire was stagnant and the events he writes about eventually (thousands of years later) lead to the break up of the empire. I believe he was saying that the feudal empire was a good way to maintain the status quo, not to expand and grow. We know very little about the events before Dune. Dune takes place 10,000 years after the formation of the spacing guild and there was 10,000 years of space travel before that. We don't know that there was a feudal empire that whole time. I believe the Landsraad had only been meeting regularly for 1,000 years before the Butlerian Jihad, which was a huge factor in how civilization was run in itself. IMO Dune supports his argument.


But not in the way he tells it though.
I understand he's saying that the Imperium couldn't have come to exist at all.


Except we don't really know how the Imperium came into existence if you discount Pinky and the Brain's works, which I do. The way I see it, technology was prospering under another form of government, anti-tech backlash occurs (Butlerian Jihad), we get the Imperium with all the stagnation it brings.
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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby georgiedenbro » 11 Mar 2015 14:28

JasonJD48 wrote:
Except we don't really know how the Imperium came into existence if you discount Pinky and the Brain's works, which I do. The way I see it, technology was prospering under another form of government, anti-tech backlash occurs (Butlerian Jihad), we get the Imperium with all the stagnation it brings.


I'm not so sure I'm in agreement that there was obvious technical stagnation in the Universe as a result of feudalism. Recall Hayt's comment that feudalism was the most efficient system for expansion, and therefore we can conclude that it pre-dated both the Landsraad and the Imperium. Surely there was plenty of technological innovation during the period of expansive feudalism, so much so that it led to a reliance on technology culminating in the BJ. Past the time of the Jihad I think we can safely attribute technological stagnation to its rules, and not to the feudalistic system itself. If not for the tenets of the Jihad there would have been many more worlds like Ix, Richesse and Bene Tleilax doing research into all kinds of thing. Also note that in the case of space-travel there was a limitation in innovation because, according to Duncan, no one except Holzmann really understood the basis for the technology, so no new work could be done in that area until people figured it out.

All feudalism means is rule by an elite in a system otherwise showing signs of capitalism such as trade and markets. The difference between feudalism and democracy is in the political implementation of a market-based economy; the former has rules in place to ensure that a select group will always be on top (oligarchy) while the latter involves rule by the people. But both systems can have equal amounts of innovation; in the U.S. right now there is an effective oligarchy with the trappings of democracy, and yet R&D in the U.S. is unparalleled.
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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby Freakzilla » 11 Mar 2015 14:36

Three -- Planetary feudalism remained in constant danger from a large
technical class, but the effects of the Butlerian Jihad continued as a damper on
technological excesses. Ixians, Tleilaxu, and a few scattered outer planets were
the only possible threat in this regard, and they were planet-vulnerable to the
combined wrath of the rest of the Imperium. The Butlerian Jihad would not be
undone. Mechanized warfare required a large technical class. The Atreides
Imperium had channeled this force into other pursuits. No large technical class
existed unwatched. And the Empire remained safely feudalist, naturally, since
that was the best social form for spreading over widely dispersed wild frontiers
-- new planets.

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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby JasonJD48 » 11 Mar 2015 14:38

georgiedenbro wrote:
JasonJD48 wrote:
Except we don't really know how the Imperium came into existence if you discount Pinky and the Brain's works, which I do. The way I see it, technology was prospering under another form of government, anti-tech backlash occurs (Butlerian Jihad), we get the Imperium with all the stagnation it brings.


I'm not so sure I'm in agreement that there was obvious technical stagnation in the Universe as a result of feudalism. Recall Hayt's comment that feudalism was the most efficient system for expansion, and therefore we can conclude that it pre-dated both the Landsraad and the Imperium. Surely there was plenty of technological innovation during the period of expansive feudalism, so much so that it led to a reliance on technology culminating in the BJ. Past the time of the Jihad I think we can safely attribute technological stagnation to its rules, and not to the feudalistic system itself. If not for the tenets of the Jihad there would have been many more worlds like Ix, Richesse and Bene Tleilax doing research into all kinds of thing. Also note that in the case of space-travel there was a limitation in innovation because, according to Duncan, no one except Holzmann really understood the basis for the technology, so no new work could be done in that area until people figured it out.

