What would you do if you had the option to choose your child’s genetics? If you could program in their hair colour, eye colour, height, how much sleep they needed, even how athletic they are, all before they’ve been born. This is the question posed by Perter James’s Perfect People.
John and Naomi Klaesson lost their first son to a genetic disease when he was four. They would do anything to stop this happening to their next child, so they pay for the help of Dr. Leo Dettore, a somewhat notorious geneticist, who claims to be able to alter the genetics of a child before it’s been conceived. John and Naomi are adamant that all they want is a healthy child, but as Dettore gives them more options and his arguments become more and more convincing, they’re caught up in the idea of having a ‘designer baby’. But when they find out that they are, in fact, expecting twins instead of just the boy they were hoping for, they start to wonder what else Dettore did without their knowledge.
The plot centres around a slightly taboo topic. ‘Designer babies’ and genetic modification are highly disputed issues with many moral and ethical implications surrounding them.
James attempts to highlight the questions and implications of this topic, but unfortunately he doesn’t quite hit the spot. He tries to get the reader to think about what they would do in John and Naomi’s situation. The couple know they are predisposed to passing the same disease that killed their first son onto any other children they have. It’s understandable that anyone in that situation would want to do whatever they could to give their children the best chance at life. In theory, the reader should be able to put themselves in their shoes and see why they would make the choices they do, while still being torn as to whether they agree with them or not
But it’s difficult to put yourself in the place of John and Naomi. The whole situation just comes across too far-fetched to be able to relate to. The character of Dettore strikes you less as a genius scientist and more as a watered-down James Bond villain. He even has his own secret hideout, which is reminiscent of ‘The Village’ in the 1960’s TV show The Prisoner, and The Simpsons’ subsequent parody of it. It’s difficult to take Dettore seriously when all you can think of is Homer Simpson being chased by a giant white balloon.
John and Naomi don’t endear themselves to you either. Naomi is naïve to the point of irritation. She and John can’t seem to get it into their heads that their children are different to other kids. As the twins mature at a much faster rate than they should, John and Naomi continue to treat them as if they are normal toddlers and are constantly surprised when they do something out of the ordinary. The children themselves are more caricatures of horror movie children than developed characters, with their perfectly blonde hair and staring eyes. If this was a horror novel they would be perfect, but they don’t fit into the thriller that James is trying to write.
All that being said, this isn’t as terrible a book as I’m making it seem. It’s an interesting topic, and one worth reading about. While the writing itself is a bit too flat to live up to the standard that a subject like this deserves, it’s still worth a read if it’s a topic you’re interested in. The ending isn’t particularly strong, but it’s good enough to wrap everything up, and if you can get past the irritation that some of the characters cause then you might even enjoy it.