the Little Red Reviewer

The Dispatcher, by John Scalzi

Posted on: April 29, 2017

The Dispatcher, by John Scalzi

published in print in 2017, audible version in 2016

where I got it: received advanced reading copy from the publisher (Thanks Subterranean!)




.Wow was this a fun little novella!


The story is nearly all dialog, and while I was reading I kept thinking to myself “All this banter and chatter, this would make a fantastic audio book!”.  I hopped online, wondering if there were any reviews up yet of this novella to learn that I live under a rock.


Last year, Scalzi wrote The Dispatcher as an audio only novella, to be exclusively offered on for a certain length of time. And Zachary Quinto narrates it!  As a huge thank you to his fans and everyone who loves audible, the download was free for a short window.  So, I am apparently the last person to know that Scalzi wrote a very fun little  novella called The Dispatcher.  I’m ok with this.


I recently reviewed Mira Grant’s Last Girls, and my experience with Scalzi has been similar to my experience reading Grant/McGuire: I’m mostly meh on their novel length works, but I usually enjoy their short fiction.


The Dispatcher is just over 120 pages, but feels much shorter since it is nearly all dialog. The gist of the story is that people aren’t really dying anymore.  Sure, you can die from old age, or from driving drunk and wrapping your car around a tree, but if someone else intentionally kills you, you’ll wake up a few hours later at home, as good as new.


No one quite understands how or why this is happening, but 999 times out a thousand, it works. What about people who are on the edge of death? They’ve been brought to  the emergency room after a terrible car accident, or they had a surgery that had horrible complications?  This is where professional dispatchers come in. If you’re about to die, a dispatcher shoots you in the head, intentionally causing your death.  About five minutes later, you wake up good as new, at home. About five minutes after that, the dispatcher cashes their check from your health insurance company.  It sounds ridiculous, but it works, and it makes for an increasingly fun little story.

Yeah, so murder doesn’t really work anymore. Neither does soldiers shooting other soldiers, or a police officer shooting a bank robber. At first, I thought the premise was absolutely absurd, but it actually works really well, and I really got into this story, even laughing out loud a few times. (I laughed out loud while reading a story about a guy who gets paid to shoot people in the head. What the hell is wrong with me??)


The story revolves around Tony Valdez, who is a dispatcher, and Nona Langdon, who is a detective with the Chicago Police department. They become reluctant partners when a dispatcher acquaintance of Tony’s goes missing. And by partners, I mean Langdon guilts and harrasses Valdez into telling her everything she wants to know about what he and his buddies used to get up, and the dark side of dispatching.  Yes, there is a black market for shooting people in the head.  There’s also a bunch of idiot rich kids who impale each other with swords, knowing their buddy/victim won’t die from the injury.   crazy, right?


The Dispatcher feels different from other Scalzi short fiction and novels I’ve read – It’s urban fantasy, it’s hilarious, and it gets dark.  Like, really dark. And laugh out loud funny, multiple times.  But I like darker stuff, so that worked perfect for me. I liked the gallows humor, the crazy things people do because they know they can’t die, and the ways people find to kill other people when the usual won’t cut it anymore.  Novella length is also just the right length for this particular story.  Characters are introduced, a mystery presents itself, the world is explored on a small scale, and the mystery gets solved.  I’m a big fan of the writing philosophy of “tell the reader just less than you think they’ll want to know”, and 130 pages is just the right amount of space to tell me just less than I want to know.


This near future version of Chicago is a fun place to play and explore, I hope Scalzi returns to it with future novellas and/or short stories.  There are endless stories he could tell in a world where it’s very difficult to kill someone else.


If you listen to the audible version, you get to hear Zachary Quinto’s voice for 2 hours. That’s a win.


If you read the Subterranean Press version, you get to hear whatever voice you want in your head, and you get to enjoy Vincent Chong’s illustrations. Also a win.


10 Responses to "The Dispatcher, by John Scalzi"

I like the look of this. That cover art is brilliant 😃


“(I laughed out loud while reading a story about a guy who gets paid to shoot people in the head. What the hell is wrong with me??)”

You simply belong to an elevated class of reader that has a better grasp of everything 😉

Liked by 1 person

I loved this too! I may even buy the hardcover version because I love the artwork.


Yep, I got and listened to the audiobook when it was published. Quite good, I thought, and an interesting premise.

Liked by 1 person

short story / novella seems to be the perfect length for really good Scalzi stories.


Definitely fun, and definitely a lot darker in tone than a lot of his other books. I read the book, but had also nabbed the audiobook when it was offered for free at Audible, so I listened to it too. Quinto does an amazing job!


I liked the darker aspects of this story, all the weird black market stuff. very not-Scalzi!


Found this very enjoyable. Scalzi needs to do a follow up to this. Wish I could listen to audio but my mind always drifts away after a page or two. Send all my time rewinding.


I find i have to really concentrate on what I’m listening to for audiobooks and podcasts, because like you, my mind starts to wander. my brain treats audio fiction the same way it treats music I’m listening to – if I want to learn the lyrics to the song I better listen to the song a hundred times. if I want my brain to pay attention to the audio story, i better listen to it a whole bunch of times.


Great review! I didn’t realize this was written originally as an audio-exclusive. Also: “tell the reader just less than you think they’ll want to know” is a terrific writing philosophy 🙂 Sounds like Scalzi really pulled it off in this novella.


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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