I was pleased, honored and surprised at the invitation to join this company of fine reader-thinker-writer-geeks. Before continuing with my introduction, however, by way of full disclosure, I must admit (with an appropriate measure of shame), that I've only read the first of Asimov's Foundation books. I promise to rectify the situation with all due haste. Actually, to be brutally honest, I've only been reading Science Fiction in earnest for about four years now. I read Wells and Verne as a child, as well as a couple of the great classics (Fahrenheit 451, 1984) in college, and the Dune books a few years later, but it wasn't until just a few months before encountering Mentat and Kir'Shara that I began seriously to pursue the joys, wisdom and insights of SF.
But once I did so, SF changed my life. Quite literally.
If it hadn't been for SF, I'd be about three months away from a solid six-figure salary right now, happily ignoring most of the environmental, economic and political turmoils around me. Instead, I'm not even a quarter of the way through at least four years on a grad student stipend and am, on my worst days, a doom-and-gloom junkie, and on my better days a raving leftist radical.
It was Ken MacLeod's Fall Revolution series that really woke me up, convinced me to care about politics, economics, emerging information technologies, corporate power, workers' rights and welfare, energy crises, freedom of expression, etc. It wasn't just his books that affected me though; it was also his blog posts and their comment threads, through which I was able to interact with him on an ongoing basis while reading. This opportunity to engage directly with the author and follow his commentary on real world events lent extra power to the punch delivered by his books... and compelled me to honestly examine my beliefs, priorities and career trajectory... and ultimately to throw a big fucking wrench into the works.
There were other influential works of SF as well. Iain M. Banks' books rubbed my face into the horror and lunacy of war, the futility of torture, the extremes of sentient suffering (both physical and psychological) and the dream of a Utopian intergalactic system of government that sparkled with hope in spite of the selfish, flawed beings on which it was built.
Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy was more practical. It provided plausible flesh and bone to my emerging view of the world and society... and helped me to visualize the imminent destruction of this planet that I love. It also gave me a vision of what a human society should (and maybe even could, one day) be. And it helped me to imagine what a path (however narrow and unlikely) from here to there might look like. Most of my current opinions on politics, economics and business were formed while reading these books.
Paralleling my exploration of the SF realm, however, have been my readings of Kir'Shara's blog posts (including those written under a previous alias) and my real-life conversations with both Kir'Shara and Mentat. They (as well as others, both live and in print) have provided bridges between the all-too-relevant SF in which I immerse myself and the dissappointingly-not-fictional political and environmental reality that is destroying our world.
The intent of this post was to introduce myself briefly, however, and I think that I've already failed. In his post below, Mentat made mention of his superhuman skills of procrastination. It is quite possible that mine are even greater (note, for example, that I'm the last of the four to post). I also tend to ramble on in a long-winded fashion and incorporate too many themes into a single post. But Kir'Shara knew all of my literary shortcomings in advance, so you, dear readers, may address your complaints to him.
Of greater interest than my failings, however, may be my potential offerings. What have I to contribute to this merry band? I'm a thirty-something grad student pursuing advanced training in public health (environmental health, specifically). I took a rather circuitous path to get to my current position. I studied international health and development thinking that I would save the poor people of the developing world from disease. I started medical school with similar ambitions. I finished medical school disillusioned with the medical profession and disgusted with the way in which physicians in this country are forced to practice. I started a pathology residency thinking that I'd found an interesting and lucrative way to pass the days before retirement. I wasn't exactly content with this, however, and eighteen months into the four-year program, when I experienced the above described SF epiphany, I'd already determined the following: 1) the current medical system is unsustainable, even in the best of circumstances and 2) fighting disease through diagnosis and treatment is a losing battle -- prevention is our only chance. These ideas, combined with my increasing recognition of, and concern about the doom of our global environment landed me in my current program, where I hope to find ways of improving health through identification and elimination of environmental hazards. This too is a losing battle, but at least there's the possibility of fighting for the health of thousands of people at a time rather than for that of just one... at the expense of the neglected thousands.
I recently encountered a quote from Frank Lloyd Wright:
A doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.
I think I know how he intended it, but the more I consider it, the more alternate meanings seem to surface, some of which are appropriate to the medical and health care realm as a whole, and some specifically to me. Maybe I'll write a post about that quote sometime.
As for today... now that I've rambled on about myself for long enough, I'll give you a preview of a post that will likely appear in about two months. Today I started reading Mark Hertsgaard's new book Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth. I'm to write a review of it for one of my classes, and it looks as though it will prove quite relevant to this blog.
More on that (and possibly other things) soon.