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The Dispatcher #1

The Dispatcher

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One day, not long from now, it becomes almost impossible to murder anyone—999 times out of a thousand, anyone who is intentionally killed comes back. How? We don’t know. But it changes everything: war, crime, daily life.

Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher—a licensed, bonded professional whose job is to humanely dispatch those whose circumstances put them in death’s crosshairs, so they can have a second chance to avoid the reaper. But when a fellow Dispatcher and former friend is apparently kidnapped, Tony learns that there are some things that are worse than death, and that some people are ready to do almost anything to avenge what they see as a wrong.

It’s a race against time for Valdez to find his friend before it’s too late…before not even a Dispatcher can save him.

128 pages, Kindle Edition

First published October 4, 2016

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About the author

John Scalzi

159 books21.7k followers
John Scalzi, having declared his absolute boredom with biographies, disappeared in a puff of glitter and lilac scent.

(If you want to contact John, using the mail function here is a really bad way to do it. Go to his site and use the contact information you find there.)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,458 reviews
Profile Image for Kevin Kelsey.
400 reviews2,179 followers
January 12, 2022
Posted at Heradas Review

I find that speculative fiction is usually best when married with another genre. Personally, I’m partial to a good mystery. Set that mysterious tale in a science fiction/fantasy setting, and I’m probably going to be on board. In my eyes it’s a longstanding recipe for success: Jack McDevitt’s Alex Benedict novels, The Gone World, Altered Carbon, Leviathan Wakes, Zero World, Gnomon. The list is great mystery/spec fic novels is unknowably long.

The basic idea: Would you murder someone if it also meant saving their life? The Dispatcher is a tightly constructed urban fantasy mystery, set in a world mostly like ours but with one key difference: When someone is murdered, they disappear and materialize at home, alive and well in their bed. This happens nine hundred ninety-nine times out of a thousand. This small change sets the stage for a truly unique murder mystery, with a main character and setting I desperately hope Scalzi returns to. If there were more stories set in this world, I would read them all. Come to think of it, there’s room on my shelf for a nice paperback collection of Dispatcher novellas. Got a nice little spot for it, all ready to go. Write, Scalzi, write.

I’m not usually into urban fantasy, but this one is quite different. Most people hear urban fantasy and think werewolves and vampires and magical objects which, while technically true, isn’t all urban fantasy is capable of. The way I see it, urban fantasy has two rules: 1. The story is told in a somewhat contemporary setting, e.g., not middle earth and 2. The impossible happens. Everything else is just how the writer wants to use those building blocks to tell their story. Something Scalzi has done a terrific job of here. The fact that he usually writes science fiction serves to make his branching out into fantasy all the more interesting and rewarding.

The Dispatcher is a prime example of how quality fantasy world building can have far reaching ethical, societal, and industry specific ramifications. It also explores that impact pretty thoroughly for a novella. Like proverbial butterfly flapping its wings and causing a hurricane, one little modification to the world we’re accustomed to changes so many aspects of human society and social norms. It impacts everything from the kinds of intimidation organized crime families utilize, to the methods detectives use to investigate them. Insurance policies, experimental surgical procedures, and even frat boy posturing are all changed.
“I know what side of the street I like better. But you don’t always get to choose the side of the street you walk on.”

I listened to the Audible audiobook version of this last year. Zachary Quinto provided the narration, and turned in a graceful performance—bringing each character to life with subtlety. It was nice to listen to a Scalzi book not narrated by Wil Wheaton for once. Not that I have anything against Wil Wheaton, I’ve just grown a little tired of his narrative style.

This year I read the hardcover edition published by Subterranean press. In addition to the text, Vincent Chong has provided several illustrations of key scenes. He draws in an almost airbrushed hyper-realistic style that’s difficult to describe, but it truly brings the story to life. Having experienced this story in both formats, it’s hard to recommend one over the other, so I’ll wholeheartedly recommend them both. Whatever form you enjoy your books in, the Dispatcher isn’t something to be missed.
Profile Image for carol..
1,515 reviews7,711 followers
July 3, 2017
Written at the proverbial, easy-to-access, reach-all-literacy-levels eighth-grade level, The Dispatcher has an intriguing core idea. Unfortunately, the writing kept it only two steps above boring for me. Dialogue-heavy, it lacks descriptors and imagery that would have made it more immersive. On the plus side, the fundamental concept is decently integrated into the dialogue, always a challenging task in sci-fi/fantasy. Yet, since description is so scanty in other areas, it does make those moments stand out. Seriously, this was pretty close to boring for me; beyond the hook of 'dispatching,' it was very underwritten.

Apparently, it was first conceived of as an audio story, and read by Zacharay Quinto. I read the paper edition, so I missed the dynamicism a talented actor might have brought to the story. Still, when I contrast it with Aaronovitch's novellas and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, I can't help but think Scalzi provided too little material for an actor to work with.

Note: I read the Subterranean Press edition which contained a few line drawings. They didn't do much for me, and one contains a pretty solidly triggering image


Here's a sample from page 32, shortly after the main character meets a police officer.

"What if it was a private gig?"

"You mean, if he was working for a client directly, not through the Agency or through an insurance company."

"Yeah. I understand that happens from time to time."

"Sure. I definitely wouldn't know about those."

"Why not?"

"They're kind of a gray area, legally speaking."

"Do you have any private clients?"

"What part of 'it's a gray area, legally speaking' are you having trouble with?"

"You can tell me confidentially."

I raised my cup to Langdon. "I appreciate the coffee, but I'm not that cheap. Or stupid."

"Fair enough," Langdon said. "Who would know if he had any private clients?"

"Katie might," I said. "His wife. You've spoken to her?"

Langdon nodded. "Briefly. We asked her who she knew that might want to do harm to her husband. She wasn't coming up with anyone."