All feudalism means is rule by an elite in a system otherwise showing signs of capitalism such as trade and markets. The difference between feudalism and democracy is in the political implementation of a market-based economy; the former has rules in place to ensure that a select group will always be on top (oligarchy) while the latter involves rule by the people. But both systems can have equal amounts of innovation; in the U.S. right now there is an effective oligarchy with the trappings of democracy, and yet R&D in the U.S. is unparalleled.


As I said, we simply don't know, Hayt comment is circumstantial at best and may simply be wrong. If feudalism is so good for expansion, why did they stop? The old Empire of a million worlds may seem vast, but we learn later the universe is so much more expansive that the Empire is tiny, and you can't blame technological prohibition because there's instantaneous travel. Further, I'm not saying feudalism led to the technological stagnation, I'm saying that the Jihad caused a cessation of technological advancement and the feudal system was put in place to maintain that status quo, and it worked for the most part. The only innovators, Ix and Tleilax are functionally not part of the feudal system (unless you believe there was a House Vernius, which I don't). And the commerce is limited to the upper class, with the government owning the mega corporation CHOAM (Emperor and Great Houses)
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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby georgiedenbro » 11 Mar 2015 23:23

JasonJD48 wrote: And the commerce is limited to the upper class, with the government owning the mega corporation CHOAM (Emperor and Great Houses)


Both Houses Major and Houses Minor are defined in the glossary as just being giant corporate entities, essentially. The Harkonnens, for instance, were said to be in the whale business (even though they are not of noble blood). The Atreides were in the rice business. But I think we know that there are merchant classes less powerful and consolidates than Houses Minor, and then of course there are the peasants and so forth. Just like now. Since we only live on one planet there can't be anything like Houses Major at present, but we certainly have a few families that would qualify as Houses Minor and that own a significant portion of the world's wealth. There is already effectively the faufreluch system at play since those families have zero chance of being displaced by lower-level merchants, and there are even controls in place to prevent this. And then there's the working class, most of whom will never be owners even though it's not strictly forbidden.

I guess it's just my take on it that FH was talking about now in his books. But Jason, I'm mostly disagreeing with the author of the article, not with you; I think his idea that democracy is the way of the future is hopelessly naive.
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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby Cpt. Aramsham » 12 Apr 2015 06:12

The feudal system involves rather more than "rule by an elite", and the Imperium in Dune exhibits most of the characteristics of medieval European feudalism. That makes it significantly different from the current western model. It's true that in FH's opinion they have a number of things in common, and that he believed any bureaucracy is an aristocracy in waiting. But what he's depicting in Dune is a system that, if ever it was democratic or capitalist in our sense, has ossified (degenerated, many of us would say) into something quite different.

So I think the fundamental part of the definition is this:

HOUSE: idiomatic for Ruling Clan of a planet or planetary system.

A House is above all a family or clan united by blood, where individual rulers owe their position in large part to their ancestry. The faufreluches caste system guarantees that level of status in society (and in many cases the profession: e.g. Kynes inheriting the job of planetologist from his father) follows bloodline. True, the Houses see themselves as merchants and get more of their incomes from trade (as well as industrial activity, such as the spice mining on Arrakis), vs. the medieval aristocracy who saw themselves primarily as landowners (maybe "landholders" would be more precise, since they didn't "own" the land in the modern sense but held certain rights or liens to it) collecting rents, but it still seems like collecting taxes is a big part of it.

The universe of Dune is not a capitalist system, either. There is trade and profit, of course (just as in any society), but it is controlled: by the Spacing Guild, by CHOAM, by local monopolies (either granted by the Emperor or imposed by someone like the Harkonnens), and by a caste/guild system that limits entry into the market.

(BTW, it's not true today that our "Houses Minor" cannot be displaced by smaller merchants. A hundred years ago, the Vanderbilts were one of the richest and most powerful families in the world. Where are they today? There are a few that have persisted over the centuries – mostly those working in traditionally more guild-like businesses, like banking or diamonds – but the majority of Business Titan dynasties fade back to being merely wealthy within three-four generations.)

