The Dispatcher by John Scalzi
Digital Audiobook narrated by Zachary Quinto
Published by Subterranean Press on May 31, 2017
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction
Length: 130 pages or 2 hours, 18 minutes
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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 a supposed 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.
So conceptually, this sounded really interesting. This is a world where people don’t have to die. If you’re murdered, you get to come back in a place that feels comfortable and safe, reverted to a few hours before your death. Our protagonist is a Dispatcher, meaning that he’s on call for things like medical emergencies, tidily “dispatching” the patient so they don’t die from the procedure.
I expected to learn more about this world, but honestly, this is more like… an episode of NCIS. Someone is missing, so a law official connects with another dispatcher to understand how the system works. Most of the story is conversation between Officer Langdon and Tony Valdez. There’s a lot of bouncing back and forth of ideas, and explaining. It’s really more like a science-fiction crime episode than an exciting story. I’m not sure if it’s because of Zachary Quinto’s narration or just me being generally disinterested in style of the writing… but I was bored.
There’s not enough time for the characters to develop, because this is a novella. The world is well-developed in about a half-hour conversation between Langdon and Valdez. Everyone is flat, so it’s difficult to dig my fingers in and really care about the characters. Additionally, this appears to be a one-off, so there’s no gradual development over a series of short stories.
As far as plot goes, I feel like there’s not really enough information to make it predictable, but the end result isn’t really a surprise, either. Again, this is all to do with the emotional investment of the story. I didn’t know enough about Jimmy to really care about where he’d gone, and I didn’t know enough about the various players to be able to dig in and guess. So much of the short time we had was spent explaining the concept of dispatching that there wasn’t enough space to flesh out things and create an emotional connection.
The one thing The Dispacher had going for it was the length. I don’t think I could have dealt with the story for more than two and a half hours of listening. The pacing was slow. And, in this case, Zachary Quinto’s narration was flat. Using celebrities to read books can go either way – sometimes they’re wonderful, sometimes they’re horrible. In this case, I really feel like with a different narration, some inflection would have added to the suspense of a story that otherwise seemed to go on forever.
I guess this book would be fine for those who like crime podcasts and have an interest in science fiction. It never felt like a full and interesting story to me, but this is just slightly further off the edge of crime fiction than what I enjoy. If you’re into crime fiction, check it out. For me, I got this as a free bonus from Audible one month, so I’m not complaining too much. But I don’t think I would buy it, and if it was any longer, I’d’ve probably DNF’d it.
Do you like crime stories? I do, but it depends on the story? I think I’m more into psychological thrillers like Gone Girl than procedural ones like these. If you’ve got any great recommendations, let me know in the comments!