"You might ask her again. She might have thought you were asking about someone who had a grudge against him, not one of his private clients."

"Would she tell us?"

"She might. Jimmy wouldn't like it, but Jimmy's missing."



It makes me a little sad to see so much love for such a poorly fleshed out story, when I think of the wonderful novella writing by Zelazny, Aaronovitch, Hurley and others.
I love Scalzi's public commentary and willingness to take his Mallet of Correction to the troll-verse, so I'm rounding this up to three stars.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
726 reviews11.5k followers
January 9, 2021
I have a soft spot for John Scalzi. Both as a person (he seems to be a lovely, funny and smart guy, if his online persona truly reflects his personality) and as a writer. I love how fun his books are, I love his brand of humor, and I absolutely love how genuinely happy I am every time after I read one of his stories.

And so my only concern about The Dispatcher, a short urban fantasy/noir novella created for Audible, was that it wasn’t read by Wil Wheaton (I was starting to think Wheaton/Scalzi was an exclusive deal, but I guess not). But Zachary Quinto nails it, so the concerns were unfounded.
“I take it as a given that no one really likes to see me in my official capacity.”

Now, it was created for audio, and I sincerely recommend this format as a way to experience this story (I’m a devoted eyeball-reader, so that means something, coming from me). It’s dialogue-heavy and on page that quickly can get a bit taxing, but on audio it’s perfect and easy to follow. After all, it was meant to be listened to and to be performed. It’s almost like a play in that way.

Set in an alternative present, where murder victims are through unknown and mysterious miracles brought back to life, physically “reset” to a point a few hours before their deaths¹ (but only murder victims; accidents and suicide and old age and disease will still off you as per usual), it introduces the reader to Tony Valdez, a “dispatcher” — a member of a new profession who kills people who are about to die from an accident or surgical complications to allow them to return back to life and avoid what was meant to kill them. (Then, of course, there is paperwork). It’s 99.9% successful, but one in a thousand can stay dead after they have been offed in a “dispatch” attempt, so that 0.01% makes it a job that only a few are comfortable taking. And one day Tony ends up roped into helping the police investigate the disappearance of a fellow dispatcher, and that cracks open that proverbial can of metaphorical worms in Chicago criminal underbelly.
¹ You still *can* murder people even in this world, it will just take determination, planning and really sick and depraved personality. You’ll see.

Something about The Dispatcher brought back the memories of Scalzi’s Lock In series - the worldbuilding done vividly despite short length of the story, the relatability of the world created despite the out-there idea, the easy rapport and wonderful friendship chemistry between the investigative duo, and the heavy reliance on crisp dialogue that is done well. It’s straightforward and easy, and yet imaginative and immersive. Scalzi takes a concept that is ripe for lengthy philosophical musings about meaning of life and death and existence of higher power(s) and all that metaphysical heavy stuff — and instead just rolls with it, treating it as “well, this unexplainable thing happened, and we are all just figured out a way to integrate it in the everyday living”. And he does it quite well, and his interpretation of how these strange “miracles” would be integrated into the mundane is quite neat.

Will it change your life? I highly doubt that. But will it provide a couple of hours of enjoyable easy listening and Scalzi’s readability enhanced by Zachary Quinto’s voice? Most definitely.

3.5 - 4 stars.
———

Oh, and there’s a sequel? Alright then!
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,851 reviews16.4k followers
April 18, 2019
OK so you’re playing a video or computer game and you’re fighting monsters or shooting bad guys or finding treasure and then things start getting sideways. The dragon smacks you with his tail or the Serbian thugs score some hits or you drop into a pitfall and your hit points or energy level or whatever sinks to zero and you fade to black.

“Game over, man!” as Bill Paxton so ably stated in Alien 2. But wait! If you were in the 80s, you may not have to reach into your pocket for another quarter, or modern gamers may not need to reach for another mountain dew. Your character regenerates, or spawns, or comes back to life – maybe somewhere else or further back in the game than you were, but you get to keep playing.

Great idea man John Scalzi has given us a world where miraculously this same kind of thing happens in real life. In a Philip K. Dick like imagining, murder victims get a second chance, vanishing from the scene of the crime and popping back into reality, naked but alive back in their bed.

So now we have dispatchers. Legal and bonded, these unusual professionals hover around ICU wards and crash scenes and if it looks like the person is not going to make it, that they will die from their injuries, then they legally kill the person. Under the new and unexplained rules, as a murder victim, they almost instantly vanish and reappear at home and in bed. Almost always.

Scalzi tells a distinctive who-done-it within this innovative world building. Fast paced and describing the seedier sides of this phenomenal process, Scalzi is able to give us a very original and entertaining story.

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Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,909 followers
February 10, 2017
This one's a bit hard to classify because it's fully a mystery, a SF adventure, and a Fantasy, rolled in one. :)

Enter in a major universe-changing condition: 999 out of 1000 murdered people come back. They arrive naked in their homes after the moment of their death. There is always that one that doesn't, though.

Enter in the shady and the not-so-shady people who take advantage of this little universal loophole. Dangerous operations in hospitals can be reset for a couple of hours. Horrible accidents on the street can be erased, assuming that the person gets murdered in time. And bloodsports, of course.

There's always consequences, of course, but in this novella, so many of the little loopholes are explored nicely and there's a great little mystery-twist to tie it all together.

All told, I thought this was rather a little gem. :)
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,740 followers
October 23, 2019
What if anyone who gets murdered returned alive almost instantly? That sounds like an improvement for humanity, but just think about what it would do to Netflix’s stock price if new true crime documentaries were no longer a thing.

