Murder By Other Means by John Scalzi: Narrated by Zachary Quinto

Few authors could successfully pack as much intrigue, mystery, and suspense into a novella as John Scalzi. Murder By Other Means is a prime example of Scalzi at his fast-paced best. At the heart of this story is a question, “How do you successfully assassinate people when 99.99% of murder victims reappear–unharmed–in their homes, only moments later?”
We return to the world of Tony Valdez, the titular Dispatcher of the previous story in this sequence, not too long after we left him at the end of The Dispatcher. Legitimate work has dried up for him and the city of Chicago is on an austerity budget that prohibits him from finding many side gigs on the up-and-up. This is where we meet up with him again, as he enters a law firm for a less than legal utilization of his skills.
From there it’s a dizzying spiral of international corporate intrigue, organized crime, suicide, and survival…with a healthy dose of police procedural and noir-ish detective story providing the framework. This is a better story than The Dispatcher, which was a pretty high bar to clear.
Zachary Quinto again provides narration for the story, and there’s probably no need for me to point out that he’s beyond excellent in all respects. I can’t imagine Tony with a different voice.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi: Narrated by Almarie Guerra

Paolo Bacigalupi paints a grim portrait of America’s future in The Water Knife. It feels substantially grimmer when one considers just how plausible it might be.
We’re introduced to a global warming prediction come and gone, where the fertile regions for farming and ranching have shifted hundreds of miles to the North of where they are today, as the desert inexorably reclaims the land we’d believed we tamed. Water has become the most valued resource we have and is finally treated as being as precious and necessary as it has always been.
Southern states have sealed their borders against one another and the National Guard of those respective states have become the private military forces enforcing those border separations and the water rights of the territories they patrol.
Perhaps more horrifying than the abject human misery and exploitation we find within this narrative, there’s a bleak dystopia that’s taken hold. The separation between corporate interests and the interests of the state has become more blurred than they are in the world we see around us today.
The characters we meet and follow through this twisted tale of espionage, cruelty, and power struggles are well-developed and fully three-dimensional in a way that breathes a searing, dust-filled life into the story. As the Nevada water knife, the journalist, and the Texas refugee follow their separate threads throughout the story, those threads become a tangled web of intrigue, betrayal, and murder.
Bacigalupi displays a keen understanding of people, human nature, and the drastic toll we’ve taken on the world around us to an extent that is both depressing and almost awe-inspiring. It’s virtually impossible not to love this book even as the story itself leaves the reader/listener feeling hollowed out and helpless. Unlike so many dystopian glimpses of our future, this one lacks some magic solution to resolve the underlying failures of the society involved. The mystery is solved for the readers, but we’re left with no sense of satisfaction that resolution is just around the corner, and that makes this book more honest than many.
The narration of the audiobook is expertly performed by Almarie Guerra, tackling the characters well enough that they all feel as if they’re distinctly separate voices within the audio edition of this novel.