By the Book - Literary Life Lessons

“Engage”: The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard by David A. Goodman

Writing an autobiography about a fictional character sounds like a contradictio in terminis. This one, about Star Trek's Jean-Luc Picard makes you want to believe it all were real.

Why would anyone write an autobiography of a fictional character? That’s the question I was asking myself while reading The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard. Since I’m a Star Trek fan, this book was given to me by someone who thought I might like reading about one of the sci-fi series’ most famous characters. But is it a book that only true fans would read? Or is there actually something that can be learned from this book? Read on if you want to find out!

Most of the events mentioned in The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard aren’t new to those who have watched Star Trek: The Next Generation on the television. We already knew about Picard’s childhood, we were shown what he was like at Starfleet Academy, and we were aware that he was captain of a ship before he was given command of the Enterprise. So when it comes to the facts (well, they’re not really facts, of course; none of the events mentioned in this so-called autobiography actually happened), there are no surprises. Still, it does add something to the Star Trek universe.

Firstly, cynically, it means more money for the owners of the Star Trek franchise. Many true Trekkies (and I must admit I’m not really one of them) collect the star ships and the action figures, they might have tattoos and clothes inspired by the show, and might even speak a few words of Klingon. So when a book is published which claims it’s written by one of their favourite characters, of course they would buy it. It would be an easy way to make a lot of money. However, the book would need a bit more than simply bearing a famous name; it needs to really blend in with what we know from the series.

Many fans would buy this book because they loved the series and they want to return to the Star Trek universe one more time. The book mentions many characters that have appeared in one or more of the series. As a result, reading this so-called autobiography was like watching a long episode of the show, but with so many references in it that spotting them became an activity itself. Furthermore, it was fun to read about how all the famous characters Star Trek all knew each other in much the same way our real-life celebrities do. To me, it made the story more complete.

The second reason why I think people might like reading a book about a fictional character is to make them more real. The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard starts by placing the main character in a historical context; Picard’s ancestors can be traced back to Charlemagne, and real-life Picards are linked to the fictional one, such as the astronomer Jean Picard, who had a crater on the moon named after in. (Actually, come to think of it, I am positive I saw the grave of a Picard family when I was in Paris at Père Lachaise Cemetery two weeks ago.) I really wanted to believe that this was true, because it made it more easy to think that there really will be a spaceship captain in the future.

Thirdly, reading a book is very different from watching a television show. A book relies much more heavily on the story, while a television series, especially in science fiction, also likes showing spectacular special effects. Reading about the lack of love Picard experienced from his father, and finding out how it influenced his life, as well as reading about his innermost thoughts regarding his friends and loved ones, made me much more emotionally invested than watching events taking place on a tv screen. Reading, therefore, is a much better tool to really get to know a person – even if they’re not a real person to begin with.

Those who don’t like science fiction claim that it’s no use reading about something that doesn’t and couldn’t exist. The thing is, nothing that happens in science fiction is truly impossible, and that is why I like reading this genre, and it’s why I loved watching Star Trek. There might be androids, space ships, and intergalactic wars, but its essence is about what it means to be human. The best Star Trek episodes are about human beings learning how to interact with different species, or finding out how human laws influence all life around us. Adding a futuristic setting simply enables writers to address issues that would otherwise be impossible to discuss.

However, the best thing about The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard is that it shows just how much we still need books. The one thing that sets us apart from every other living thing is our ability to talk, and, with it, to tell stories. This book was written because fans of the television show would read a book about it. Even in Star Trek itself, hundreds of years from now, people still read books. Because somehow, despite the technological advantages, there still is no better way to share a story, and to engage an audience, than by writing a book about it.

Have you seen Star Trek? Do you enjoy watching or reading science fiction? Whose fictional character’s autobiography would you like to read? Please let me know in the comments! Also, don’t forget to follow me for more book-related posts!

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