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This was a short story told in a series of letters. The protagonist starts by writing a letter to a utility company about an error in his bill. By the last letter he is on death row trying to get his sentence commuted. Each letter is slightly misunderstood. I think it's from the late 60's and may have been in anthology like "Orbit".

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    It's a very Douglas Adams' "Bureaucracy"-sounding story and if someone can identify it, I'd like to read it! – Meat Trademark Oct 13 '13 at 0:28
  • I think Vonda N. McIntyre's "Recourse, Inc." (published in Alternities [1974], also available in Fireflood and Other Stories) might have involved correspondence with a computer similar to Dickson's "Computers Don't Argue". (Had thought the story was by Silverberg, but a friend remembered the title "Recourse, Inc." and Google found it as a story by McIntyre. I do not have access to the story and could not find any plot summary.) – Paul A. Clayton Oct 14 '13 at 16:34
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    I see your question has already been answered, but just in case you're interested, the standard literary term for a story told in letters (or other documents) is an "epistolary novel", see: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistolary_novel – RuthP27 Oct 15 '13 at 14:33
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"Computers Don't Argue" by Gordon R. Dickson.

This was a short story told in a series of letters.

This classic story has been reprinted in many anthologies including Space Mail, an anthology of sci-fi stories told in letters.

The protagonist starts by writing a letter to a utility company about an error in his bill.

A book club, actually. The Treasure Book Club. It starts like this:

Dear Sirs:

I wrote you recently about the computer punch card you sent billing me for "Kim," by Rudyard Kipling. I did not open the package containing it until I had already mailed you my check for the amount on the card. On opening the package, I found the book missing half its pages. I sent it back to you, requesting either another copy or my money back. Instead, you have sent me a copy of "Kidnapped," by Robert Louis Stevenson. Will you please straighten this out?

I hearby return the copy of "Kidnapped."

Sincerely yours,
Walter A. Child

By the last letter he is on death row trying to get his sentence commuted.

Yep. He is actually sentenced to death for the kidnap-murder of Robert Louis Stevenson:

To: Judge Alexander J. McDivot's Chambers

Dear Jack:

Ref: Judgment No. 456789. The victim in this kidnap was apparently slain.

From the strange lack of background information on the killer and his victim, as well as the victim's age, this smells to me like a gangland killing. This for your information. Don't quote me. It seems to me, though, that Stevenson—the victim—has a name that rings a faint bell with me. Possibly, one of the East Coast Mob, since the association comes back to me as something about pirates—possibly New York dockage hijackers—and something about buried loot.

As I say, above is only speculation for your private guidance. Any time I can help . . .

Best,
Tony Malagasi
Records Division

The Governor issues a pardon in the nick of time, but:

To: Governor Hubert Daniel Willikens
Re: Pardon issued to Walter A. Child, July 1, 198-
Dear State Employee:

You have failed to attach your Routing Number.

PLEASE: Resubmit document with this card and form 876, explaining your authority for placing a TOP RUSH category on this document. Form 876 must be signed by your Departmental Superior.

RESUBMIT ON: Earliest possible date ROUTING SERVICE office is open. In this case, Tuesday, July 5, 198-

WARNING: Failure to submit form 876 WITH THE SIGNATURE OF YOUR SUPERIOR may make you liable to prosecution for misusing a Service of the State Government. A warrant may be issued for your arrest.

There are NO exceptions. YOU have been WARNED.

Each letter is slightly misunderstood.

Or more than slightly. An important point is that all this misunderstanding is done by or with the help of computers, hence the title.

I think it's from the late 60's and may have been in anthology like "Orbit".

First published in Analog, September 1965, reprinted in many anthologies, but not in the Orbit series, which was a series of original-stories anthologies.

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    The Post Office did not lose any of the letters, so it is fantasy. – Oldcat Oct 14 '13 at 18:36

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