The Autobiography of Benjamin Sisko
Written by Derek Tyler Attico
Published by Titan Books
Derek Tyler Attico’s The Autobiography of Benjamin Sisko is a little like a jazz version of “The Life of Starfleet’s Legendary Captain and Emissary.” Taking advantage of the non-linear perceptions of the Bajoran Prophets, the book presents itself as the recollections of a Ben Sisko who has recently entered the wormhole to live with the aliens there, as depicted in Deep Space Nine’s final episode, “What We Leave Behind.” Now able to access his memories in something approaching a constant present-tense state, Sisko decides he wants to leave his son Jake and his soon-to-be-born daughter with some perspective on who he was, the decisions that shaped his life, and his feelings toward them. The resulting “autobiography” sounds authentically like the character played by Avery Brooks for seven seasons and provides the reader with a rich portrait of his upbringing and family life.
Ben Sisko is my favorite Starfleet captain, so I was excited for the chance to read this latest in Titan Books’ series of Star Trek “autobiographies.” David A. Goodman wrote (or “edited,” as the cover states, trying to maintain the façade) the autobiographies of James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard. Una McCormack turned in treatments of the lives of Kathryn Janeway and Spock. These have been fantastic books, all of them capturing the spirit of the characters and providing a narrative through-line for the lives of these characters whose adventures we have followed for decades in movies, on TV, and elsewhere.
Attico’s autobiography shines the most in describing the family, home, and upbringing of a young Ben Sisko. He takes the time to ground the character deeply into a city (New Orleans), a place (Sisko’s Restaurant and Hotel), and a family—in this case, multiple generations of Siskos living together. We meet Ben’s grandparents, getting to know them as rich sources of culture, character, and dreams. We follow Ben’s parents, his siblings, and their neighbors, getting to know the world young Ben grew up in as a deep repository of history and family. Surrounded by music, food, and love, Ben Sisko is someone whose parents wanted him to establish solid roots in his heritage before charting a path of his own, wherever it might lead. It is fun, and not entirely unexpected, to learn that Ben was homeschooled through eighth grade and never ate replicated food until enrolling in a public high school. “I was eight years old before I realized I lived in the Twenty-Fourth Century,” Ben narrates to his son Jake. Because his parents eschewed most technology, young Ben lived for thirteen years before seeing a transporter in use or learning about portable communicators. These discoveries ignited a fire in Ben that led him away from the life of a chef, as his father Joseph had hoped he would have, and into engineering, Starfleet, and eventually command.
The autobiography’s chapters read somewhat like meditations on a theme, with some stream-of-consciousness riffing, each concluding with a sort of bottom line moral lesson that Ben wants to impart to his children. It’s a fascinating approach, though the repetitive nature can, at times, become a bit grating. Sprinkled throughout are brief, interstitial glimpses of Ben’s present-day life in the Celestial Temple, though these don’t really build to anything significant, even though they seem like they should. And the whole package wraps up with a word from Benny Russell, offering a confusing peek at that character’s career following the events of the classic DS9 episode “Far Beyond the Stars.”
As I said, the book plays like jazz, with themes weaving in and out, disappearing and reappearing, and repetitions played in a different key or by a different instrument. In the first 80% of the book, exploring events we have not seen onscreen, Attico is tied more securely to relating details, names, places, and stories. Attico weaves Ben Sisko’s journey in with many unexpected Trek characters, often in really fun ways. Once we reach Deep Space Nine, however, Attico has little interest in recapping the TV series and instead turns to character-centered reflections on friends, enemies, mentors, and others. This last 20% will likely make little sense to folks who don’t know the Deep Space Nine series intimately, but for those of us who do, it is interesting to see how Ben reflects on the big picture of his life and experiences.
Bottom line, while this is not the best of the Trek autobiographies, for fans of Deep Space Nine and the character, it’s a fascinating and remarkable exploration of not just Ben Sisko, but the world of Trek’s 24th century.
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