viruses in fact and fiction...

From: john grigg (
Date: Wed Jan 26 2000 - 03:40:11 MST

Eugene Leitl wrote:
On a related point, I was speculating recently on the possible evolution of
a sexually transmitted disease which boosts the libido and vitality of
infected individuals. This would make much more sense then the current
strains, which harm sexual success of the victim by covering the afflicted
area with unsightly and painful sores, thus limiting their own infection
success. It would seem that an STD which resulted in higher sex drive and
which someone made the infected individual better looking would be an
incredibly successful STD. I then started to wonder if this has perhaps
already happened, and the virus is now just considered a part of normal
human biology, or perhaps incorporated into the genome.

It seems to me that the human sex drive is already strong enough that a
virus would not need the ability to enhance it. At least in the case of
herpes, the sores are not always there and it is right before the outbreak
that the afflicted is most contagious. Pretty sneaky virus!

I read a Clive Barker short story once about a genetically engineered
disease that gets lose. The accidentally infected researcher has the
overwhelming violent urge to have intercourse with anyone and anything and
has strength rivalling an addict on angel dust. He sees the world in
totally sexually driven terms(some of you might think you do till you read
the story!). The story is told from the perspective of the infected man.
It was a very surreal story.

It would be nice if viruses would give up the parasitic way of things for
being symbiotic. Octavia Butler, one of my favorite science-fiction
authors, wrote "Clay's Ark" wherein an alien virus invades earth when the
first human ftl spaceship crashlands but adapts in symbiosis with humanity.
While most humans die of infection, some (mostly with large fat reserves!)
survive and then thrive as near immortals who can regenerate missing limbs
and have superhuman speed, stength and stamina. The signs of infection are
being extremely thin, excessive sweating and constant eating.

But there is a price. The virus gives an almost uncontrollable compulsion
to breed(as opposed to Barker's virus where you are blinded by lust
entirely). The children produced have human faces but lower bodies like a
sphinx to the shock of their parents. And their minds and emotions are
different too. The leader of the initial infected group (a surviving
astronaut) struggles to contain his urges and those of the ones around him.

Octavia Butler is a very gifted writer who brings her characters and
storylines alive like few can and she has gotten from not just the
science-fiction but also the mainstream writing community the praise she
deserves. Her stories are very gritty and show the darkside of human nature
to the point of making me want to flinch at times. I highly recommend her.

For all the pain and death viruses have caused, I am glad to see them put to
work in humanities service in the cause of genetic engineering.
Now their formally insidious methods will do us some good.


John Grigg

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