The Dispatcher: Now Out for Free on Audible + NYCC Signings and Appearances

Today’s the day: The Dispatcher, my audiobook novella, is out and exclusively available on, for free through November 2. It’s read by Zachary Quinto, who you know from the new Star Trek films as Spock and from Heroes as Sylar, and he is simply a terrific narrator for the story.

And what’s the story? Imagine our world with a simple but profound twist: when someone intentionally kills someone else, 999 out of a thousand, they come back. Murder becomes almost impossible, war is radically altered — and there arises a new class of legal, professional killers called “Dispatchers,” tasked with killing those doomed to die, so they can come back and live again.

Tony Valdez, our protagonist, is a dispatcher, who is called upon by the Chicago police to help him find a fellow dispatcher who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. In the course of the investigation, Tony will confront Chicago’s rich and powerful, its criminal underbelly, and his own past, in order to save this other dispatcher from a fate literally worse than death.

So, that sounds good, right? You should totally check it out. And get everyone else you know to check it out too.

And now, a couple of quick answers to questions I know some of you will ask:

Why is this audio first? Because Audible asked me to write an audio novella very nicely, and by “very nicely” I mean they paid me to. Also because I thought the challenge of writing an audio-first novella would be interesting. And finally because I had this particular idea which I thought was cool and would fit nicely into novella length, so when Audible asked for a novella-length story for audio, I was all “I have just the thing.”

Why are you giving it away for free through November 2? Because I love you, and so does Audible. Awwww! Slightly more seriously, however, it really is a nice “thank you” from both Audible and me to our respective (and overlappings) audiences, for the support we’ve been given over the years. It’s also and equally advertising for us both — to give people who haven’t tried one or both of us a way to check us out without risk, and if they like The Dispatcher, to check out the other things we do.

Also, you know: 2016 has been one of those years you just might want to escape from for a couple of hours. If The Dispatcher does that for you, I’m delighted to have given that to you.

Zachary Quinto is cool! Not a question, but yes, yes he is.

How did you get him? We asked and he said yes. He was always very high on our list of potential narrators, so when he signed on we all did Snoopy dances. And, as I noted above, he did a simply terrific job reading it — just knocked it right out of the proverbial park. He makes the story better, which is a thing terrific narrators do.

He seems to like it too! Which, you know. Is nice.

Will there be a print/eBook version? Audible has an exclusive on The Dispatcher through the rest of this year and part of 2017, after which it will be available in a print/eBook edition from Subterranean Press. I’ll have more information on that the closer we get to publication. But in the meantime, why not check out the audio version? It’s really good.

Will there be foreign language editions, either in audio or print? I would imagine that if it’s successful in English we’ll see it in other languages in time. Let’s see what happens.

I just listened to it! I want more! Will there be a sequel? Maaaaaaaaybe. If enough people love it and want more of it, I can definitely see coming back to the world and playing around in it, and with these characters.

Anything else you want to tell us about it? Well, as it takes places in contemporary Chicago and features fantastical elements, it’s my first work of urban fantasy. I’m really excited about that since I really enjoy that genre, and so many of my friends have written fantastic work (literally and figuratively) in it. I also think people who enjoy thrillers and crime fiction will find a lot to like here — The Dispatcher is noir-tinged and overall just a bit darker than I usually go. Finally, as I noted earlier, I think novella-length is the perfect length for this particular story, so I’m really happy Audible wanted it at that length and give it a home.

Oh, and: I like it a lot and had a hell of a lot of fun writing it. I think you’ll have as much fun listening to Zachary Quinto read it to you.

On an entirely related note, if you are going to be at New York Comic Con this Saturday and Sunday, you will find me there, doing panels and having signings! My panel is “That’s Not My Baby! When Narrators Attack: How a Story Survives from Text to Audio” in room 1A02 on Sunday at 11am, followed by a signing of The Dispatcher posters at Table 22 at 12:30, and a stint at the Audible booth (NC5) at 4. If you’re coming on Saturday, I’ll have a signing at the Tor booth (#2136) at noon.