That’s the big idea here. For an unknown reason the nature of death changes one day. If someone is killed by another person their corpse vanishes, and they appear unharmed back in their homes. Only deaths from natural causes or accidents are permanent with only one in one thousand victims of violence not returning. Not only does this guarantee that the homicide rate drops to zero, it also offers opportunities for do-overs. Like if someone is getting surgery and they’re about to expire on the table, you could kill them instead, and then they’d reappear in the same shape they were just a few hours earlier. You aren’t fixing any long term health issues, but you could give doctors a second chance or save someone who was just in a car accident.

That’s where Tony Valdez comes in. He’s a government approved Dispatcher who is authorized to terminate people about to die so that they’ll return. A lot of people find what he does creepy or immoral since he has technically murdered over a thousand people, but Tony looks on it as saving lives, not taking them. However, when another Dispatcher vanishes, and there are signs of foul play Tony ends up reluctantly helping a detective by showing her some of the shady underground ways Dispatching is used.

This is a really intriguing concept, but unfortunately it was John Scalzi who came up with it. I’ve liked some of his books and generally think he’s entertaining, but the reason I stopped reading his stuff is that he relies almost exclusively on dialogue with almost no descriptions or deep dives into the sci-fi concepts he comes up with. This is a prime example because this is a pretty cool premise that opens up a whole bunch of potential storylines, and you could go crazy deep with some of them.

However, rather than sit down and really dig into that Scalzi is content to just toss together a quickie mystery that only hints at the bigger implications of what this would mean for the world. Yeah, he gives a few glimpses of it, but it’s mostly just relayed from Tony to the detective in exposition. There’s only a tiny bit of acknowledgement paied to how this would be a massive game changer in terms of religion, philosophy, and science.

Still, as a free Audible Original read by Zachery Quinto, it’s a fun two-hour listen. I just wish that a writer willing and capable of really making a meal out of this idea had come up with it.
Profile Image for Erin *Proud Book Hoarder*.
2,388 reviews1,056 followers
May 4, 2017
An interesting, "different" Urban Fantasy. Short in length at just shy of 140 pages, it mainly stands as a paranormally-touched novel with a noirish detective vibe. The main character may not be a cop, but he gets involved with an actual detective to help solve the mystery of where he old friend and co-worker has disappeared to. The noir vibe comes from the gritty dialogue exchanges when interrogating suspects and following leads. Throw in big crime bosses and secret cover-ups, and this comes across more mystery than fantasy.

As to the fantasy aspect, the world-building is certainly different. If you get murdered, you come back to life. Other causes of death - natural, aging, suicide, accidents, etc. - will leave you dead. The world doesn't know why or how it works, it just knows it does, so there are certain trained individuals called 'dispatchers' who treat it as a job. They frequently make their rounds at the hospital, with state licenses, to wait for failed surgeries or accidental victims to be willed in. If they know the patient is dying, they kill them first in a particular way, thus changing the cause of death to murder and giving the patient a chance at life again.

It sounds a little silly but there's complexities involved and it comes across pretty cool. The bulk of the story is spent explaining loopholes and pretty much everything you could wonder about this ability. Religion, morals, history, you name it. Written in a dialogue heavy style, the book keeps that intriguing exchange going strong to cause the pages to keep flying by. Not only is the book short, but the writing style makes it pass by even quicker.

If you're in the mood for something very different and well-written, but that won't take up a lot of time, try this one on for size. An honest review has been written after receiving from netgalley
Profile Image for Snjez.
717 reviews349 followers
August 1, 2021
This was a very enjoyable short story. I liked that it was pretty direct and straightforward. The concept was very interesting, as well as the moral and ethical questions that arise from it, and the mystery part was done really well.
I loved Tony Valdez as the main character. There was almost something film noir about him.

5 stars for Zachary Quinto's narration. His beautiful, warm and soothing voice was perfect for this story and he did a wonderful job giving each character their own voice and personality.

*******
Re-read 8/2021
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,862 reviews1,897 followers
January 30, 2021
This was a Kindleborrow from my friend Roni. Thanks, ol' buddy ol' pal!

The Publisher Says: One day, not long from now, it becomes almost impossible to murder anyone—999 times out of a thousand, anyone who is intentionally killed comes back. How? We don’t know. But it changes everything: war, crime, daily life.

Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher—a licensed, bonded professional whose job is to humanely dispatch those whose circumstances put them in death’s crosshairs, so they can have a second chance to avoid the reaper. But when a fellow Dispatcher and former friend is apparently kidnapped, Tony learns that there are some things that are worse than death, and that some people are ready to do almost anything to avenge what they see as a wrong.

It’s a race against time for Valdez to find his friend before it’s too late…before not even a Dispatcher can save him.

My Review: There is nothing quite so satisfying as an idea that exactly fits into its chosen format. Subterranean Press, genre-publishing monadnock for almost a quarter century, will make novellas available in hardcover, will collect the stories of genre-famous writers that ordinary houses wouldn't deign to notice (eg, Elizabeth Bear , whose collected short work is coming soon), will do all this with style and elegance and attention to quality unrivaled in modern publishing. This novella is no exception. Its limited edition, illustrated by Vincent Chong, whose work you should *definitely* go look at, is sold out; its trade edition is sold out; the ebook is available, and it's got the lovely illustrations scaled for your ereader's screen.

It ain't the Real Thing, but it's darn good.

Scalzi's story here is uniquely his, the way only he could re-fashion the story of unexplained resurrection. The dead coming back...but only if they died by misadventure (a politer way of saying "got murdered)...has no obvious explanation. Scalzi doesn't supply one. Arguments about why the murdered or otherwise killed before their body's natural death are endless. And the return itself becomes bureaucratized at the behest of insurance companies and governments. Of course. This is humanity we're talking about.

But in that larger, sadder framework, Author Scalzi's made stories of what the ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances will do. Must do. Crave the miracle? It's yours...but!

