This week, we’re sending in the clones for the sequel to one of the earliest TOS adventures. An android returning from an expedition on Exo III finds the house empty and continues Dr. Roger Korby’s work by making another Kirk android, but he’s not scoring many Brownie points with the new James T. Meanwhile, Meatbag Kirk rescues an island boy from a meteor storm and wins a one-year life debt, but there’ll be some growing pains and identity theft shenanigans before Dobby can be a free elf. Grab your dallis’karim and cancel your appointment to get an animated tattoo, because this week we’re reviewing the book that got a bulk discount on apostrophes at Costco.
Returning from some extended exploration, another android copy of Dr. Roger Korby’s assistant Brown comes home to find everyone dead (well, insofar as you can “find” people who got kill-phasered). He brings himself up to speed by popping in his Star Trek season one Blu-Ray and pulling up episode seven—”What Are Little Girls Made Of?”—and concludes that it falls to him to continue the work of making Dr. Korby’s vision a reality. To that end, he creates another copy of Kirk, who immediately takes charge—or will, as soon as he rustles up some clothes.
Meanwhile, the crew of the Enterprise are evacuating the planet T’nufo before it gets wiped out by an incoming meteor swarm. And just so there’s absolutely no mistaking what a good guy meatbag Kirk is compared to his android counterpart, several pages are devoted to him saving an island boy who got left behind. The boy’s name is K’leb, and according to the one crewman on board who can speak P’othparan (K’leb’s native language), saving K’leb earned Kirk a life debt, redeemable for one year1, or until K’leb reciprocates and saves Kirk’s life—whichever comes first. Kirk can’t very well spend a whole year on K’leb’s meteor-blasted planet to honor the terms of the contract, so they make K’leb an honorary ensign and drag him along.
For once, the Enterprise earns shore leave instead of being called away from it, and so Kirk takes some much-needed time off on party planet Tranquillity [sic] Seven. It’s sort of a “have fun, but keep one eye open” kind of deal, since there’s an incipient Romulan threat in the neighborhood, but hey, when Starfleet says you can get blotto while you’re on the beat, you don’t have to tell the TOS crew twice. Android Kirk, in the meantime, has summoned the USS Hood to Exo III with a distress signal, made androids of most of its crew and killed the originals, and used them as a taxi to Tranquillity Seven2, where he purposely writes a check his cybernetic butt can’t cash to a mysterious illegal-goods dealer called the Rythrian so that the Rythrian’s goons will go looking for him. They find human Kirk (along with Bones and Scotty) in an old dive, beat the snot out of all three of them, and hold Kirk hostage until they get the information they want—which he has no way of providing—out of him. Kirk then has to find a way out of his jam and back to the Enterprise before his android double can make copies of everyone aboard the ship and set off an intergalactic war.
For the second week in a row, we arrive at the debut of a big name in Trek lit. This week, it’s Michael Jan Friedman, author of over 30 Star Trek novels, over half of which are Next Generation titles, not to mention many, many comics (which of course are currently outside the purview of this project). In stark contrast to most other Trek authors, Friedman writes in a flinty minimalist style. Very few paragraphs in this book run longer than four or five lines, and he has an intriguing way of showing a character moving from action to action without using conjunctions (e.g., “Kirk sensed someone approaching, turned.”), in some cases mixing it up with sentence fragments (“Suddenly, a beam of intense, red phaserlight stabbed through the swarm. Found a chunk of rock, obliterated it.”). Double, Double is one of the ones I read around age 11 or 12, and I distinctly recall that at the time I found this device exasperating, though as an adult I feel it creates a deep-in-the-pocket cool vibe that has a way I find hard to describe of playing up the crew’s hyper-competent efficiency.
What’s hard for me to let go of now as a grown-up is the apostrophes. As you might be able to tell from the second paragraph of this review, Friedman seems to have never met an apostrophe he didn’t like. It may be a staple of science fiction naming conventions, but it’s grossly overused to the point of distraction here. I switched back and forth several times between pronouncing “K’leb” as either “kleb” or “Caleb”, and I hadn’t settled on one or the other by the end of the book. They’re gross, unnecessary, linguistically unsound, and an unhealthy addiction.
