The Dispatcher by John Scalzi: Audiobook Review


This is a short story with roots in science fiction. It is a nice little mystery about 2 hours long. It was one of the freebies Audible gives to members each month, so I gave it a listen. Before we get into the story, I need to set the backdrop.

Sometimes they come back.

A man goes on vacation with his wife. Unbeknownst to him, she is having an affair. Furthermore, she intends to leave him. Thus, as he is sightseeing at the edge of a cliff she sees an opportunity. She pushes him over. He falls 200 ft to his death. Problem solved. Right? Wrong.

The man hits the ground and dies, but wakes up in his bed in his apartment in California. He notifies the police that his wife has murdered him. Moreover, similar cases start popping up. Soon, it becomes apparent that this phenomenon only applies to deaths of unnatural causes.

Here’s how it works. If you’re murdered or die in an accident, you come back. You wake up in a place where you feel safe, typically your home. Your body will reset to roughly 12 hours before the accident.

Introducing the dispatcher.

The Dispatcher

It’s not long before business sees the usefulness of this new reality. Thus, a new profession is born. The dispatcher.

A dispatcher works at a hospital. When someone goes in for surgery, he attends. If the patient is about to die, he steps in and dispatches them before natural causes can permanently kill them. Thus, the patient wakes up at home unaffected by the surgery.

The Plot

Tony Valdez is a dispatcher. He humanely “kills” people before they can die of natural causes. Therefore, they get a second chance at life. He is licensed and bonded by the government, but he also works on the side.

Dispatchers have the opportunity to make a few extra bucks. In this new paradigm, people are engaging in dangerous activities, no longer fearing injury or death. Thus, they engage in sword fighting, or hammer fights. A dispatcher attends, and dispatches the winner if he is injured in the fight. The loser, having technically been murdered, automatically comes back.

Tony turned a fellow dispatcher on to these opportunities to make money. Now, that dispatcher has gone missing. This is problematic, because police suspect that he is being murdered. Allow me to explain.

The new murder paradigm.

If he’s murdered, he’ll just wake up in bed. Right? Not necessarily. It’s difficult to murder people, but not impossible.

If you bound someone in a room somewhere without food and water, they would eventually die. That would be murder, so they would come back. However, they would reset to 12 hours before their death. Thus, since they died of starvation, they would come back too far gone to be saved. Therefore they would die again, this time of natural causes. Permanently.

Summary of The Dispatcher

The Dispatcher follows Tony as he works with police to find his friend before it is too late. It is full of action and interesting characters. As they progress, the story explores the more interesting aspects of this new reality.

It’s a fun little mystery and a good read. However, I got it as a freebie. Would I pay for it? I certainly wouldn’t waste a credit on such a short story. Assuming the book is priced under $5, it might be worth picking up.

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