Why's there always a "but"? Dunno...but the "but" here is there are loopholes and limitations like there always are in bureaucracies. Why these should apply on a quantum level will keep religions in business and still reduce the murder rate by a large fraction. If someone is determined to murder someone else, there's always a way. It's a horrible way, but it works, and if you hate someone enough to murder them, its awfulness won't bother you.

A further "but" involves the revolting kind of human being who will pay to see men slaughter each other. Anyone who's read or seen Altered Carbon will recognize the Meth's entertainment of causing, watching, lusting after sleeve-death. This resurrection, of the actual personal body of the slain (albeit a certain number of hours younger than it was at the time of death), precludes Morgan's convenient stack-death or Neo-Catholic prohibition on being spun back up. It means the resurrected knows who killed them. It means the resurrected can identify a murderer. Unsurprisingly this drops the manslaughter rate. Can't charge someone with a crime, though, since the victim isn't dead. Assault maybe...but!

Then there are people whose bodies are slowly betraying them, who need surgeries and/or treatments that might cause death. Imagine how that's going to affect the surgeons. Insurance companies meddle enough in the quest to avoid paying out on their policies. Now there are Dispatchers (why the capital D, for goodness's sake?) whose sole job it is to finish killing a dying patient so they'll wake up in a pre-trauma state of health, no worse for the surgery that killed them. This is where we meet Tony. He dispatches an old man who didn't survive heart surgery. He faces down an angry surgeon and a hospital staff pissed at him but without recourse because the money says this is what has to happen.

And *then* it gets weird.

Tony's friend and fellow dispatcher Jimmy is missing. There's nary a lead in this disappearance; well, there's a hint that Jimmy might've been involved in some morally dark grey/legally light grey dispatchings. Things that Tony was also involved in once upon a time. In fact, Jimmy got his start in the grey areas with Tony. Who better to help the Chicago Police Department investigate?

Tony's recruited, much against his will, to assist the police with their inquiries. Jimmy's wife spews hate and venom all over Tony for those problems from the past, and even threatens to run him down if she can since he'll just wake up naked in his own bed. The cop looks calmly on, resumes questioning, and the thread that Jimmy's wife accidentally picks out of the cloth of her marriage is the one that ultimately leads to the solution of a terrible, vile crime, the restoration of the scales of justice, and the end of the first episode.

Say what now? You see, the eight chapters in here constitute an excellent two-hour pilot script for a TV series I'd watch the hell out of. I like Tony, his policelady partner-in-crime, and the Chicago they inhabit. It's the kind of light entertainment that leads to much deeper thought and discussion if one's so inclined. How does the quantum field know someone's murdered? How would gawd justify allowing some to die, like by stupid accidents and illness, but allow the murdered to return, to get a second chance? What kind of crap laws will make it onto the books to ensure the rich stay rich and the banksters get their vig?

Pick it up, FX! Buy it now, TBS! This could, in modestly competent hands, be a water-cooler series. The nudity precludes Fox, The CW, CBS, NBC, or ABC from taking it on, but it's basic-cable ready. It's not quite highbrow enough for Prime or Netflix, and I want nothing good to happen to Disney+ because if y'all think Amazon's evil go do some research on the Reedy Creek MUD in Orlando. Dig a little into Anas Abdin's plagiarism claims over Star Trek: Discovery. These scumbags...

Well, never mind, I'm gonna leave it here with a rousing exhortation to go get you a copy of this delightful short read. Then let's all holler until someone in LaLaLand hears and obeys the injunction to film, film, film!
Profile Image for Sr3yas.
223 reviews995 followers
November 24, 2021
3.5 Stars

Imagine you are playing a video game. You are walking down the street with a Bazooka in your hand to complete your mission and some jackass throws a grenade at your face.... and you dies. (spectacularly)

What happens next?
You respawn and go on with your game life.

Now imagine a world where that happens in real life. Whenever someone gets murdered, they respawn without a scratch. So whenever some poor bastard gets mortally wounded in an accident, the best thing someone (Read: Dispatchers) can do for him to save him.... is to kill him.


Seriously.

Two little rules though.
1. You must get murdered to respawn. Suicides and natural accidents don't count. (Again, seriously)
2. There is a 0.1% chance that the whole respawning business might not work even for the eligible candidates. In that case, they really die.

The Dispatchers reads like a pilot episode for a regular Sci-fi TV show featuring a handsome male lead acting as a consultant for law enforcement and a tough female cop who joins forces with the consultant to solve an odd case. The selling point of the story would be the bizarre setting and the chemistry between the leads. (You know, like Castle, Dresden files, Fringe, The Mentalist and so on)

This is a very quick read and it is undeniably well written. But other than its eccentric premise (which is conveniently written off as a "miracle"), there isn't anything Earth-shattering here.
"You look disturbed. What happened?"
"I was murdered today."

But it is fun.
Profile Image for Char .
1,614 reviews1,464 followers
October 25, 2016
Zachary Quinto's narration is exceptional, but the story itself left me... wanting. I noted some dialogue quirks that irritated me, (a few cliches and a lot of he saids, she saids), but I did like the story. I just ended up vaguely unsatisfied.
Thanks for the free audio available through Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/FREE-The-Dispa...
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,004 reviews2,596 followers
March 28, 2017
4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2017/03/28/...

Imagine a world where it is nearly impossible to kill anyone. In The Dispatcher, John Scalzi’s sci-fi novella which takes place in the not-so-far future, this is exactly the state of affairs. One day, people simply woke up to this new game changer. If you committed suicide, you stayed dead. If you died in an accident, you stayed dead. If you passed away due to illness, you stayed dead. But for some bizarre reason, if you were murdered, your body would mysteriously awaken back to life, naked and whole in your home. In 999 times out of a 1000, those whose lives were intentionally ended by someone else would return to the living like this. No one knows why, no one knows how, no one has any clue what it all means. But what they do know, is that the world is forever changed by this phenomenon.

