I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Dispatcher by John Scalzi
Published by Subterranean Press on May 31 2017
Genres: Adult, Science fiction
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The nitty-gritty: An awesome sci-fi concept with limitless possibilities, with plenty of action and emotion to make this a novella you won’t want to miss.
“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.” ~ Tony Valdez
This may be a science fiction tale with a really cool concept—when someone is murdered, their body disappears (poof!) and pops up later in their home, naked and fully alive and unharmed—but the above quote is what this story is really about. Scalzi has written a thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking novella that explores ideas like loyalty, revenge, and the moral implications of being able to commit murder without consequences. I’ve been in the mood for shorter fiction lately—having the attention span of a gnat these days, what with all the stuff going on in my life—so Scalzi’s latest was just what I needed.
Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher, a professional who is hired to kill people. But he’s not your traditional hit man. You see, about ten years ago or so, it was discovered that murdering someone resulted in that person coming back to life. If they died of an accident, illness, natural causes or suicide, the person would stay dead. But murder? Not so much. This has led to guys like Tony being hired to keep watch over, for example, patients undergoing tricky surgeries who may not make it. If it looks like the surgery is about to go south, Tony steps in, delivers a fatal “payload” to the patient, and a few seconds later, the patient winds up back in his own home, alive and well. Tony makes a good living at dispatching, even though he occasionally grapples with the moral aspects of what he’s doing.
But one day, a fellow Dispatcher named Jimmy turns up missing, and Tony is asked by the detective in charge to aid in the investigation. Their twisty journey to discover the truth about Jimmy leads them to some unexpected people and places, where not everyone plays by the rules.
Although I’m calling this “science fiction,” what I loved about this story is that Scalzi completely skips over the reasons for why people come back after they’re murdered, and it actually didn’t bother me at all. No one really knows why this happens, they just accept it at face value. It was refreshing to read a story that doesn’t need to delve into a bunch of scientific jargon in order to explain something strange. It is what it is, that’s Scalzi’s approach, and it worked for me.
What he does take time to explain, however, are all the social and emotional ramifications of being able to murder someone without consequences. Tony makes big bucks as a Dispatcher, and he’s convinced himself that he’s actually helping people by murdering them. And as commonplace as Dispatchers are, people are still freaked out by the whole experience, and many don’t even like Dispatchers. When I found out what happened to Jimmy, and the events leading up to his disappearance, I was surprised at the emotional impact it had on me. Scalzi does a great job of layering his story so that those emotions come out of nowhere. It’s one reason I keep going back to his books.
There are some shocking moments in The Dispatcher as well as emotional ones, I was happy to discover. Because who doesn’t love being shocked?? There is one particularly delightful scene with an elevator shaft that…well, you’re just going to have to read the book for yourself. After you have, we can both cackle with glee over how brilliant it was!
The book has illustrations by Vincent Chong scattered throughout—even my eARC had them, and I thought they were a wonderful addition to the story. I’m tempted to buy a hardcover so I can look at them more closely. You can check out the illustrations on Chong’s website here.
And I can’t end this review without saying that this would make a fantastic TV series! It’s got a great hook and a compelling main character, and I can imagine all sorts of places this story could go.
If you’re in the mood for a science fiction mystery full of twists, one with a gut-punch of emotion at the end, then you’re going to want to pick up The Dispatcher.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.