Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent release of your horror novella, Early Retirement! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Luke Knight: Thank you! Early Retirement follows the story of Cap Jenkins, an average Joe working in an off-planet manufacturing facility, through two nights on the job as his equipment begins to malfunction and his co-workers grow increasingly strange. Without diving too deep into spoiler territory, the story sets out to examine toxic workplace dynamics, paranoia, and social inequity in a futuristic setting with a splash of body horror and just a hint of black comedy.
The chief inspiration for this story and the world in which it takes place was a very real manufacturing job that I held for about eight years in rural Utah. Between rotating 12-hour shifts, regular exposure to extreme temperatures and toxic chemicals, hostilities between the workforce and management, etc., it was a pretty rough gig. Being the horror nerd that I am, I often found myself daydreaming at work about all the ways in which this job, which was already pretty crazy, could be even more brutal, even more oppressive. Working nights was already tough; what if it was always night? Temperatures dropped well below zero throughout the winter months; what if it was even colder, so cold that you couldn't survive outside without tons of gear?
BD: The novel deftly combines horror with sci-fi elements, all within a dystopian setting. What can you share with us about your creative process in weaving these narratives together, and what have been some of your creative influences?
LK: The manufacturing plant where I used to work was several decades old and very poorly maintained. Buildings and structural supports would creak and groan whenever the wind picked up, rotting rubber hoses would spring pressurized air leaks at random, poor wiring led to flickering lights and wavering shadows, etc. It was just a little spooky all of the time, especially in the middle of the night during graveyard shifts. This sort of general, formless unease inspired the notion of a supernatural or otherworldly terror lurking in the workplace.
From there, the sci-fi and dystopian elements just sort of tumbled into place. Working in the snow, under dim lights, thirty miles from the nearest town, it was easy to imagine similar work somewhere even more desolate and inescapable (a remote planet outside of the solar system, for example). The glaring sociocultural disparities between the workers and management was frankly pretty dystopian already, so that aspect basically wrote itself. I peppered in some exaggerated characteristics of some of the more colorful folks that I was working with at the time, and, voila, Early Retirement was born.
As far as creative influences, I'd say that Ridley Scott's original Alien film and the Starcraft computer game franchise are probably the two biggest. Alien was my first exposure to space-horror and is still one of my favorites of the sub-genre. The culture of the playable “Terran” race in Starcraft always fascinated me, because it presented such a grounded vision of humanity in space. Despite being interstellar colonists from a lightyears-distant earth, the Terrans didn't feel futuristic or far-fetched in any way; they felt like people I knew. Granted, the working-class characterization often veered into redneck caricature, but the focus on average, regular people that just happened to live in the future always stuck with me, despite its clumsy execution.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Early Retirement’s story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
LK: I feel like horror often focuses too heavily on spectacle, and sci-fi on thematics, at the expense of empathetic characters and believable world-building. What I’ve tried to do with Early Retirement is to channel my real-life work experience into crafting a realistic and relatable world that readers like me, who rarely see themselves portrayed authentically in this type of medium, can connect with on a personal level.
Average blue-collar types so often function as either buffoonish cannon fodder or overly informed exposition vehicles, while deeper characterization is reserved for the movers and shakers of the world (e.g., researchers, investigators, spaceship captains, and so on). While wish fulfillment and personal fantasy are a crucial part of crafting engaging speculative fiction, I think that to really connect with readers it's important to examine how this dystopian society that you've built or that monster that you've created affect the lives, needs, drives, and ambitions of regular, everyday people.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
LK: Yes! I'm currently working on two large-scale umbrella projects that each consist of several smaller works. The first is my planned Night Shift series, of which Early Retirement is intended as the first installment. These novellas and novelettes will take place in different worlds and focus on different characters, but will all be connected through the general premise of supernatural and/or psychological horror in the workplace.
My second umbrella project is a grimdark/apocalyptic fantasy series built around the premise of spirituality and psychological trauma as the driving factors behind both magic and, in a wider sense, human ambition in general. The opening volume, The Chains of Fate, is slated for a late 2022 release in both eBook and paperback.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Early Retirement?
LK: The best way to keep up with news related to Early Retirement, or any of my other projects, is to visit my website. I'm also on Instagram and Twitter.