A good case in point, our protagonist Tony Valdez is a man whose job was created by the government as a result of this new reality. He is a Dispatcher—a trained and licensed professional killer. True, the terms of his position may dictate that he dispatch his clients as quickly and humanely as possible, and there are many rules surrounding his work contracts. But at the end of the day, Tony is aware that his presence is only ever requested when here’s a potential need for him to take a life. For instance, a good number of his assignments involve him being on hand at operating rooms in hospitals, just in case the surgery goes horribly wrong and a patient needs a second chance. In such a situation, Tony would deliver a special “payload” to the dying patient’s brain which would result in their death, essentially murdering them—then BOOM, patient reappears in their home, alive to attempt going under the knife another day.

Of course, not all Dispatchers follow the rules. As someone who used to pick up unofficial and lucrative “private” jobs under the table, Tony knows there are still plenty of his fellow Dispatchers who are doing these illegal gigs on the side. So when one of them goes missing, Tony teams up with a police detective to find out if his colleague’s illicit activities might have led to his disappearance.

With Lock In and now The Dispatcher, I truly think John Scalzi has entered a new phase of his career. While his style has always been quite readable to me, in this book I started to see a new level of polish and elegance in his writing. He seems to have moved past his issue with dialogue tags and the excessive “he saids, she saids”, for one thing. For another, gone is much of the “popcorn humor” his previous books are known for. Though it wouldn’t be fair to say The Dispatcher is completely devoid of levity, for the most part this novella is a very serious endeavor, featuring some thought-provoking yet morbid themes. It may be a short book, but it sure packs a lot of substance.

It’s also clear that much consideration has been put into the concept. While it’s true that the book never ends up giving an explanation for why people who are murdered just start coming back to life, I never really saw that as the point—rather, I looked at The Dispatcher as an interesting thought experiment, and the premise was simply there to provide a framework. What would happen if people couldn’t kill each other anymore? Would it hold people back from their impulses, or would it actually embolden them and make them more reckless, so that we would have secret fight clubs fought with hammers or college kids LARPing in the park with real swords and axes? How might people exploit this new phenomenon, or use Dispatchers to their advantage? What would it do to the world’s views on war, crime, healthcare, religion and pretty much everything in our daily lives?
This book explores all these questions and more, touching upon the social effects on a population level, as well as the physical, moral, and psychological implications on a more personal level.
Best of all, woven though all of this is a great story. The Dispatcher gives off vibes of sci-fi crime noire mixed with a little bit of urban fantasy, making it a little tough to categorize, but what comes through strongly is the solid mystery plot. For a novella, I also thought it was very well-paced, with no filler scenes or lulls. All told, the story was riveting from start to finish, making this one a super quick read.

In sum, this is a book I would highly recommend. Even though I love Scalzi’s science fiction and humor, I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing him write more like this, or even expand The Dispatcher universe with future stories since there’s so much potential and possibilities to explore. He has truly created something special here, reminding me once again why he is one of my favorite authors.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,599 reviews1,664 followers
October 5, 2016
I liked this! (Big surprise there. I've liked everything Scalzi has written.) This novella really acts like a proof of concept, though. We learn about the world, but we don't learn why, and we don't get into the nitty gritty of it all. It's like an urban fantasy murder mystery where the murder victims can't actually be murdered. I would like more of them, please!

Heads up, this is a free Audible novella narrated by Zachary Quinto. It's only free for the next month, so jump on it, people.
Profile Image for Tim.
2,109 reviews191 followers
September 20, 2020
This excellent short story is something different that moves at a brisk pace. Hopefully, there is a novel forthcoming. 8 of 10 stars
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,034 reviews566 followers
August 30, 2019
Imagine a world in which it’s no longer possible to murder someone or to kill another through warfare. Well that world exists, here in this short but memorable tale. It’s not clear why this is the case but if you are shot, stabbed or even run over by a car – pretty much any death other than natural causes or suicide, in fact – you will almost certainly wake up at home, naked and alive. In this world there exists the role of a dispatcher whose job it is to finish off anyone who is unfortunate enough to have suffered hideous injury but might just be about to double down on their bad luck by surviving to live on in misery or in constant pain. Much better to be terminated and then wake up returned to the health they were enjoying before the unfortunate event.

Tony Valdez is a man who is licensed to dispatch and we follow him in the execution (excuse the pun) of his duties and learn that a colleague of his seems to have recently disappeared. From this point the story plays out as an intriguing mystery, as Tony is persuaded to help track down the missing man. It’s a very clever story indeed as we learn more about the nuanced world in which Tony operates – it seems that things aren’t quite as straightforward as we were at first led to believe.

Some detailed thought has gone into the planning of this story and it delivers up a satisfying brain teaser. It’s my kind of science fiction and I can’t help but admire the imagination that has brought it to life. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Heather K (dentist in my spare time).
3,843 reviews5,556 followers
May 13, 2017
*3.5 stars*

I'm into books that are different with cool concepts, and this is certainly one of them. I LOVED the ideas in The Dispatcher, but I felt like it was a bit too one-note.

In the world of The Dispatcher, no one can be murdered. Or, I should say, if they get killed by another person, they come back to life. Thus, when someone is about to die, they have someone murder them on purpose so they can come right back to life.

Right away, I had 1,000,000 questions. I wanted to know the WHYS sooooo badly. And the hows, and the details! The details! But we don't get any of that. It is sort of, shruggy shoulders, just accept it. I didn't want to just accept it.

They mystery wasn't very mysterious, and I'm not sure it was supposed to be. I wanted the whole book to be more sci-fi, but I was engaged the whole time. It is a short, easy read, so it will please all readers with short attention spans.