Come on down, it’d be lovely to see you.

Update: The Verge has a story on The Dispatcher, on how writing for audio differs from writing for the page.

32 thoughts on “The Dispatcher: Now Out for Free on Audible + NYCC Signings and Appearances

  1. Ayup, the spouse was already listening to it this morning before breakfast.

    The fact that we were late to work is of course ENTIRELY unrelated…..

  2. Interesting to think about what warfare and other forms of state violence would be like in such a world. My first thought is that it wouldn’t necessarily be all *that* different – if you bomb an armored column, it doesn’t really matter if the tank-crews are dispatched to their homes all over the country instead of being killed outright. You’ve still destroyed that column as a fighting force, and your own forces are free to maneuver as they wish. Likewise, air defense remains air defense.

    But infantry and urban warfare changes drastically – for one thing, defenders get a massive advantage, so long as they’re local to the area they’re defending. Let’s say that I’m trying to take a city, and I shoot an infantryman. Normally, that’s useful; but if he pops back to life ten blocks away, all he needs to do is grab a fresh uniform and rifle, and he’s right back at the front. But if he shoots one of *my* soldiers, I need to schlep him or her back from wherever. This isn’t a brand-new problem, of course – defenders always enjoy this sort of logistical advantage. But it heightens the problem.

    And solutions to the problem of aggressive urban warfare in a world where deliberate killing is very difficult are likely to be … unpleasant. If I might be permitted a minor spoiler: in this story, killing *is* possible, provided it’s sufficiently slow that when someone dies and pops back to life as they were a few hours ago, they’re still so sick they’re going to die again. Starvation works, so sieges on the Syrian model would be popular. Bombing hospitals and sanitation facilities would also probably be even more useful than it is currently; defending soldiers might pop back from being shot, but a man who spends a few dies shitting himself to death from dysentery will stay dead. And if bombing sewage treatment plants doesn’t get that ball rolling, well, maybe an unscrupulous attacker might contaminate the water themselves. In fact, all sorts of biological warfare would probably become a lot more attractive, for the same reason.

    There are other unpleasant implications to a world where rapid lethal force is impossible. Imagine authoritarian regimes putting down pro-democracy demonstrations with sarin gas – after all, (almost) everyone ends up safe at home, right? Not like they’re killing anyone. And oh, look, all the demonstrators have conveniently left their ID cards in the public square – how helpful!

    Also, a question: what happens to fillings, braces, pacemakers, artificial knees and the like when you get “dispatched”? If you keep them, I see interesting possibilities for smuggling – or espionage!

  3. Question: was there anything special that had to be done to the text of the story so that it would be easier to narrate (special formatting, script-type notes or such), or did Mr. Quinto work off the same text that will be published in the future?

  4. You mentioned in the linked interview that writing for audio specifically you focused on having fewer dialogue tags. I actually have had trouble finishing your books in audio because the number of dialogue tags is jarring and bounces me out of the story. Generally, most of my reading is audio (busy girl, long commute) but I almost exclusively read you in print for this reason. Would you ever consider doing audio editions of your novels where you (or an editor) made the work a little more narration friendly? Maybe for future works?

  5. I enjoyed this story very much! The main character reminded me a little bit of Felix Castor from Mike Carey’s urban fantasy series. Not so much as it was more of the same, but more like ‘this is the kind of urban fantasy that I really appreciate’, so I’m hoping you’ll end up doing much more with these characters or at least in this universe. Considering that I’m also hoping for a new installment in the ‘Lock in’ universe, I think you’re quite good at this whole detective novel gig. I vaguely remember it was a coin toss that decided on your career being either in SciFi or crime novel and if that’s correct, it must be good to know things would’ve worked fine for you in any case!

