Heard: The Dispatcher, by John Scalzi

As a rule I don’t mention what I listen to, and a large part of that is down to the fact that I mainly listen to The Great Courses’ lecture series: not much to say to that.  I listen to them while I walk to and from work, or when I go somewhere alone, and so they take a great long time to finish.

This time after finishing a lecture series I decided to listen to some fiction, though, and the choice fell on Scalzi’s short story The Dispatcher. It had been sitting on my Audible account for some while, and it was encouragingly short – only two hours and 20 minutes long.

The Dispatcher is told in first person, and it soon becomes obvious that it is a dispatcher telling his story, as he saw it when it happened. Beyond the basic premise – that one day people who got murdered returned to life, popping up again stark naked in another place, most often their home – it is not so much science fiction as it is a mystery. It takes place against a Chicago backdrop, were a dispatcher, James Albert, has been reported missing. The detective on the case, Nona Langdon, recruits our storyteller Tony Valdez, dispatcher and colleague of Albert to the investigation. Together they unravel what turns out to be an inventive way of revenge murder, meanwhile showing the reader what a world in which people only stay dead if they suicide would look like.

The story was witty, funny, and well paced. No doubt Zachary Quinto’s performance of it contributed to the over all impression – job well done!

I will definitely listen to The Dispatcher again if I find myself in need of good fun entertainment during for example a flight.

Highly recommended.


Read: A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet is, of course, the first of Doyle’s classic stories featuring what must by now be the most famous detective throughout history – Sherlock Holmes. However, reading the original stories makes one realise that it is the various adaptations of Sherlock that has made his fame – not the written source material.

The story is divided into two parts.

The first part is where Watson makes a new acquaintance, moving in with Mr Holmes. We get to read about his reactions to this Sherlock fellow but we also get an earful about the doctor himself – he returns to England very weak after almost having died from his wound and spends most of his time indoors and in bed. But then one morning, when he is up earlier than usual, he ends up visiting his first crime scene – a murder, in an empty or perhaps abandoned house.

So far so good. But suddenly part one ends and part two abruptly catapults the reader across the ocean, to the US, and to the founding of Salt Lake City. Initially this change of scenes make no sense but then names we heard in part one re-appear and suddenly the motive behind the not one but two murders perpetrated in part one is uncovered; and the reader gets to understand that neither of these evil deeds would had happened if Mormonism had been a more generous and open-minded creed.

As I wanted to read A Study in Scarlet as a crime/detective story I found the first part promising but the second part slow and uninteresting, even as I felt Doyle poured more heart in it, and it didn’t get better, either – the last handful of pages is pure info-dumping, with Mr Holmes telling Dr Watson about the clues everyone had missed: how he saw them, and how he interpreted them. Which makes me wonder if Doyle’s underlying reason for writing this story was to expose what he felt was the errors of the LDS/Mormons, and with the invention of Sherlock pure collateral; originally intended as nothing more than a tool for telling this tale. A tool which then took on a life of it’s own.


A Study in Scarlet has its place in the history of the crime novel genre, and as the point were a legend got started. But as reading material for the 21st century it doesn’t measure up. In my humble opinion.

Review: The City & The City, by China Miéville

I had heard about China Miéville for some time – years, actually – and was just about to get Perdido Street Station when I for some reason put it back on the shelf at the shop. Instead, and considerably later, I got The City & The City. Then it went to sleep, on my bed side table, from where I picked it up some days ago – I hadn’t had the energy left for reading for some time but decided I just HAD to read, to get back on track again.

It starts out an almost ordinary murder mystery. A woman with too nice hair and skin to belong either among the whores she’s made up to look like or in the neighbourhood in which her body is found is murdered and we follow the detective who got her case on his table.