While I liked the gist of the story, I think I just wanted more overall.

*Copy provided in exchange for an honest review*
Profile Image for * A Reader Obsessed *.
2,103 reviews432 followers
November 29, 2020
3.5 Stars

This is quite the interesting AU where an unknown phenomena has occurred in our world. People who are intentionally killed (aka murdered) don’t die, and awaken where they feel most safe, finding themselves alive and perfectly well.

To say the least, crime has changed and evolved to accommodate such, and agents known as Dispatchers, are available for all sorts of situations, lessening the death rate even more. They’re the fail safe to many things such as surgery, accidents, or high risk situations, preemptively killing those legally so they can survive to live another day.

With such a fascinating premise and setup, this introduces Dispatcher Tony Valdez, and shows a day in the life highlighting the pros and cons as well as the risks, all the while being sucked into a missing person case against his better judgement.

I found this alternate reality compelling. It didn’t hurt that this is a free bonus listen for those who have an Audible subscription. Regardless, I think it garners a look see whether you read or listen, but know that actor Zachary Quinto narrates and does a great job bringing this interesting mystery to life!
Profile Image for Mike.
478 reviews370 followers
November 28, 2016
This was a really fun, quick listen (since it is an audio book), pretty much what I have come to expect from Scalzi but with the added bonus of Spock (Zacharay Quinto) reading it to me.

This book very much reminded me of Legion by Brandon Sanderson. Both novellas drop the reader into a world that is very much like ours, but with one difference. In Legion it is a man who can conjure (but not dismiss) hallucinations that are extremely knowledgeable in a given subject area. In this one people, save for a small percentage, cannot be murdered. They simply reappear in their homes, naked, after they are killed. The reader is not there at the beginning of these happenings, but several years after they have started, after the world has somewhat gotten used to them. The narrators of both are outsiders due to their circumstances and provide a unique perspective on the problem at hand. They are by no means perfect, but are interesting characters in their own way.

What I have always liked best about science fiction (though this could arguably be fantasy however the impact is the same) was how good authors can take one or two changes to society and extrapolate its affects on society down to the banal such as insurance, operating room politics, and mob hits. This book is no exception and I delighted in the creative ways Scalzi tweaked our modern society to adjust for the change in his world. It was really neat and I we can get more stories in their universe going forward. It is marked by Scalzi's trademarked sarcastic wit, but was a bit lighter on the humor than most of his other works, not that it detracted from the story at all.

The mystery itself was both neat and tragic. I will say it isn't too intricate of a mystery, since I was able to guess it well ahead of the reveal, but it was well constructed and populated with lots of interesting characters. I especially liked the "mob family trying to got legit" characters and the cop that drags the protagonist into the mystery. If you have a few hours to kill this is a great option for temporal assassination.
Profile Image for Will M..
304 reviews615 followers
March 5, 2018
Very first Scalzi book that I read and I'm quite disappointed with myself because why haven't I read his other novels? I own a bunch of them and keep ignoring them on my shelf. I'm really glad that audible had a deal on this short story weeks ago for just $0.99.

This novel is way too short but really packed a good plot and terrific writing. The whole idea of being a dispatcher was really interesting and explained well even though it's just a short story. I will be reading more of Scalzi's work really soon. Really impressed with this, and my only problem is that why is this so short?
Profile Image for Bookwraiths.
698 reviews1,029 followers
February 27, 2018
Originally reviewed at Bookwraiths.

John Scalzi has really struck gold with his new urban fantasy novella, The Dispatcher. This tale a fast-paced, easily digested murder mystery, which is tightly constructed, amazingly simple yet immensely thought provoking. Simply put, this is one damn good read.

Set in the near future, the world is basically identical to our own – except it is impossible to kill anyone. Yes, you can die by natural causes, accident, or suicide, but no one can kill you. Murder is practically impossible, as in you have better odds of being hit by lightning and dying than being killed by a murderer. And no one knows how or why this change in the natural order has taken place. Some believe it is a sign from God. Others point to more fantastical cause, while the rational develop scientific explanations. But what everyone agrees on is that the whole world is now transforming!

Think on the consequences of this single change to death. How do people now fight wars? Is crime of a deadly nature even a threat anymore? How does the death penalty work? Does God really exist? And, more importantly to the governments of the world, how can this phenomenon be controlled?

Well, the answer to the last question are the Dispatchers. These duly trained and licensed government killers monitored, watched, and assigned job duties. Our main character, Tony Valdez, one of them, and he generally works hospitals, always on hand if an ER patient is about to die or an operation goes horribly wrong. In those situations, Tony will put a payload (bullet) in the patients brain so that they do not die a natural death but are murdered; this resulting in their reappearance at their home without any injuries; their life saved. Tony himself feeling no guilt at the “murder”he has committed since no one dies but come back to life. In a strange way, Tony feels he is almost acting as people’s guardian angel.

But there is always a dark side to everything. Even this amazing and seemingly benevolent banishment of murder perverted into something dark and twisted. Some dispatchers selling their services to crime lords, fight clubs, and even less savory enterprises. Others working illegal, unmonitored jobs as the dispatcher for people in dangerous jobs who might prefer to be murdered rather than be disfigured or have life changing injuries.

But Tony isn’t much impacted by the shady side of things until one day when a detective shows up. This investigator announces that one of Tony’s old friends has disappeared, and she believes that he might have been caught up in the dark underbelly of the dispatchers,. And, quickly, tony finds himself coerced into a thrilling murder mystery, where even he might not be completely safe!

Without a doubt, John Scalzi is at his writing best with this novella. The pacing is near perfect, sped along by the constant dialogue and thrilling reveals, even as the usual Scalzi humor adds a bit of levity to the serious tone. And the concept is extraordinary, complex, and develops into a believable reality, where the characters discuss the miraculous in terms of societal, philosophical and religious impact without ever coming across as preachy. This mixture of urban fantasy, scifi, and crime noire elements really a delectable brew.

