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Literature / The Dispatcher

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The Dispatcher is an audio novella, written by John Scalzi and narrated by Zachary Quinto. The audiobook was released by Audible Studios for free on October 4, 2016, until November 2, 2016. It has since been released in e-book and print formats.

The novella deals with a world, where Resurrective Immortality has existed for about a decade now, even though no one knows how or why. The only thing that is known is that anyone (well, almost anyone) who is intentionally killed by another person vanishes in a puff of air and reappears in their home, naked but alive, their body restored to its state from several hours prior to the death. Anyone who dies of natural causes, suicide, or accidents is dead for good. This has resulted in the creation of government-sanctioned Dispatchers, whose job is to kill (or "dispatch" in their lingo) people near death (e.g., due to a failed hospital treatment) in order to give them another chance at life.

Tony Valdez is a licensed Dispatcher, who is content with his work killing people to save them. Then he is approached by a police detective, who explains that a colleague of his has been, apparently, kidnapped, which may be related to an off-the-books job he has done. Valdez, who is no stranger to the gray area of the Dispatching profession, tries to track down the other Dispatcher before he expires.


The novella contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Ate His Gun: Upon being discovered, the Big Bad chooses to kill himself rather than face prosecution for kidnapping and attempted murder by starvation. Also, due to this trope, The Mafia typically stage killings in this manner in order to avoid any unnecessary questions, should the "dispatch" fail, since then it just looks like a suicide. At the end, it's revealed that the woman the other Dispatcher "failed to properly dispatch" had, in fact, privately asked him to let her push the trigger button on the app herself in order to end her suffering.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: If The Mafia wants to kill someone, they'll be tied up and left in a secluded location for days with no food or water. Eventually, the person dies. Since this counts as murder, the person comes back... but still near death, typically beyond even modern medicine's capabilities for recovery (if he or she even has the strength to reach a phone and call 911, that is). The next death is considered natural, so no resurrection occurs.
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  • Dice: Valdez carries a set of three ten-sided dice in order to explain his job to others. They are used to illustrate the odds of a failed "dispatch" (1 in 1000).
  • Duels Decide Everything: Sword duels have become common over the past decade thanks to Resurrective Immortality, typically among dumb college kids with rich parents. They usually employ a Dispatcher, paying him in cash, to kill a seriously wounded duelist... or a second, who has gotten too close... or an arbiter, who said something one of the duelists didn't like.
  • Fight Clubbing: Underground fight organizers like to hire a Dispatcher under the table. Even victorious fighters end the night severely injured, and going to the hospital would reveal the existence of the fights, so the fights end with a Dispatcher killing everyone so they come back uninjured and ready for the next fight night. (Valdez comments that most of these organizers used to run dog fights, until Resurrective Immortality made human versus human fights more profitable.)
  • Info Dump: Valdez does this at the beginning, when explaining his job to a police detective, someone who already ought to know about Resurrective Immortality, since, you know, it's been a thing for about ten years.
  • Loophole Abuse: The dispatchers' job depends on this. Resurrective Immortality doesn't work on people who die as a result of accident, or botched medical treatment—only murder. If someone is about to die as a result of a cause other than murder, it's the dispatcher's job to step in and murder them first.
  • The Mafia: At one point, Valdez is "invited" to come with a bunch of shady characters in a limo at the point of a gun. After meeting their boss, he is told that the guy has spent a lot of effort in moving away from his company's less than legal origins and is trying to go fully legit. However, some habits are hard to lose, such as kidnapping people at gunpoint and taking them to a construction site for a talk. Also, since they don't want him to be seen leaving the site, they drop him down an elevator shaft, thus giving him a quick trip home.
  • Professional Killer: An interesting variation. Dispatchers are licensed professionals, whose job involves "dispatching" people, who are about to die, in order for them to be resurrected. Typically, they use a special tool that injects a tiny explosive device into the brain, which can be then detonated either directly through the tool or remotely with a phone app. This ensures immediately brain death. The novella begins with Tony Valdez being present at a heart surgery, where the doctor is unable to save the patient, forcing Tony to step in and do his job. Otherwise, the patient would have died permanently, since the surgeon wouldn't be considered his killer by whatever force performs these resurrections. All police are required to surrender their sidearms to Dispatchers upon request, if an emergency "dispatch" has to be performed and no tool is available. All Dispatchers are trained to shoot targets in the head in such a manner as to ensure immediate brain death. Also, most surgeons hate having Dispatchers present when they're working, since they believe that it's an insult to their skills. However, HMOs demand that a Dispatcher be on hand during high-risk surgeries, so hospitals don't have a choice.
  • Resurrective Immortality: Anyone who is killed by another person has a 999 out of 1000 chance of coming back to life, with their body restored to its status a few hours before death. Why? How? No one knows. But it works. This doesn't apply to suicide, natural causes, and no-fault accidents, though. The resurrected people reappear naked in their homes (actually, in a place they feel safe, which is typically their homes, unless they don't feel safe at home). Oh, and they remember everything up to the point of brain death, including the pain of said death.
  • Your Cheating Heart: The first recorded resurrection happened because of a woman who had cheated on her husband and didn't feel like having an awkward conversation with him about that, so she opted to push him off a mountain during their vacation. The next thing he knew after impact, he was naked and at home, on the other side of the world. Then he called 911 and reported his own murder.

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