The Dispatcher by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
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 payed to how this would be a massive game changer in terms of religion, philosophy, and science, too.
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.
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