  6. This is on my list for the obvious reason that it’s a Scalzi and the concept sounds awesome.

  7. Downloaded and ready to play as soon as I finish listening to MRK read A Local Habitation (still have almost 10 hours to go on that one, so probably Weds/Thursday).

  8. I downloaded it first thing this morning, listened going to work, then at lunch and coming home. Just finished listening & damn it I want more!!!! Zachary did an outstanding job of narration, but he had excellent material to work from. I think one or both of you channeled Spock in at least one place in the narrative. At least that is what my ears told my brain. I loved this novella, looking forward to the SP print edition. Please sir can we have some more in this world. I think it is a right nice place to visit.

  9. When I read the Verge article I had to laugh because listening to Old Man’s War in audio almost drove me insane. I didn’t notice how often you used he said/she said until then because the narrator (especially at the beginning) would go into his normal voice rather than the creaky nature of the older characters. It was incredibly jarring to hear “creaky creaky” he said, “creaky creaky” she said, “creaky creak” he said. In later works it wasn’t so blatantly used, but oh boy that first one was harsh.

    This one is intriguing and I love the concept of the Dispatcher. I like the world and as one of the other commenters stated its interesting to see how that would affect war and diplomacy and all the other things, like how Hayden’s affected laws in Unlocked. I liked Zachary Quinto and was really impressed at how well he did. Actors don’t always nail audiobook reading but man he did a fantastic job. Mostly this is a vote for more of these please :)

  10. I doubt this story’s premise is original, but it certainly feels so. More fantasy should be like this, rather than rehashing Tolkien for the n+1 time.

  11. I’ve been looking forward to this one since I heard you read from it in Spokane in ’15. Amazon/Audible reminded me to download it today; now I just have to find the time to listen to it. And since DH and I are going to be on the road for a week or so and he’s not a SFF person, it may be a while. Now I’m looking forward to the Subterranean Press e-book version; that’s how I read books these days.

  12. I want to avoid spoilers, but may I say of the scene set in a location whose name rhymes with “PewDeeBall”: jesus, John. You are a bloodthirsty motherf……………………..

  13. “when someone intentionally kills someone else, 999 out of a thousand, they come back. … Murder becomes almost impossible, war is radically altered ”

    So, just kill them non-intentionally. Have all weapons be quantum based, so its not 100% intentional. It’s just random. You”re not intentionally killing Schrodinger’s cat when you look in the box. You’re just looking in the box and there is some weird probability that it might kill the cat. Quantum assassinations are technically not-intentional, they’re just weirdly quantum.

    “The Dispatcher is noir-tinged ”

    hmmm… That could be interesting.

    Is it weird that the small genre that is noir probably most closely resembles the average person in reali life? 70% of drivers believe they’re above average. And that probably explains everything one needs to know about why noir is a smaller category than protagonists on teh hero’s journey.

  14. I loved it so much! it was thrilling, emotional, surprising, thought-provoking.
    The ending was not at all what I guessed.

    I don’t want to make spoilers, so i’ll just point out the technical points:
    1. The language is very accesible. I’ve only read English Scalzi in social media, where the language is very hard, and the books in translation. i was happily surprized and maybe I’ll have the corage to try in English.
    2. Likewise, the narration is slow enough to understand.
    3. This length is very good for audio. I realy enjoyed washing my floor :)

  15. Bruce K: almost always, the audio text is precisely the same text that gets published in digital and print formats. So if it’s a first person narration as an audio work, it was so as the original work. To give a relevant example, the Scalzi edited METAtropolis anthology is word for word the same text.

  16. Cat — Bruce is asking about special formatting of the text. Like, were different character’s text in different colors or fonts? Is there “stage direction”, like “[in an excited voice]” or “[in a loud voice]”, because it’s kind of weird to hear the performer read something normally and then say “… he shouted”. That kind of thing. Or is that all left up to the performer themselves to figure out and make their own notes? (Which would be fine, of course. I can imagine that Mr. Quinto would be *pretty good* at that. :)

    I myself have wondered if performers ever read all of one character’s lines, and then all of another’s, or variations on that theme, on the theory that it might be easier to stay in a particular character’s voice, instead of shifting back and forth between 6 different voices in a conversation.

