At my job I have abundant time to think. On Tuesday I was thinking about the Deep Space Nine episode “Far Beyond the Stars” (season 6, episode 13). Ben Sisko is discouraged when he hears that a friend’s ship was destroyed on the Cardassian border during the Dominion war. He wonders if he will ever make a difference in the war and considers resigning from Starfleet. The prophets of Bajor then give him visions of Benny Russell, a science fiction author in New York in the 1950s. Russell is inspired by a drawing of a space station and writes stories of the life of Ben Sisko. He struggles with receiving respect for his writing because he is black and so is his protagonist. An evangelist encourages him to write “the truth that shall set them free.” At first the evangelist sounds like a Christian street preacher, but he then references the prophets of the Bajoran religion. Benny has occasional hallucinations of Sisko, Deep Space 9, and its crew. He fears that he is losing his mind and becoming Sisko. When the magazine issue which was supposed to carry Benny’s story is canceled he has a breakdown. The evangelist appears next to his stretcher in the ambulance. Benny asks him, “Who am I.” The evangelist replies, “You are the dreamer and the dream.” Sisko then wakes up in the infirmary on Deep Space 9. Later while talking with is father in his quarters he feels reinvigorated to continue his job. He then wonders which is real, the world of Benny Russell or the world of Ben Sisko. He looks out the window in his quarters and sees a reflection, not of himself, but of Benny Russell.
I like this episode because it portrays Sisko as a science fiction author. While at work it made me wonder what Sisko would write if he was a science fiction author in the 24th century. For Jules Verne, science fiction consisted of submarines and a voyage to the moon. For us, all of those concepts are old news. In the same way, the stories Benny writes are science fiction for him and his readers but everyday life for Sisko.
Science fiction projects forward what the future might look like, but it also reflects the time in which it is written. It draws from the scientific speculation and politics of its time to suggest what the future could be. What was the speculation of Sisko’s time?
Sisko may have heard of the Enterprise’s discovery of a Dyson sphere, and so if he wrote technologically oriented science fiction then he might write about a Dyson sphere built by the Federation a few hundred years into his future. He might write about improvements in propulsion which allow Federation ships to explore previously unexplored regions of the galaxy.
If he writes a story after the Dominion war is over then he might write a political science fiction story about the future of the Dominion. Will it dissolve as other worlds hear of the Federation’s victory over the Dominion and decide to follow its example? Such speculation would likely be common in the Federation.
One could go on listing the possibilities, and if such stories became true in Sisko’s future, then one could wonder what writers in that future would write. This also raises the question, what will science fiction authors a hundred or more years in our future write? We do not know what the scientific and political environment will be then. We can only speculate, but such speculation is what makes science fiction fun. Science fiction will always have a fresh set of possibilities from which to draw stories, and so it will always be a fun genre to read, write, and experience.