I read this fairly recently, in the last 5 years. A means of sending messages into the past was discovered, and the government decided it should be available to everyone in limited form. The societal effect was that everyone got one chance to send a message into the past, to themselves; by convention, you sent it when you were 40 (30? 50?) to when you were graduating high school. The viewpoint character was a counselor, who had never received a message from herself, and who counselled those few kids who did not receive messages.

Some people don't get messages because they choose not to send them. Others don't get messages because they don't survive to age 40. There was also discussion of whether your message could change your past and thus launch a new timeline where you didn't send that message (or any message at all).

  • Now I'm wondering if I may be mixing two different stories. I read a lot of time-travel SF last year. :( Feb 25, 2016 at 14:48
  • I was right, I was mixing. The counselor plot is from "Red Letter Day" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. The telescope plot is something entirely different. Feb 25, 2016 at 14:51
  • What I meant: In "Red Letter Day" the opportunity to send a message is offered to everyone who reaches age 40. If you die, you don't send a message; if you choose not to, you don't send a message; and therefore, if your future self doesn't send a message, your young self doesn't receive one. All of which is out of scope for what I really need to know, which is the telescope plot. I'll edit the question. Feb 25, 2016 at 15:38
  • As advised by Meta I'm going to edit this question so it is solely about Red Letter Day, answer it, and move the telescope question to a new question. Feb 25, 2016 at 15:41
  • This also reminds me of FlashForward (not a great TV show). Everyone (nation wide) suddenly collapses and has visions of what happens 5 years into the future. Some people did not see any visions; most if them keep that to themselves but some of those people reveal it at some point (by either breaking down emotionally, or simply mentioning it)
    – Flater
    Jun 29, 2017 at 10:49

1 Answer 1


The story is "Red Letter Day", by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I had read it as part of The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF.

Everyone gets to send a message upon reaching a certain age (it was 50, not 40):

...the federal government came up with a compromise.

Everyone would get one free opportunity for time travel – not that they could actually go back and see the crucifixion or the Battle of Gettysburg – but that they could travel back in their own lives.

The possibility for massive change was so great, however, that the time travel had to be strictly controlled. All the regulations in the world wouldn’t stop someone who stood in Freedom Hall in July of 1776 from telling the Founding Fathers what they had wrought.

So the compromise got narrower and narrower (with the subtext being that the masses couldn’t be trusted with something as powerful as the ability to travel through time), and it finally became Red Letter Day, with all its rules and regulations. You’d have the ability to touch your own life without ever really leaving it. You’d reach back into your own past and reassure yourself, or put something right.

If you don't survive, you don't send a message:

Twenty-nine of my students died within the decade. Twenty-nine.

And some choose not to send one:

The thirtieth was like me, someone who has not a clue why her future self failed to write her a letter.

The viewpoint character is a counselor:

And somehow – now – it’s my job to keep those hopes alive.

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