There are a number of obvious drawbacks, inefficiencies and perverse incentives in a feudal system that makes the claim that it's the best for galactic expansion dubious. But the question isn't whether it's perfect, it's whether it's better than the alternatives. FH seems to have been of the opinion that modern democracy is flawed at the core and couldn't be stable over such a scale. This depends a lot on its economic and technological basis, of course. You can make a pretty convincing argument that democracy can't survive in a world with machine intelligence. You can also argue that it's incompatible with the restrictions imposed by the Butlerian Jihad. In the world he created, he may have been right.

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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby georgiedenbro » 14 Apr 2015 01:35

Cpt. Aramsham wrote:(BTW, it's not true today that our "Houses Minor" cannot be displaced by smaller merchants. A hundred years ago, the Vanderbilts were one of the richest and most powerful families in the world. Where are they today? There are a few that have persisted over the centuries – mostly those working in traditionally more guild-like businesses, like banking or diamonds – but the majority of Business Titan dynasties fade back to being merely wealthy within three-four generations.)


I guess my only comment would be that the Vanderbilts may have fallen off, but it wasn't due to peasants (i.e. in our case blue collar workers) or small business owners elevating themselves and displacing them. I'm not familiar with the history of the family, but it was likely due to a combination of them not being able to leverage their wealth in enterprise that was relevant in modern times, along with the children not being up to the entrepreneurial skill of the father. If the latter played any part then I think that relates well to Dune, where titles and position are inherited and yet without being re-earned by the merit of the heir the family would quickly see ruin. Just imagine a House Harkonnen with no Feyd and where Rabban was the only heir.

I agree with you that our "Houses Minor" tend to be relatively short-lived, but remember that in FH's world technology is stagnant and so the shifting fortunes and successes rest in alliance and strategy. In our world technological advances play such a large part in rises and falls that we can almost describe anyone invested in production as being part of a roulette game. The exceptional cases would be the exact ones you mention, such as finance, where their tools of trade are not material and hence not subject to rapid obsolescence. But in a world where there was a cap on technology things would flatten out and there would probably be great longevity in both financial and production-based empires.
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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby Hunchback Jack » 14 Apr 2015 11:00

JasonJD48 wrote:As I said, we simply don't know, Hayt comment is circumstantial at best and may simply be wrong. If feudalism is so good for expansion, why did they stop? The old Empire of a million worlds may seem vast, but we learn later the universe is so much more expansive that the Empire is tiny, and you can't blame technological prohibition because there's instantaneous travel.


I think it stopped because of melange. The spice was necessary for space travel, and the ability to Navigate depended on it. At the point where it became too expensive to haul melange from Arrakis out to the Empire's edge so that trade and colonization could extend further, the Empire ceased to expand.

The Scattering became possible because the Ixian Navigation Machines enabled space travel without Melange, and hence there was no need to stay in close proximity to Arrakis.

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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby georgiedenbro » 14 Apr 2015 16:58

Hunchback Jack wrote:
JasonJD48 wrote:As I said, we simply don't know, Hayt comment is circumstantial at best and may simply be wrong. If feudalism is so good for expansion, why did they stop? The old Empire of a million worlds may seem vast, but we learn later the universe is so much more expansive that the Empire is tiny, and you can't blame technological prohibition because there's instantaneous travel.


I think it stopped because of melange. The spice was necessary for space travel, and the ability to Navigate depended on it. At the point where it became too expensive to haul melange from Arrakis out to the Empire's edge so that trade and colonization could extend further, the Empire ceased to expand.

The Scattering became possible because the Ixian Navigation Machines enabled space travel without Melange, and hence there was no need to stay in close proximity to Arrakis.