  17. Hooray!!! I was able to download it before I departed from Scotland yesterday and listened to it on my way home…I’m finished. Now what am I supposed to do?

  18. I just wanted to build a little bit on what Ethan wrote about how warfare changes: I actually don’t think it would change much.

    If you look at the kind of wars we’ve had lately, ie: regime change wars, then yes, having soldiers die and wake up in their beds might present a bit of a challenge (one would expect soldiers to “move” to a well stocked and protected military based as their new “home” so they could be immediately redeployed)

    But in most “classic” wars, soldiers are a disposable item anyway. I’m reminded of the development of the Neutron Bomb: It was designed to be detonated above cities or infrastructure so that all the of the people in the blast radius would die, and none of the buildings would be harmed.

    It was never deployed precisely because human lives aren’t particularly valuable, but buildings are. FIrebombs are cheaper and they destroy what is really necessary to destroy to win a war: all of the stuff.

    If you die and return to your “home” the best way to win a war is what it’s always been: Raze the cities to the ground.

  19. This book kinda hit me a bit hard. I thoroughly enjoyed it, I really did, but the video recording…..

    My mom passed away from cancer. My dad… his body died a couple of months later, but he — or at least the part of him that came back from Korea — had died when Mom was diagnosed, a year and a half before. The story raised all sorts of questions and quandries about ‘quality of life’ and ‘failure to thrive’ and so many other terms that I remember from then.

    I distract myself by remembering with bitter humor that there’s at least one person, someone who wanted to hit Terry Pratchett for daring to want to die with dignity, who will be apoplectic about this story. Meanwhile, I’ll again revisit my thoughts and feelings about the father who I never truly knew, because he came back from Korea with his war face on and could never really take it off. Who fell to pieces when his best friend was diagnosed with a terminal disease, when his family needed him the most because she was our mother, too. And this revisit, this reconsideration, this thinking… it is a worthwhile pursuit.

    Thank you, Mr. Scalzi.

  20. Ahem. (Full disclosure, I’ve not quite finished the book yet!) Thinking on a more worldbuilding level (I’m not crying, it’s allergy season, yes I know it’s October, SHUT UP) this has some massive implications all across the board. What happens to homeless people who are murdered? Clearly ‘home’ is a somewhat flexible concept, but how does the… let’s call it the Reverse Reaper?… how does the RR know what a person’s home is, how does it define ‘home?’ If an invasion takes place in this world, does an army attempt to establish housing and garrissons before operations begin, to establish the troops so that the RR returns them there and they have a shorter time-to-return-to-the-front? Does the military require you to keep fighting after you’ve been killed and returned? If so, how many times is ‘too much?’ It strikes me that this would cause *massive* shellshock and emotional trauma — to be killed again and again and again — unless there’s a lot more psychological preparation. And there’s always going to be the stress of knowing that you have, essentially, a one in a thousand chance of not returning….

  21. Have only just started listening, but I’m truly enjoying it so far. I’ve been looking forward to this ever since hearing you read an excerpt and Borderlands. The reduction of the dialogue tags REALLY helps. I adore Redshirts, but usually recommend to friends that they read it rather than listen to it, because the “he/she saids” get so intrusive aurally, though one doesn’t really notice them in text.

  22. And having finished it, I see many of my questions have been answered… and many more have sprung up! Thank you, this is actually a surprisingly thought-provoking story!

  23. 2 chapters in and really enjoying it. This is a my first foray into audio books, so your novella did what you and Audible wanted done. From what I’ve listened to so far, it seems to me that this would make a helluva movie. Any plans in that direction you can share?

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