To sum up, I highly recommend this novella to everyone. It is great fun to read and has loads of potential to become a full blown series for Scalzi. Plus, at 136 pages, The Dispatcher is the perfect length for a read during lunch or during a long commute home. Give it a try. I think you will enjoy it.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.
Profile Image for Robin (Bridge Four).
1,587 reviews1,466 followers
November 12, 2018
This was so interesting. Imagine a world where if you are murdered you wake up in your bed in the same level of heath as you were about 12-24 hours before. A world where it is someone’s job to murder dispatch someone if they are going to die unexpectedly. It is kinda like getting another life in a video game if you do it right.

John Scalzi made this an incredibly interesting story about what society would be like. Hospitals would have a dispatcher on staff and they could basically get you a do over. It also makes certain crimes a lot harder when you know that the person you killed could come back and identify you.

I really enjoyed this story and the team up of Tony the dispatcher with a detective to find his friend and a fellow dispatcher who has disappeared. This leads us down a bit of a twisted road and it was a lot of fun to see what the world might look like if murder wasn’t really a problem anymore and how others would capitalize on this loop hole to life.

Great short story with some interesting concepts. I’d read more about this world for sure.

Audio: Zacharay Quito did a really good job with this and I enjoyed his narration.
Profile Image for Mimi.
691 reviews188 followers
May 23, 2017
3.5 stars

This is an interesting police procedural with an interesting hook that you don’t find out until somewhat later in the story. Or at least I didn’t find out until it happened. That caught me of guard and, at the same time, pulled me further into the plot. Best way to get into this story, or any short form fiction, is to not know anything about it.

Since it’s so short there’s not much to say without giving the hook away, but I’ll try anyway.

Set in present time Chicago and it actually feels like Chicago and not, say, New York or some other generic urban sprawl. The writing is short, to the point, and what we come to expect from John Scalzi. He doesn’t mince words or beat a morally gray topic to death. He has a minimalist style that I like.

We’re introduced to Tony Valdez just as he’s about to enter the OR, not as a patient or doctor, but a dispatcher. He’s there as insurance, so to speak, to make sure everything goes “smoothly.” What he is and what his job entails is the hook.

Shortly after the operation, Tony finds out that a friend and colleague has gone missing, and he’s pressured by a detective to help her solve the case. She thinks the job has something to do with his disappearance. The investigation reveals all the gray areas of what dispatchers do off the books and all the ways in which life and death could be just a game.

And I admit I’m hooked. I hope this is just the beginning and that Scalzi has long term plans because there’s still so much left to explore. Crime statistics, law enforcement, religion, politics, the tenuous definition of homicide in this new age of mortality--an endless trove of gray topics to take on.

I’m not a fan of short form fiction, so this novella feels somewhat incomplete even though loose ends are tied up and most questions are answered. But if this becomes a procedural series and each book an episode, I could totally get behind that.

Cross-posted at https://covers2covers.wordpress.com/2...
Profile Image for Laurie  (barksbooks).
1,706 reviews661 followers
February 26, 2018
This story takes place in a world where insurance companies employ dispatchers to help prevent the costly premature death that failed surgery often presents. They’re present during surgery and if the patient is on the edge of death they are there to zap them with a lethal dosage of premature death. Then the person usually awakens naked and good as new in their home rather than dead and buried and saddling their families with grief and lots of expenses.

See in this world if you die naturally you’re gone for good but if it’s accidental or due to murder you typically come back. Why? Who knows. No one knows! You just have to go with it. You’ll drive yourself crazy waiting for answers if you’re a questioning type like me.

Of course with this type of scenario certain reckless morons do stupid reckless things like cutting off each other’s arms for fun or joining a fight to the almost death club. Thus the shadier dispatchers step up to earn a little side cash to fix the mess and keep it quiet. Who can blame a guy for wanting to make a few extra bucks? But this type of work comes back to haunt our main character when a former colleague goes missing.

A mystery ensues and this is where my tired brain started to shut off and daydream about chocolate cupcakes and my next book. Needless to say, it wasn’t able to fully engage me after the enthralling beginning but that may be my fault. I went into this one blind and vaguely remembering that I read somewhere online that Scalzi was a funny writer. Or maybe I've mixed him up with someone else? I didn’t find this one funny but it may be an anomaly or I may have no sense of humor. Either way, it was just okay in the end.

If you have the chance and inclination, check out the audio version narrated by Zachary Quinto. He does a fine, fine job with the material.
Profile Image for Jen - The Tolkien Gal.
446 reviews4,401 followers
April 19, 2018
"Are they afraid of you because you kill people?"
"No. They're afraid of me because I'm closer to God than they could ever be."


(I apologise for the copious Zachary Quinto gifs in advance. I just love him)

Image result for zachary quinto spock quotes

The Dispatchers is my first John Scalzi, and it's a pretty satisfactory read.

Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher - a licensed and trained professional who kills people for a living. He "dispatches" people who are in the process of dying from an accident, an operation or some less than savoury acts. The dispatchees arrive home safely, naked and healthy on their bed.

The opening of this Audible Original was great. It starts off with Tony waiting patiently in an operating room. A pissed off doctor rains hell down on him because she believes a Dispatcher won't be needed. Well, she'd be wrong. Tony is filling in for a fellow Dispatcher, Jimmy, who called in to swap out shifts.

But then Jimmy goes missing, and a whole lot of trouble creeps its way into Tony's uninteresting life.