I say “almost” ordinary, because it is soon clear that something is not what the reader could expect it to be – the detective chooses to “unsee”, and it is soon apparent that it is something weird going on with this city, the city of Beszél. After a while the reader understands that the city is a city state and not only that – it is TWO city states, sharing the same physical space, more or less, and with the respective citizens respecting the borders by reflectively not seeing – unseeing – people who look different, houses or infrastructure not belonging in the city they live in even if sometimes half a house is Beszél and half house is in Ul Qouma (which is their “neighbour” state).

The perpetrators play with this, making things difficult for the detective.

This could had lead somewhere interesting. There’s lots of opportunities to discuss alienation, the Other, nationalism, and other things. Instead – and here’s a spoiler warning is in it’s place, because I’m almost going to tell whodiddit – there’s a power-greedy politician, a disillusioned archaeologist, an opportunist multinational, and an obsolete map. Felt like a cop-out.
There is some more to it, of course, but this is exactly how it felt after I had turned the last page – let-down, not living up to the promises made by the build-up.

The author clearly is skilled at writing. The imagery is vivid. It was a nice read as long as it lasted. But then it was gone, without leaving much of an impression. So, off to find something else to read :-)

Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle

When I was a pre-teen I loved the Sherlock Holmes stories. I can’t now seem to remember why but perhaps it was the general spookiness of the cases he handled that drew me in? Anyway I’ve always felt that these were class mysteries and I have regarded them highly ever since, even if I can’t remember reading one during the last 30-35 years that have passed. When the Fellows at the Green Dragon started to talk about doing a mystery genre group read and when Holmes and the Hound of Baskerville I was eager to jump the train as I viewed it as an opportunity to read and discuss a genre I don’t usually spend much time with, through a book I was pretty certain to like.

I was disappointed.

First, the story. I didn’t think it held up well either as adventure or as mystery. Compared to what I think of as “modern” standards the adventure was missing and the mystery is a very simple one.

Secondly, the characters. They all fell flat. I realise that the Holmes novellas and stories aren’t about character development but when the general scenery is more alive than the people acting upon it there’s not much to attach to.

Thirdly, the society. The cultural norms of the time jars.

This is in itself an interesting discussion, of course. Presently more than a few books that initially were published during the late 19th and first half of the 20th century are subject to extensive rewriting, so to better fit our cultural norms. Personally I am aghast. A book is a book and as such is an artefact of it’s time. Changing it is falsification of history, no less. If they need be reprinted do so with an introduction explaining the context but do under no circumstances rewrite them.

However, many of those books are unreadable to me today – I spend more time being horrified (over such things like people thinking facial features a marker of intelligence normal) than actually reading the story.

The Hound of the Baskervilles was such an experience to me. Educational. Historically interesting. But utterly unreadable as what it was originally meant to be – an adventure and a mystery, exhibiting the astounding capabilities of Sherlock Holmes.

Review: The Quantum Thief, by Hannu Rajaniemi

Ages ago Isaac Asimov grafted the detective story trope on the science fiction stem (Caves of Steel), and over the years the two have become more comfortable with each other – in The Quantum Thief so much so that only allusion is needed to convey the set of ideas; in itself a sign of maturity, perhaps?

The Quantum Thief is the début work of Hannu Rajaniemi, and as such an impressive one. Well written, and then I haven’t even considered the fact that he doesn’t write in his native tongue. Well conceived. A main character that grows on you, even if his main feature is neither he or we really knows who he is (more than once he reminds me of Hergé’s Tintin, in his relative featurelessness). Interesting concepts, well drawn. Hints of lifestyles and cultures I’d love to know more about.

But. Is it me or is this just one more of the same? One more in the British Literary SF canon, bravely daring the quantum ice ledge? One more experimenting with the texture of time and reality, of perception?

I’m not ready to answer that yet. Time will show if this is the start of a series featuring dashing breathless adventures against an exotic but inconsequential backdrop culture, or if he’ll be ready to tackle the ethical, moral and ideological consequences of the world he has created.
Will he be able to break free from the Brit SF idea-maze?

But for a début – well done. Very well done.
I’ll definitely look out for his next book, with the hope that I won’t have to wait an eternity ;-)