Last year, John Scalzi’s written for Audible novella, The Dispatcher, narrated by Zachary Quinto, was offered for free. I snapped it up, but didn’t listen until yesterday. Scalzi is one of those authors who has been on my list, but remained unread. I enjoyed both Scalzi’s story and Quinto’s performance.
In the near future, people who are murdered come back to life. No one knows why or how, just that it happens. It has given rise to a new profession, the Dispatcher. Dispatchers are trained, licensed and bonded to “dispatch” people who are about to die. Our protagonist is Tony Valdez, a dispatcher in Chicago. He is called to substitute for a fellow dispatcher, Jimmy, only to discover that Jimmy is missing.
The mystery a comfortable vehicle for examining the ways that new law of death impacts the way we live, love, commit crimes, and die. The characters are stock American noir mystery characters. You know how they are going to behave as soon as you meet them. Tony is a Raymond Chandleresque protagonist, though he is not a PI. Scalzi uses our familiarity with the characters and tropes to surprise us with consequences of not dying.
When other characters first meet Tony, he has to convince them that being a dispatcher makes him one of the good guys. First we see the sunny side of dispatching. Lives saved that would have been lost. As we move through the novella, the implications become darker and quietly, more horrific. After I finished listening, I had much more sympathy for the positions of the skeptics.
Quinto’s performance adds a lot to the story. He keeps Tony in a place smooth complacency, even as events reveal the cracks in his foundation. In the end, you are left with two possible outcomes. One is that Tony will go on as before, doing his job, staying on his side of the street, and ignoring the darkness that has been revealed. The other is that Tony will accept how terrifying his world has become and either get out or embrace it. He has the potential for patience and time and silence. How will he use it?