Libidan - The Viagra for Women: imagine a pill for menopausal women that completely restores their libido. It is painless, fast acting, and has no side-effects.
In P.J. Goddard's new novel, 'Libidan', a pharmaceutical researcher accidentally stumbles across precisely such a drug. Recognizing the compound's enormous market
potential, he smuggles the formula out of his laboratory and resolves to commercialise it himself.
However, it becomes clear that Libidan works for all women - whatever their age, character or previous reputation. Realising that what he has actually developed is the ultimate in date-rape drugs, he decides to destroy his creation. Only this is one genie that has no intention of going back in the bottle.
For its wickedly hilarious black comedy situations alone, 'Libidan' is a
must-read novel. But what makes it one of the year's most exciting literary releases is that the story is no mere fictional flight of fancy. With over a decade's experience of the pharmaceutical industry, author P.J. Goddard argues that Libidan probably already exists in an R & D laboratory somewhere, and it will only a matter of time before it will be developed.
The public and the media alike are profoundly concerned about developments in genetic engineering.
As scientists continue to catalogue life's every bio-mechanism, there is widespread unease about the uses to which this information will be put. Through its utterly compelling plot, 'Libidan' illustrates the commercial and political imperatives that will divert the biotech revolution away from the eradication of disease to the management of human physiology in its non-diseased state.
What shall our lives become when anger can be assuaged, or love induced, simply by opening up the
medicine chest? How is society to react to a pharmacopoeia of drugs that can manipulate the body's every physical and emotional state? And, whilst the first world accessorizes its as yet unborn children with the latest in designer genes, what of the third world? What shall be its fate when the pharmaceutical multinationals abandon the development of a cure for AIDS as a hopelessly unprofitable venture?
Prophetic, compassionate, yet at the same time bitingly funny, 'Libidan'
offers a glimpse of the world's fast-approaching biotech future.
"I first had the idea back in the autumn of 1997. The scientist stumbles across 'Libidan' in a freak laboratory accident, gets fired, and then finds himself standing outside the factory gates with ten thousand pounds severance pay in one pocket and the formula for 'Libidan' in the other. What on earth would he do with his earth-shattering discovery?
"I knew straightaway that
as a story line it had everything that a novelist could possibly wish for: sex, drugs, science, morality. Wow.
"Looking back, I'm really glad about what I did next, which was to pause for thought: the plot clearly lent itself to all sorts of comic situations and characters, but first I had to decide what I wanted the novel to say.
I turned the idea over and over in my mind. A Viagra drug for women - what would that really mean? "Finally, after three months, I had my flash of inspiration.
"The human race is in the throes of the greatest scientific revolution of all time - genetic engineering. Forget the wheel, forget splitting the atom, forget (even) inter-stellar travel. Genomics is the big one. We are about to control life: there never has, and there never will be a more important accomplishment.
Paradoxically, though, the enormity of this development seems to be inversely proportional to our ability to grasp its full significance. Here we are within a whisker of being able to redesign ourselves, yet we still haven't got beyond the question of whether we should or shouldn't redesign our tomatoes.
"My flash of inspiration was this. A 'Libidan' drug typifies the ethical dilemmas inherent in human genetic engineering. Through the fictional story of the man who discovers it, I
could help the public understand the genomic revolution as a whole. When scientists can manipulate at will the body's every mechanism, what shall human life become? Such would be my thesis, for such is the defining issue of this biotechnological age.
"My scientist drives away from the gates resolving to commercialize what he has discovered. 'Libidan' is his story.
"It is also the story of the world into which our children, and our children's children, will be born."
'Libidan' & Genetic Engineering
'Libidan' has all the characteristic features of a British comic novel in the tradition of Tom Sharpe or Stella Gibbons: a small-town setting; a ribald plot that proceeds from one farcical situation to the next; a cast of eccentric characters - the gormless hero, the sexually repressed spinster, the fanatically puritanical police detective etc. At the same time, 'Libidan' is an incisive examination of the socio-ethical ramifications of genetic
engineering. P.J.Goddard's unique achievement lies in having employed a genre seemingly antithetical to philosophical discussion as a means of elucidating the perplexing moral complexities of the genomic revolution.
The following notes are intended for commentators and readers alike who have already read 'Libidan' and wish to gain an insight into the iconography and literary devices by which this literary feat was accomplished.
(1) Animal Metaphors
The starting point for
the novel is human genetic history. We evolved from, and side by side with, the other animals on this planet. The characters in 'Libidan' are thus described in terms of their animal qualities. Snod is an 'exotic monkey'. Una and Conlon are 'two swans on a lake'. The tips of Mr. Beckett's waistcoat 'protrude upwards like a Scottie dog's ears'. Similarly, all the animals featured in 'Libidan' have human attributes. The six female guinea-pigs are the wives of Henry VIII. Conlon's Alsatian is
Rousseau, the great eighteenth century philosopher. Human DNA and animal DNA are one and the same - 'the life that is in all life' is indeed 'the same life'
(2)The power of the gene
But just as life is encoded into DNA, so is death, and right from the very first page 'Libidan' is pregnant with allusions to this perilous ambivalence. The quotation that opens the novel proclaims ominously that 'Sex Kills'. During the prologue, the utopian new town of Harledge is the scene of an
atavistic eruption of violent herding instincts. In the laboratory, as Bill Kennedy gazes lustfully at Angela Marks, he senses the plasticity of his own genetic make-up that could so easily re-cast him as a slavering monster.
