The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

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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.

Review: The Retrieval Artist: a Short Novel (Retrieval Artist #0.5) by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: April 5 to 6, 2015
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: list of past Hugo Award nominees
Recommended for: fans of hardboiled sci-fi

If Hammett and Chandler were to dabble in sci-fi, the result would look something like this novella.

Miles Flint is a retrieval artist and his job is to locate the Disappeared, people who have gone into hiding and whose former existence has been permanently erased from all databases. Flint tracks them down for an exorbitant fee because he’s very good at his job. But he isn’t without scruples. Sometimes certain people need to stay disappeared. There’s lots of reasons why someone would want to disappear permanently and most of those have to do with escaping assassination attempts. In those cases, Flint is fine with letting those people be. He wants nothing to do with helping assassins locate their targets.

This story is about an interesting case that Flint couldn’t turn away even though he knew he should have. A young woman from a corporate dynasty comes seeking his help to find her mother and sister. Her father is gravely ill and once he dies, the sister stands to inherit his share of the empire and she, the young woman, could not because she’s a clone. There are laws against clones inheriting the family fortune. Flint just couldn’t resist digging further into this case. What follows is an interesting look at birthrights and legitimate heirs in the new age of space exploration.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Miles Flint is a throwback to the private eyes of those early hardboiled days. Brash and candid, the character has a bluntness and directness that weed out sob stories and cut right through bullshit–so maybe more of a Hammett-type character than Chandler. Flint assesses people in a cool apathetic manner that allows him to judge their intentions and gauge whether or not they’re out to kill the Disappeared people they claim to seek. Being able to tell the difference is something he takes pride in.

Being Disappeared is a gray area. It allows actual criminals the same chance of survival as innocent people who have been similarly marked for death. I find this concept very interesting. It’s one of the few things that’s motivating me to pick up the next book because the writing, although gets the job done, is just okay. It leans more towards telling than showing, and there are quite a few long explanations nestled in between the action. But the info-dumps are necessary to introduce the setting, story, and Miles Flint’s precarious job.

All in all, a good story and solid introduction to what I hope will be an interesting series. I also hope it will be a new favorite series which I can fall back on. Rusch is currently at book #13 and she’s still writing.

Review: We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date Read: August 17 to 18, 2014
Read Count: 2
Recommended by:
Recommended for: fans of subtle horror

So very good. If you’re curious about Daryl Gregory but don’t know where to start, consider this novella. It’s short enough to not waste your time and long enough to give you a good sense of his writing.

This story is much more than the sum of its parts, and its genius lies in the subtle writing and unassuming storytelling style, and it’s one of those stories you should go into knowing as little about it as possible, so as to experience it fully it as it unfolds.

Daryl Gregory would like you to imagine a world very much like our own with one significant difference: supernatural monsters are real and they manifest as symptoms of psychological disorders. Only a select few can see these monsters or know of their existence, and these people are usually victims of uniquely disturbing traumas. Dr. Jan Sayer, a psychiatrist and believer, pulls together 5 individuals with similar experiences for a therapy group hoping that by sharing their stories they can alleviate some of their pain and perhaps make peace with their traumas together. It starts as a series of therapy sessions and then unfolds as a series of events that test the merit and mettle of each character, even the good doctor herself.

We’re different from other people, she’d said. We only feel at home when we’re a little bit afraid.

This is easily one of the best character-driven stories I’ve read in awhile, and the writing is as close to perfect as a mix-genre novella can get.

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Review: Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: August 28 to 29, 2013
Read count: 2

Every-day life in a small town in Maine is disrupted when a werewolf comes tearing through, literally. He appears every full moon for a few months straight and takes out a couple people while putting everyone in town on edge. His targets and victims are random… at first. The only thing connecting them is that they’re alone when attacked. You’re led to believe that it’s a mindless animal… but is it really?

This was my first Stephen King book. I read it when I much younger, probably too young to have been browsing through the Stephen King shelves, and I remember really liking it. I still like it, although not as much due to having read better werewolf tales since then.

Half of the fun in reading this story is figuring out who or what the werewolf is, and the other half is Stephen King’s depictions of rural small-town life in hysterics. Since it’s been 100*F where I live for the past week, I thought I’d try the audio to enjoy its wintry depths~. (There’s actually no depths to speak of. The story is very much a linear narrative of a werewolf terrorizing the townsfolk.)

The book:
You get a better sense of the town, scenery, and individual characters in writing. Since this is a novella, events kick off on the first page and the bodies pile up quickly. What I like most about this book is it doesn’t take hundred of pages to set the plot in motion.

The movie:
Pulpy, campy, and so 80s. You know who the werewolf is when he is introduced in human form. Even if I hadn’t read the book, I would have been able to pick out the culprit. On the other hand, there’s Terry O’Quinn. With hair. (I don’t remember exactly. I think he had hair here.)

The audio:
The narrator is good. Make sure you have the 80s version though. It’s funnier than what I was expecting. A few quirky descriptions of the townsfolk made me laugh out loud.

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I’d like to read more Stephen King, but I don’t like the way he begins each book, sets up events, or introduces characters. All of this usually takes up half the book, and by chapter 7, I’m usually half-asleep with the book on my face. For these reasons, I find it difficult to settle into his stories and I always struggle with the narration until the main plot takes off. Once it takes off, though, the book is difficult to put down, but everything until that point is a sleepy uphill slog.

Original review can be found here.