If someone wants to make the case that the novella is the perfect length for a sci-fi story, John Scalzi will undoubtedly find his work in the “pro” column. This novella takes a simple premise–murder victims come back to life–and explores it. The main character is a dispatcher, someone hired to murder people who are about to die from other causes so that they get a free do-over. No one knows why this happens, or what causes it, they just have figured out how to exploit it.
Valdez is called to help a police detective investigate the disappearance of an associate of his, another dispatcher who occasionally did “freelance” work on the side. The two of them lead the reader (or listener, in my case) through a tour of some of the repercussions of this odd quirk in the world: underground fight clubs, dueling, and extremely experimental medical techniques.
Scalzi’s strength is his clear, simple storytelling: Single viewpoint character, single plot line and few to no flashbacks. His drawback is that his characters also seem to be quite simple. Like the joke that Nick Cage plays Nick Cage in every movie he’s in, every book by Scalzi seems to have the same main character, and every character seems to have the same voice. Is that a drawback? Well, do you like Nick Cage? Do you like Scalzi’s main character? If yes, it’s a feature not a bug.
This is simple, straightforward sci-fi, like sci-fi with trainer wheels for people who can’t handle aliens or warp drives or sentient space ships. The fact that it’s a novella length makes it even more palatable. I recommend it for your sister you want to wean off Nick Sparks books or your father-in-law who thinks he doesn’t like spec fiction or for anyone who liked Scalzi’s other works and already knows what they’re getting.