The Dispatcher by John Scalzi
Read by Zachary Quinto for Audible
Free until November 2, The Dispatcher is an audio-exclusive short novella from John Scalzi, read by Zachary Quinto — best known for his role as the Nimoy-approved Spock in the recent Star Trek reboot and the menacing, power-stealing serial killer, Sylar, in Heroes — who “brings his well-earned sci-fi credentials and simmering intensity to this audio-exclusive novella from master storyteller John Scalzi.”
The book starts just a bit heavy in the “exposition through dialogue” front, but builds into something pretty good. The speculative element here is completely unexplained — basically, one day, people who are murdered start just going “pop!” out of existence and waking up safe in their own beds. (999 times out of 1000, at least.) So, “dispatchers” stand by during complicated medical operations, or suitably dangerous activity (imagine helmet- and safety-net-free skateboard jumps of near-suicidal intent, and you’ll have a non-spoilery idea), to, er, “dispatch” those dying from mistakes or accidents. There’s some interesting moral questions there, which Scalzi goes a little bit into, but he only teases about the possible cosmological or other questions involved, both in terms of what’s behind what’s going on and/or how it works, and the moral and ethical implications thereof.
Our “dispatcher” here is, pretty much, strong-armed into consulting for a Chicago police detective, looking into a disappearance. Things end a bit too predictably and “pat” or “neat” if you will, but it was engaging enough, and in a short novella there’s only so many twists and turns you can squeeze in. A few comic (usually dark comedy, but still comic!) incidents give one the recommended Scalzian humor quotient, but in the end it’s “merely” a good (free!) yarn. But! The 4+ star thing here is the performance of Zachary Quinto. He was legitimately very, very good here, and! actually his performance shows he was thoughtfully well cast, not just a “hey, what celebrity sci-fi narrator can we find for this Scalzi story?” kind of thing. The disposition one needs to handle being a “dispatcher” — a detached, logical approach — really works when coming from Quinto here, and I look forward to hearing him in future audiobooks if he does keep doing voice work, which I truly hope he does.