The Dispatcher by John Scalzi


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: May 15 to 20, 2017

This is an interesting police procedural with an interesting hook that you don’t find out until somewhat later in the story. Or at least I didn’t find out until it happened. That caught me of guard and, at the same time, pulled me further into the plot. Best way to get into this story, or any short form fiction, is to not know anything about it.

Since it’s so short there’s not much to say without giving the hook away, but I’ll try anyway.

Set in present time Chicago and it actually feels like Chicago and not, say, New York or some other generic urban sprawl. The writing is short, to the point, and what we come to expect from John Scalzi. He doesn’t mince words or beat a morally gray topic to death. He has a minimalist style that I like.

We’re introduced to Tony Valdez just as he’s about to enter the OR, not as a patient or doctor, but a dispatcher. He’s there as insurance, so to speak, to make sure everything goes “smoothly.” What he is and what his job entails is the hook.

Shortly after the operation, Tony finds out that a friend and colleague has gone missing, and he’s pressured by a detective to help her solve the case. She thinks the job has something to do with the his disappearance. The investigation reveals all the gray areas of what dispatchers do off the books and all the ways in which life and death could be just a game.

And I admit I’m hooked. I hope this is just the beginning and that Scalzi has long term plans because there’s still so much left to explore. Crime statistics, law enforcement, religion, politics, the tenuous definition of homicide in this new age of mortality–an endless trove of gray topics to take on. 

I’m not a fan of short form fiction, so this novella feels somewhat incomplete even though loose ends are tied up and most questions are answered. But if this becomes a procedural series and each book an episode, I could totally get behind that.


6 thoughts on “The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

  1. Redhead May 21, 2017 / 8:06 pm

    I read the print novella version of this, I haven’t listen to the audio version yet. I won’t spoil anything, but I liked the hook, the weird whatever it is that no one really seems to understand how or why it works. I’ve read a few Scalzi novels, and i find I like his shorter stuff better.


    • M. May 22, 2017 / 8:31 pm

      I started with the audio, but it didn’t work for me. Had to switch to ebook halfway through, so imo you aren’t missing much by not going with the audio.

      I’m not a fan of short fiction, so no matter how well written a story is, it still feels too short. This one in particular feels much shorter than 120-something pages. Don’t know why though. Maybe because it’s half dialogue.


      • Redhead May 22, 2017 / 8:44 pm

        the story is like 90% dialog. makes it feel much, much shorter. I’ve never read a story so quick in my life! dialog is way easier to read than exposition / world building / infodumps.


        • M. May 22, 2017 / 9:13 pm

          90% dialogue? I guess that sounds about close, although I also remember Valdez spending much of his exposition time explaining the concept if dispatching.


  2. AvalinahsBooks May 28, 2017 / 3:50 pm

    Huh, interesting – I didn’t know Scalzi wrote anything crime related? But I guess it’s still somewhat of a sci-fi (urban fantasy?), huh.


    • M. May 28, 2017 / 6:24 pm

      Correct. This is like an urban fantasy but it’s light on the SFF elements. It just came out last year and wasn’t marketed much, so you’re not alone in missing it. The audio was avaliable free as part of the promotion.

      Liked by 1 person

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