Scalzi’s forays into fantasy are strange. The God Engines turned the concept of divine beings on its head. His latest fantasy effort, The Dispatcher, is more urban fantasy. It takes place in a near future where murder is extremely difficult. If someone is killed, their body vanishes and reappears where they live, restored to their condition a few hours before death. Suicides and death from illness are permanent, but death by someone else’s hand results in a reset. While this has made killings rare, it also has given rise to the dispatcher, a paid specialist who kills those near death to restore them.
Valdez is one such dispatcher. We meet him in an operating room where he “dispatches” an old man when his surgery goes badly. After his latest dispatch, a cop named Langdon asks him to help investigate the disappearance of another dispatcher. As they investigate, we discover there is a dark side to dispatching. It gives rise to particularly brutal fight clubs and bizarre private dispatches for the wealthy.
So how does Scalzi, who usually does a good job building his worlds, handle such an obviously fantastical premise? Well, the physics of murder victims amount to “I dunno.” No one does. It just happened, and the focus is on the consequences of living in a world where murder is nearly impossible. Nearly, but not completely.