Gwyneth Jones, author of the fantasty-scifi-pop-music Bold As Love series, has put some of her short fiction online for free recently — plus some great essays, including the thought-provoking "Aliens In The Fourth Dimension." But my favorite story she's put online is the weird, gritty and unpredictable "Fulcrum," which is sort of a cyberpunk noir cowboy occult adventure story. It's the perfect thing to read right about now, to give you a jolt of insanity to help you get through the rest of your day.
I don't want to give away too much of the plot of "Fulcrum," but I will mention a few of the things that were cool about it. Its main characters, Orlando and Grace, are aliens who look just human enough that they have to keep reminding everyone that they're not human. There are also some hints that their sexuality doesn't quite work the same way as ours, including a great scene involving tea.
A lot of the story's "noir" comes from two thuggish guys who hang around the Kuiper Belt station, waiting to be shot out into deep space on a probably deadly prospecting run: Jack Solo and Draco Fujima. They both have virtual-reality sex bots that follow them around, and Jack's sex-bot, Anni-mah, is a quivering masochist. She literally follows him around asking him to hurt her, and it's disturbingly creepy. But then it's only much later that Jones reveals that "A softbot sextoy (and this was why the bots had been only a passing phase on earth) inevitably reflects the owner's secret identity."
There's a lot more twisted and unsettling but fascinating stuff — including a murder mystery and a weird quasi-creature that could be the most valuable object in the universe — in "Fulcrum." [Fulcrum by Gwyneth Jones]