There is no ground-breaking realisation at the end and certainly no plot-twist. The character and world set-up are fantastic in the beginning, but ultimately I felt that there was very little character development. Because Valdez was such a monotonous and calm character, I thought that Scalzi might have played around with his character by throwing him in so many complex situations.

Also, I feel as though introducing possible antagonists in a mystery novel in the last hour or so detracts from the suspense and anxiety-induction that I love in a good who-dunnit.

Some of the concepts (like how to murder someone even if most murdered people come back) are delightful.

I loved the banter between Langdon and Valdez. Again, I loved the characters in this performance, but there was very little development and the chemistry remained untested waters.

The Audible performance really redeemed this book for me. Zachary Quinto throws aside your preconceived idea of him as Spock (which I had) and you'll find he really does The Dispatchers justice with a stellar performance.

Image result for zachary quinto spock quotes

I think I've looked at this novel a little too much into the nitty-gritty and technicalities of this one, but ultimately it was a solid read.

Image result for zachary quinto spock quotes

I'll definitely be checking out Scalzi's other work. I'm just hoping for something longer and a little more satisfying. I think the Dispatchers could work really well as a TV series.
Profile Image for Veronique.
1,219 reviews165 followers
December 3, 2020
Re-read in time for second instalment

A free audiobook novella is something I wouldn’t refuse as such, but one written by John Scalzi, one of my favourite scifi authors, and performed by Zachary Quinto, is something altogether impossible to ignore!

The story follows Tony Valdez, a ‘dispatcher’, working for an insurance company and about to witness a surgery procedure. Through this scene we are introduced to the concept of dispatching - murdered people return to life 99.9% of the time, reappearing naked in their home (reminded me of the TV series Forever with Ioan Gruffudd). It is quite a crazy idea but Scalzi pulls it off and portrays a pretty intriguing world, seemingly exactly like ours but for this major difference, and its implications. The narrative quickly turns into a murder mystery and a race against time when a detective enlists Tony’s help to find a fellow dispatcher, and Tony’s former friend, who has disappeared in strange circumstances. And this is where it gets even more interesting. How can you have a murder when people just pop back to life? Trust the author to find a way.

The combination of film noire thriller with urban fantasy works really well and I was completely taken into the story. How much of that was due to the text, or the narration - hard to say. More than likely both. The novella was designed for audio consumption after all, paying particular attention to the dialogue, making it as realistic as possible, and getting rid of those pesky “he said/she said”.

There are worse ways to use 2.5 hours of your time :O)
Profile Image for Faith.
1,821 reviews499 followers
September 29, 2020
This novella is a mystery with an intriguing concept. For unexplained reasons, almost all murder victims no longer remain dead, they just pop back into their lives unharmed. Dispatchers are tasked with killing people who are about to die (for example as the result of high risk surgery). They get to go on living, and there are no messy insurance claims. Tony Valdez is a dispatcher and when one of his colleagues goes missing the police ask him to explore the world of off-the-record dispatching to try to find him. Aside from the novel underlying premise, this is detective fiction. It’s so short that that really isn’t any character development, but the plot held my interest and I will read the sequel. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for Jane.
384 reviews602 followers
April 7, 2019
4.5 stars for the Audible version

This was a quick listen (2h 20m) that I had been putting off, I think mostly because the cover and blurb just didn't do it for me. Well, you know what they say about judging books by their covers ;) An interesting premise (murder victims don't stay dead), and a great main character (likeable but not squeaky clean) were combined to make a fantastic story!

Reminiscent for me of Lock In, it nicely blends some SF ideas into a mystery plot. I didn't find the story to be nearly as dark as the cover/blurb had led me to believe. My only complaint, really, is that the story was just so darn short. I'd just gotten myself fully immersed in the universe and it was over.

Narrator Zachary Quinto was good, but I found he did not enunciate quite as clearly as Scalzi regular Wil Wheaton. My average listening speed is usually somewhere between 1.2x and 1.3x, but I had to slow this right down to 1x. That said, he did a nice job on the different characters, and his voice was very pleasant overall.

I'd love to have another visit in this universe -- hopefully there will be more Dispatcher in the future!
Profile Image for Stevie Kincade.
153 reviews98 followers
October 25, 2016
This is a free 2.5 hour audio novella available on Audible from the author of "Redshirts" and narrated by this guy:



This is one of those books with a bizarre supernatural premise, it is not Science Fiction. It is a mystery built around a strange idea. The mystery will be solved, the strange premise will not be explained.
I tend to dislike bizarre supernatural premises but if you can go along with it, Scalzi's dialogue is excellent and Quinto's performance is brilliant.

I don't think there is any point talking about plot in a 2.5 hour audiobook. There is no time for it to be boring. I kind of groaned a little once I understood the premise but for what it was, it was a very well done novella.

In the Redshirt's audiobook the dialogue famously went:

"Bla bla" John Said
"Mm Hm" Fred Said
"OIC" John Said
"Yup Yup" Fred Said

For HOURS and HOURS after which you either grew completely used to it and barely noticed it, or it drove you absolutely crazy. It certainly sparked some discussion that when a narrator is voice acting they should not have to slavishly recite every single "John said" - when it's clear that John is saying something.

So thankfully the dialogue here is tailored specifically for audiobook and nary a "John said" was noticed.

Quinto was fascinating to listen to as he was able to embody whichever character he was voicing. I was super impressed with his female characters and there was a particularly emotional scene that was quite hard to listen to.

I think there is definitely a gap in the audiobook market for short stories and novella's. The problem is getting the pricing right. Sometimes I don't really want to start a new audiobook when I have 2 hours left in my work day (I tend to listen to podcasts then). In that case a 2 hour novella would be perfect. If I was paying $1 or so I would think that is a good deal for everyone.

Should you listen to this? At the price of free from an author and narrator this good - ABSOLUTELY. Unless of course you HATE bizarre premises that are never explained.

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