HBJ


Notwithstanding my pet theory that melange is a recent discovery in Dune, there is some evidence to support this idea. If you look at the galactic map as of 19,191 there is a conspicuous tendency for all the major colonized worlds we know of to be fairly close to Earth, with Arrakis being more or less the farthest colonized world at ~300 LY away (extremely close in galactic terms). This might suggest that jumping further away takes 'more melange', or something to that effect. An economy of melange versus travel distance would be a simple way to explain why the colonization pattern wasn't much more spread out or random and why the major homeworlds are all close to each other. Of course an alternate theory would be that computers were used for calculating jumps in the old days, but they weren't that effective compared to Navigators and could only calculate jumps for short distances safely. Offhand I tend to believe the latter theory, but HBJ's is certainly plausible too.
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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby Serkanner » 14 Apr 2015 17:20

georgiedenbro wrote: If you look at the galactic map as of 19,191 there is a conspicuous tendency for all the major colonized worlds we know of to be fairly close to Earth, with Arrakis being more or less the farthest colonized world at ~300 LY away (extremely close in galactic terms).


Please refresh my failing memory ... where in the books can I find this info?
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Re: Economist Argues Against "Space-faring" Empires

Postby Freakzilla » 15 Apr 2015 06:23

We know Arrakis' sun in Canopus...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canopus

Distance 310 ± 20 ly
(96 ± 5 pc)

As for the location of the rest of the empire... :?

I think this also brings up the old "fastest" highliner debate. However, the Guild had "Junction" planets where I'm sure it was possible to replenish spice supplies.
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Postby georgiedenbro » 15 Apr 2015 10:22

Here is a Wiki article on the Dune planets:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Du ... la_Tegeuse

Some of it might possibly be from the prequels, but the locations of the basic home worlds from Dune is FH.

The Stars and Planets of Frank Herbert's Dune: A Gazetteer by Joseph M. Daniels wrote:Arrakis ~ Third planet orbiting the star Canopus, located at 312 ly from Earth.
Bela Tegeuse ~ Fifth planet of the star Kuentsing (Kuentsing is Chinese for Alpha Leporis, located at 1284 ly from Earth).
Caladan ~ Third planet of Delta Pavonis, located at 19.9 ly from Earth.
Chusuk ~ Fourth planet in the star system Theta Shalish (Shalish is the Hebrew constellation for Aries, Theta Arietis located at 387 ly from Earth).
Corrin ~ Planet in the star system of Sigma Draconis, located at 18.8 ly from Earth.
Ecaz ~ Fourth planet of Alpha Centauri B, located at 4.4 ly from Earth.
Gamont ~ Third planet of Niushe (Chinese name for Psi Draconis, located at 72 ly from Earth).
Giedi Prime ~ Planet of 36 Ophiuchi B, located at 19 ly from Earth.
Grumman ~ Second planet of Niushe (Chinese name for Psi Draconis, located at 72 ly from Earth).
Hagal ~ II Theta Shaowei (Shaowei is the Chinese name for the constellation of Leo, the star Theta Leonis is located at 177 ly from Earth).
Harmonthep ~ No longer existing satellite of Delta Pavonis, located at 19.9 ly from Earth.
Ix ~ Ninth planet from Alkalurops, or Rodale (or 40 Eridani A, located at 16.5 ly from Earth).
Kaitain ~ Arabic name of the star Alpha Piscium, located at 139 ly from Earth.
Poritrin ~ Third planet of Epsilon Alangue or Epsilon Ophiuchi (Alangue is corruption of Arabic Al Hawna, Ophiuchus, situated at 107.5 ly from Earth).
Rossak ~ Fifth planet of Alces Minor (Alpha Crateris located at 181 ly from Earth).
Salusa Secundus ~ Third planet of the Gamma Waiping system (Waiping is the Chinese name for a part of the constellation Pisces, Gamma Piscium located at 130.9 ly from Earth).
Sikun ~ Planet in the 70 Ophiuchi A system (located at 16.6 ly from Earth).
Tleilax ~ Sole planet of the star Thalim (Arabic name for the star Theta Eridani, located at 135 ly from Earth).


Of special note is that Harmonthep (planet in the Zensunni migration) is in the same star system as Caladan!!! If it no longer exists it must have been done with atomics...very interesting.

But regarding the distances you can see that all of these major systems are ridiculously close to Earth, with Arrakis being the farthest and is still pretty close considering you'd think folding space could go anywhere instantly. By the time of CH:D that does seem to be the case, but maybe there were limiting factors in the initial space expansion (such as fuel constraints, computer limitations, etc).
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