Earlier this year, science fiction writer Jason Stoddard wrote a manifesto calling for “positive” science fiction that's optimistic about the future and features protagonists who can effect real change. The manifesto started a debate about whether positive science fiction could create compelling stories. Stoddard’s latest short story “Willpower” is his attempt to prove his point with a tale of a post-scarcity future, a down-on-his-luck gamer, and a mission to Mars.
“Willpower” takes place in a post-scarcity future where people who are unable to find steady work can take “willfare” jobs, taking odd jobs posted on a Craigslist-like bulletin board for daily credits and enjoying taxpayer-funded room and board. Michael Delgado is a perpetual willfarer who finds himself cruising the job boards, in need of a willfare job before he breeches his contract with the taxpayers. Most of the jobs are along the lines of dog walking, construction, and medical guinea pig, but Michael spots one willfare job that looks too good to be true: replacing a crew member on a Mars mission:
Michael pounded a fist into his cheap plastic kitchen table. Fucking keywords! Fucking Vesper! Fucking Kon-Ye BMI! What had he gotten himself into this time?
Because it had to be a joke. Nobody would willfare a Mars mission job. It had to be a cover for something that involved Hershey’s syrup and chickens and octogenarians.
And now he was screwed. He’d ACCEPTED, and that was that.
Michael sighed, and started looking up bus routes out to Edwards. The last vestiges of Vesper’s adrenaline rush made him smile, as if in anticipation.
The future Stoddard envisions is an optimistic one, but ironically not one his protagonist fits comfortably into. Instead, he longs for the vision of an Edgar Rice Burroughs video game he used to play, and he spends the story trying to recapture the astronaut dreams of his youth. And, in his own way, so is Jason Stoddard.