After a week off for Thanksgiving, we have a very fun story recommendation for the week: "Willpower" by Jason Stoddard, from Paul Raven's Futurismic web site.
Along with a lot of interesting columns and blog posts, Futurismic publishes one piece of original fiction per month. Under the direction of fiction editor Christopher East, Futurismic's stories this year have included some nice, quirky work by the likes of Douglas Lain and Eliot Fintushel.
Jason Stoddard is Californian, but is perhaps most familiar to British SF fans, as much of his best work first appeared in Interzone -- although he has also had stories in places like SciFiction, Strange Horizons, and The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Stoddard has recently been an advocate for "positive" or "optimistic" science fiction, the kind to be featured in the anthology Shine now being assembled by Jetse de Vries.
"Willpower" is a great example of positive science fiction, set in a "post-scarcity" future. One thing that is scarce is a full-time job, since so little actually needs doing. Our protagonist Michael is one of the great many unemployed who rely on the government's "willfare" system to find short-term work. He stumbles on a willfare listing placed by an astronaut who wants someone to take his place on an upcoming trip to Mars. This is appealing to Michael, who has long been hooked on a role-playing game set in a Mars reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom.
The light-hearted story of "Willpower" centers on how Michael tries to beat the system to wrangle his way onto a mission to Mars for which he is completely unqualified. This makes for fun reading, but Stoddard also weaves in a little message. At its core, "Willpower" is about how someone can become so enthralled by a fantastic story that he will do whatever it takes to make the story come true. That is a moral that should resonate with any SF/F reader.