Punctuation peccadilloes aside, however, Double, Double does manage some neat tricks. Pretty much all Star Trek books have original characters and conversational throwaways, but here those elements serve to further the subtly important purpose of undermining the fake Kirk by reinforcing his outdated memory. Kirk spends much of the early portions of the book dodging his physical by making increasingly convoluted wagers with Dr. McCoy, so that later when he can no longer inveigle his way out of it, the conceit has been built up so much that Kirk seeming to have forgotten the whole wagering saga organically reads as extremely suspicious. Ensign Denise DeLong spars with Kirk in the gym before an audience using a weapon from her homeworld called a dallis’kari, and spends most of the book alternating between fuming over the dirty trick he uses to win and harboring a slightly adorable crush on him; when she talks to him later and he barely recognizes her, you palpably feel android-Kirk’s plan beginning to go off the rails. K’leb’s relationship with Kirk is never anything less than strained, but it turns out he’s an empath, and he reaches a whole new level of alarm when he gets a total non-impression off the android double.
It’s also surprising how resilient Kirk’s spur-of-the-moment strategy from the original episode—i.e., of filling his head with quick ‘n’ dirty Vulcan bigotry right before having his mind transferred into an android in order to tip Spock off that he’s not the real deal—proves to be. This book expects the reader to bring prior knowledge to the table more than any non-event novel to date, and that works to its favor. Of course, we’re nowhere near the point where whole books are building on each other like they do in the series relaunches, but you can see the first inklings here of things moving in that direction. All in all, not too shabby an effort from an author we’re going to be seeing a lot more of.
MVP & LVP
- This might be kind of a cop-out, but I call it like I see it: I’m giving MVP this week to Kirk—the human one, of course. I guess it’s because this book refreshes me on all the things I like about him. He risks his life for people who get left behind. He’ll use a sneaky trick to win a sparring match, but he’s not above an apology when he truly realizes how much offense it causes. No one beats his ability to think on his feet in the clutch, with “Mind your own business, Mr. Spock! I’m sick of your half-breed interference, do you hear?” still paying dividends years later. And it’s not totally ridiculous any time he MacGyvers his way out of a sticky wicket. There’s a reason he has the reputation he does, but it’s easy to lose the thread if you haven’t been reminded of it in a while.
- My LVP this week goes to K’leb, for a lot of reasons. One: as I said earlier, I never could decide how I wanted to pronounce his name. Two: he doesn’t do any real talking, except to Ensign Clifford, who can speak his language, so the only way to get a handle on him as a character is through raw exposition, which is the least interesting way. Three: K’leb and Kirk never get anywhere close to getting along famously, and it feels like they should. Four: the book ends with K’leb getting released from his life debt through the rationalization that his empathic red flags alerted everyone else that the fake Kirk was indeed fake and thus ended up saving not only Kirk’s life but the lives of everyone aboard the Enterprise. I guess I buy it, but it still feels a little “Larry David waffling face” to me.
Nuggets & Other Stray Bits
- Double, Double distinguishes between human Kirk and android Kirk by italicizing the latter’s name. Strangely, this device, while handy for keeping them straight, isn’t used for any of the other major characters that get android-copied.
- p. 36: “Of course, tonight was a relative term. But the Enterprise ran on a twenty-four-hour clock so as to minimize any disruption of the crew’s circadian rhythms.” Setting aside the fact that this completely discounts the sleep needs and habits of any non-human crew member on board—which you could counter-argue by saying since everyone on the TOS Enterprise went to Starfleet Academy, they may all in fact be on the same schedule, since there are no civilians on Constitution-class ships—I’m fairly certain this conflicts with a passing comment in TNG (forget where/when it was said, but I’m pretty sure Troi said it) about how they don’t sleep on regular cycles.
- p. 102 — You can get animated tattoos in Tranktown: “Animatoo shops, where one could have his or her body adorned with living images—hordes of parasitic cells, really, preconditioned to form certain color patterns when injected under the skin.” My choice for an animated tattoo would probably be something like this going all the way down my back. Runner-up: that one GIF of the dog throwing up while humping the other dog.
- p. 134: “‘Problem, sir?’ said the Chinese.” — Yeah, I got a problem: YOU CALLED HIM “THE CHINESE”. When will we finally stop seeing insensitive racial appellations in these books?3
- p. 148: Watching Kirk try to drive a truck is fairly amusing.
I give Double, Double 3 out of 5 android Kirk clones. I thought I’d have a harder time finding things to say about Double, Double, since it just sort of flew by without making any strong impression on me in one direction or the other, but here we are at the end of another review and I seem to have gotten through it without feeling like I’m forcing it. I’ve seen a lot of people online swear by Friedman’s output in the way others do with, say, Peter David or Diane Duane. Double, Double isn’t exactly a guarantee of good times around the bend, but it’s solid and capably written and you could do a lot worse.
NEXT TIME: Taking the temperature of Howard Weinstein’s Power Hungry