The penultimate book in the Double Helix Star Trek: the Next Generation series. Captain Mackenzie Calhoun and the crew of Excalibur take over the book.

Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 276
Publisher: Pocket Books

Like previous books in this series, “Double or Nothing” doesn’t have much TNG content. It starts seven years in the past where a fierce Orion dancing girl named Vandelia has been kidnapped by a thug of a man, Zolon Darg, who wants her for himself. She’s rescued by Mackenzie Calhoun who is, in fact, undercover doing something quite else. Darg confronts them but when his base explodes around him, Calhoun and Vandelia leave him for dead. But he’s not. Instead he has a burning desire for revenge.

Seven years later, researches at Daystrom institute have found a way to use nanites to make a computer interface directly to the human brain. Unfortunately, the outpost is attacked by Darg’s forces and the prototype computer stolen. The USS Independence is taking Riker to a fancy celebration. It notices the distress call and comes to help the outpost but is too late – it can only chase the villains to Thallonian space. There the starship is surrounded by many Romulan warships led by Sela, Tasha Yar’s half-Romulan daughter. They attack and destroy the Federation starship. Riker and a some of the crew are rescued by Captain Calhoun and USS Excalibur.

Admiral Nechayev decides to keep Excalibur in Thallonian space, looking for a secret Romulan base. However, she has another assignment for Calhoun and Riker is appointed Excalibur’s temporary captain, much to the annoyance of Excalibur’s first mate, Commander Shelby (from the episode “Best of Both Worlds”). Calhoun is sent into an undercover mission.

This book reveals the big bad guy behind the virus plagues in the previous books. It starts as an action, or even a spy, movie and Calhoun’s plotline does feel like a spy movie. Calhoun even gets some specific spy equipment from a mysterious Professor character before he’s sent off. Riker’s half of the book is mostly comic relief when he gapes at the strange crew and their relationships. We also follow Zolon Darg and a mystery man named Kwint.

This was great fun but I had some trouble believing some of the happenings. For example, Nechayev knows that it’s quite possible that Calhoun will be recognized. That would most likely kill him. So why not send someone else? I had the same gripe about the other undercover agent. Also, the main bad guy came out of the blue. I had no idea who he was. Also, I rather liked Vandelia and she would have made a terrific recurring character. So, I was angry with what happened to her. Also, Sela’s fate was left open. She’s captured, mind raped (which was a horrific decision), and left comatose.

On the other hand, it was great to see a crew which is very different from our familiar crews and to see familiar faces from previous episodes.

The book has several alien races who I’ve never seen and they have apparently only been used in books. Thallonians, who are the main antagonists, seem to be from David’s New Frontier books. Some scenes are set outside Federation space which reminded me more of “hive of scum and villainy” than anything seen on TV.

Still, this was a good read and probably would have been better if I had read New Frontier books before. The next book will return us to the roots of the conflict with the main bad guy and to Picard’s previous command: Stargazer.