Preston Dennett’s “Footprints,” an enjoyable far-future novelette, has the feel of old-school retrofuturism. It’s set on a moon colony, and its main character is a scientist who has just arrived on the moon to come work for one of its premier biotechnology corporations. But the story’s concerns are very modern, as thematically it brings together the influence of corporations on society and the disruptive power of new technology for social change, for better and for worse.
The protagonist’s dilemma is one familiar to many of us in this economic climate: he’s been offered a well-paying job doing innovative research at a wage that can support himself and a family. In the world of the story, Earth is barely habitable, and refugees have been fleeing to the lunar colony. Marcus Hardinge’s job with Moontech is the difference between a comfortable life and subsistence housing. But he’s worried that the corporation he’s just begun to work for contributes to the repressive living conditions on the moon, and would prefer a position that could bring about more social change. One of my favourite moments in the story is the dispiriting realization that Moontech has hired Marcus, not so he can make new discoveries for them, but so he doesn’t have the freedom to act anywhere else. He is a resource as finite as the others the company exploits.
Then on the way to a party with Marcus’s future coworkers, he and his wife see a ghost. Or is it a ghost at all?
The story deals with the question of how new technology can change the world, and who can and should benefit from those changes. I don’t want to spoil the plot developments, as I think you’d enjoy the story far more if you find out about the world Dennett has built as you read, and experience the twists for yourself. But I would like to know: what lines would you draw? Is there any work you will not do, no matter your circumstances? Why or why not? What systems will you work in, and which aren’t worth trying? Finally, do you think technology on its own has the power to transform the world, or is it the people behind the technology who matter and always will? These are just a few of the questions that came to mind when reading this adventure story.