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Trying to identify a story: I once read an anthologized short story in which a man is scheduled to be executed for a minor offence. I believe the narrative was conducted entirely in letters back and forth between people like his lawyer, relevant authorities, and other such figures. As the situation progresses his fate remains unavoidable for one absurd reason or other (holidays, rules, automatic mechanisms.) Does this ring a bell for anyone? Thanks!

  • Sounds very similar to this one already on the site. Give it a look. With that said, based on your description, what about the story would make it sci-fi or fantasy ? – Stan Nov 1 '13 at 17:02
  • That's the one! Thank you. I believe a story set decades into the future in which human lives are lost based on computer algorithms might quality as Sci-Fi, but better judges than me have already originally published it in the Sci-Fi publication Analog and anthologized it in Sci-Fi volumes. Thanks for the link! I'm not too familiar with the software on this site; can I mark your comment as an accepted answer somehow? – firasd Nov 1 '13 at 17:59
  • Wouldn't be fair for me to get credit :) I'm going to VTC as duplicate. Glad we could assist and welcome to the site. Hope you'll continue to participate. – Stan Nov 1 '13 at 19:49
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    Almost sounds like a thematic prequel (inspiration) to Gilliam's BRAZIL. – Meat Trademark Nov 2 '13 at 7:25
  • The post that this was closed as a duplicate of does not have an accepted answer; this should be reopened. – Mithical Nov 2 '17 at 18:08
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As per this answer, this is "Computers Don't Argue" by Gordon R. Dickson.

Summary from Wikipedia:

The story is told in the form of correspondence.

Walter A. Child of Panduk, Michigan has a disagreement with his book club in Chicago, Illinois over a damaged copy of Kim by Rudyard Kipling (cost $4.98) that was sent to him. He returned it, asking for a replacement. Instead, he is sent a copy of Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. He returns it, requesting that the matter be settled. Instead, he receives a second, automated notice.

He replies saying that the book club now owes him money. He receives a third letter and his reply to it is not read. His account is then turned over to a third party collection agency, increasing the amount owing to $6.83. A second letter ups it to $7.51 and a third to $10.01. Child responds with a letter explaining the matter, but the agency does not believe him and threatens legal action.

The matter goes to small claims court in Illinois, the amount having increased to $15.66. A duplicate judgment is passed the next day in Michigan. However, the amount owing ($15.66) and the statute number (Statute 941) are transposed on the punch card.

Child sends a letter that he will visit the book club offices personally and settle the matter himself. Meanwhile the transposed amount is interpreted as Statute 1566, relating to criminal matters. Since no such statute exists, it is changed to 1567 (Kidnapping). The changed punch card is then incorrectly interpreted to relate to the kidnapping of a child named Robert Louis Stevenson by a person named A. Walter and an arrest and hold warrant is issued.

Child is arrested at the book club offices. The judge requests more information, since a trial transcript is missing from the record. He specifically requests if the victim, Robert Louis Stevenson, was harmed. The request returns that RLS is deceased, having died at age 44. The reply omits the age of death, simply replying that the victim is dead. A personal reply to the judge mentions that the victim was slain and mentions a possible gang connection.

Child's lawyer believes him, but Child is sentenced to execution, for first-degree murder in connection with the death of a kidnap victim. Since no previous trial transcripts were available, the judge was forced to rely on the computerized records.

Since all records have been computerized, appeal time has been cut to 5 days, and ten for it to be acted upon. Instead of appealing, he appeals to the governor for a pardon. The governor is out of the country and slow in responding. Child refuses an offer by the warden to let him escape, believing that the pardon will arrive in time.

The pardon is issued by the governor, but a post office routing number error stalls it and it arrives too late.

As seen in the comments above, this was accepted by the querent:

That's the one! Thank you. I believe a story set decades into the future in which human lives are lost based on computer algorithms might quality as Sci-Fi, but better judges than me have already originally published it in the Sci-Fi publication Analog and anthologized it in Sci-Fi volumes. Thanks for the link! I'm not too familiar with the software on this site; can I mark your comment as an accepted answer somehow? – firasd Nov 1 '13 at 17:59

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