The Dispatcher by John Scalzi. ★★★1/2
The Dispatchers is a sci-fi novella based around a single concept: what if anyone who was murdered just… came back? Right in their own home, naked as the day they were born. How would society change as a result?
Tony Valdez is a dispatcher, a professional with the license to murder. He exists to give second chances, since only murder results in people returning. He often works in hospitals, staying on hand in case a surgery goes wrong and it looks like the patient will die of natural causes, never to return. When he finds out that a fellow dispatcher has gone missing, Tony becomes involved in the investigation and the shady world of off-books dispatching.
I called The Dispatcher science fiction, but it could probably be termed urban fantasy instead. Scalzi never seeks to explain why murder victims suddenly return; instead, he seeks to explore the ramifications of that one change. My categorization of “sci-fi” has more to do with gut feel than anything else. The Dispatchers has a sci-fi noir vibe to it, in the vein of Bladerunner for instance.
The Dispatchers follows a mystery plot line, but due to the set up of this world, the crime is a kidnapping instead of a murder. However, the plot line and the characterization never stood out to me. While the characters are fairly forgettable, I don’t think they’re really the point. What’s compelling about The Dispatchers is the concept itself.
How would murders still occur given this premise? How would medicine be effected? Entertainment? When someone’s cured of all recent injuries when they’re returned, it can be a lot cheaper to kill them and hope they’re not one of the 0.01% who doesn’t return.
All in all, The Dispatchers was a pretty fun read. I found the core concept interesting and loved seeing how it was explored. This novella stands well enough on its own, but if Scalzi wrote any other stories in this world, I would be happy to read them.
I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.