Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: Please [redacted] my last e-mail

This week, Futures welcomes back Kurt Pankau with his latest story Please [redacted] my last e-mail. Kurt first appeared in Futures last year with dose of disorientation in the intriguing Papa Bear. This time, he’s suffering from a mild case of censorship… Here, he reveals what inspired his latest tale — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing Please [redacted] my last e-mail

This story started with the title, which came to me fully formed. It’s inherently silly, but I liked the rhythm of it and the sorts of questions it raised. I landed on the idea of ‘walking back’ a drunken message to a former love because I absolutely love writing about amicable exes. They already have shared history and familiarity, meanwhile they occasionally have intense feelings for each other that fly in the face of their rigidly enforced personal boundaries. The nature of the relationship means that the most pertinent details live in the subtext, and this is echoed in the format of the broader story, a dire warning that has been slashed into something comically tame. And because the ‘e-mail’ was being obfuscated so heavily, I felt like I had licence to really push what the subtext might be. If you read between the lines, there’s a man who has already lost his entire family and any hope for his own future. The only thing he can think to do is reach out to someone he used to love, not just to warn her of a potential threat, but also to apologize for a lifelong regret. He’s trying to convey his sadness and his horrific circumstances, but he has to do so in a way that feels jovial and harmless, and I love that contrast.
There are several layers of obfuscation going on. The unnamed protagonist doesn’t actually know if his previous e-mail got through, so he’s trying to share information while pretending to lie about it, and relying on his ex to be able to read him more accurately than the censoring AI can. On top of that, he’s throwing bones to the censors so they can redact the details that don’t matter and leave the details that do. While working on the story, I discovered that the “redacted” tag is quite versatile: it cues the reader to think about government or military, it lets them know that information is being hidden from them, it hand-waves away world-building elements, it obscures grim and messy details, and it can even work as the punchline to a joke. It was a fun way to tell a story — going out of my way to not tell it and relying on the reader to fill in the gaps.
Thanks for reading,
Kurt Pankau

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