Undeterred by the dangers inherent in re-engineering DNA, humanity has pressed on with biotechnology, and, on the first day of spring 2001, Bill Kennedy discovers a drug that stimulates the human female's desire to breed. In Greco-Roman society
May 1st was held sacred to Venus, the goddess of love and rebirth. On one level, the name 'Libidan' refers to the compound's libido-enhancing properties. At a deeper level, however, the name symbolizes the sciences of the new millennium which have the potential to liberate the human race from the tyranny of disease.
(4) Chief Executives
The obvious therapeutic application for 'Libidan' is to help menopausal women deal with the life change. To fund his researches, Bill takes a
job driving a van for Sykes and Garnier Storage and Distribution Ltd. Coincidentally, the joint chief executives of the newly-formed GlaxoSmithKline are none other than Sir Richard Sykes and Mr. Jean-Paul Garnier. Such is the exalted company that Bill Kennedy keeps as he begins the process of commercializing his invention.
(5) Ego and alter ego
There are many equivalencies between Snod and Bill. Both are parentless. Both have turned their family home into a sex-factory - Bill
into a development laboratory for Libidan, Snod into a brothel. Both manufacture illegal drugs. Both are on the run from the authorities and operate their clandestine businesses out of a rented garage. The mapping of the human genome will illuminate the mechanics of human physiology both in its diseased and non-diseased state. If scientists and industrialists utilize this information merely to develop a range of profitable life-style and designer drugs, they are scarcely better than
back-street chemists synthesizing crack cocaine.
(6) 'All our future captains'
This struggle for the soul of science comes to its final dramatic conclusion in the temptation scene at the end of the novel. In offering to make Bill Kennedy Head of International R&D, Giulani appears to want nothing more from him than the formula for 'Libidan'. In fact, what he is actually asking Bill to do is perpetuate the primitive callousness of the savannah, the evolutionary environment
that was so critical in shaping human instincts and behaviour. Homo sapiens is a social, hierarchical primate, argues Giulani. In any human grouping, whatever its size or composition, superior individuals will always emerge to control the rest of the tribe and disproportionately appropriate its resources to their own advantage. Darwinian natural selection etched these behavioural instructions deep into the human genome. Why should the new technocratic elite who have now taken over the
authorship of the human genome seek to re-write them any other way?
This is 'Libidan's' central observation. The debate currently raging in the west - concentrating on the dangers of GM food - is tragically parochial. The point about biotechnology is not so much that those who control it will foist its potential dangers on the healthy, well-fed consumers of the first world, but rather that they will deny the starving masses of the third-world its potential benefits. The point about
biotechnology is not that it will create some terrifying new disease, but that it will not be used to cure the diseases with which hundreds of millions of people are already afflicted - malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. The point about biotechnology is not that genetic engineers will introduce into the human genome some hazardous new gene sequence, but that our current genome, having been designed for the life and death struggles of the savannah, already routinely promotes the most
catastrophically violent behaviour. The point about biotechnology is not that it will usher in some new dystopian science-fiction world, but that it will exacerbate the inequalities with which the human race is already plagued - that it will furnish the most ruthless of our species with new and more terrible ways of exploiting the weakest.
The genetic modification of human beings is not a 21st century phenomenon. Nature has been arbitrarily re-engineering the human genome for aeons.
There is nothing sacrosanct about our current genetic make-up - in fact, quite the reverse. The replacement of one gene by another is to be positively welcomed if it confers a real human benefit - whether the gene in question is artificially introduced or not. It is from this standpoint that Bill Kennedy's final actions must be viewed. His refusal to accept Giulani's offer is a rebuttal of all that is pernicious in the unqualified gene-set of the alpha-male. He rejects vast personal wealth
acquired at the expense of the suffering of others. He rejects the allure of being able repeatedly to coerce the female of the species into acts of sexual compliance. He risks injury and death in seeking out the one person in the world who hates him most...and heals him.
And so 'Libidan' ends - although not on a pessimistic note. The human race will always have its leaders, Giulani was right about that. But, as Bill Kennedy rises majestically to the sky in 'the game of life', we get a
glimpse of the rewards that await those of our future captains who can eschew the selfish for the selfless. The ecstasy of self-respect, and, from the crowd, a giddying, intoxicating wave of admiration and thanks, more exhilarating and more profoundly fulfilling than anything mere personal gratification can ever offer.
Genetic engineering is neither moral, nor immoral - it is amoral. It will neither damn nor save humanity. We will do that for ourselves.