With her second-world fantasy novel The Void Ascendant (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), writer Premee Mohamed is concluding the sci-fi, fantasy, cosmic horror series Beneath The Rising that she launched in 2020 with the titular first novel, and continued in 2021 with A Broken Darkness. But as she admits in the following email interview, while Void was not this series’ original ending, it does bring this series to a decisive close.
The Beneath The Rising trilogy starts in mid-2002, and is the story of Johnny Chambers, a child prodigy scientist, inventing a clean energy reactor that attracts the attention of what you would assume would be unscrupulous investors, but turn out to be evil ancient creatures instead. The book is narrated by her lifelong best friend, Nick, who kind of gets pulled into the story — only to discover that he’s been part of the story for longer than he thought.
In the second book, set in early 2004, Nick and Johnny haven’t spoken in months, but get drawn into a kind of two-sided revenge plot and mystery when the Ancient Ones return even though they shouldn’t be able to after the first book.
And then for people who have read them, and thus can ignore me “yelling” SPOILER ALERT, what is The Void Ascendant about?
The Void Ascendant is about Nick trying to rebuild a new life after the events of the second book when — SPOILER ALERT! — the Earth suffers kind of an incident and he literally has no home to go back to. So inasmuch as he would be thinking of the first two books, “Wow, no one would believe me if I told them this story,” in the third book, he’s definitely thinking, “There’s no story here, I just get up in the morning and go to work.” But the Ancient Ones haven’t been defeated; in fact, they’ve been gathering armies and assimilating entire planets with a goal of bringing back the “good old days” of universal conquest. When war reaches Nick’s planet, he’s assigned to take an active role in the home front effort…and suddenly finds himself yanked into a bizarre scheme to avert the war entirely.
When in the process of writing Beneath The Rising and A Broken Darkness did you come up with the specific idea for The Void Ascendant, and what inspired it?
Actually, since it was originally a two-book deal, I considered the second book the end of the series, and I didn’t come up with an idea until my editor emailed me and my agent a few months before A Broken Darkness went to press to ask if we could write a pitch for him to take to acquisitions for a third book. So I fully admit I threw together the specific idea in about a week (the book also isn’t exactly like the pitch, which my editor didn’t mind).
I guess the inspiration was kind of me joking that the stakes in the first book are the world, and in the second book are the universe, so how do you raise them from there for a third book? And I was like “…universe…s? Plural?” I mean it started as a gag, but actually given what we learn about the multiverse and how magic affects the creation and destruction of universes in the second book, it started to feel more real. I was like — based on the second book, what could threaten everything? And without getting into too much spoiler territory, the answer is “Whoever’s holding the other end of the pantograph from Johnny’s dream.”
Beneath The Rising and A Broken Darkness both combined elements of science fiction, fantasy, and cosmic horror. Is it safe to assume The Void Ascendant does the same?
More fantasy and cosmic horror I think — with a dash of science fiction thrown in at the end. For the most part I would call it a second-world fantasy.
So, are there any writers, or particular stories, that had a big influence on The Void Ascendant but not on Beneath The Rising or A Broken Darkness? Or, for that matter, anything else you’ve written.
I think for The Void Ascendant I was doing a re-read of some of the Michael Moorcock Elric books. I really just wanted to lean into that “How weird can we go” aspect, watching Moorcock do it and absolutely not care about how unbelievable it was. Everything that’s so bizarre in those books, everything that makes no sense objectively, everything that’s pushed too far, the settings, the villains, the creatures, the magic, it all just fits narratively into the book itself and keeps the plot moving along. I just loved that. I don’t think I emulated it very well, but that’s definitely the spirit I was writing in.
Weirdly, I was also reading a lot of John le Carre around the time I started writing The Void Ascendant. They’re not just incredibly absorbing books in their own right but also a master-class on how to keep a lot of balls in the air (because all the story lines are moving at different paces and the people in them often think there’s no movement at all). In Void, I wanted to juggle a little bit from the first book and second book, as well as new things in the third book, and I wanted them not to bonk into each other and break. It’s a tricky thing to do, but very satisfying when everything can be made to combine.
How about non-literary influences; was The Void Ascendant influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Not really. Actually, I think in the last couple of years I’ve watched fewer movies than I ever have in my life, and virtually zero TV. And I’m not much of a gamer. (The book definitely has a couple of movie references in it, though.)
Given that the Beneath The Rising series is a trilogy, and that all three books are now out, there are people who will consider reading all of them back-to-back. Do you think this is the best way to take in this tale?
I don’t know that it is. I guess because there’s a chronological time break between each book, and the action doesn’t pick up immediately after the end of the previous book. The characters have had time to stew and mope and brood about things, to really let their trauma sink in, ask some questions (not get some answers), make and break new relationships, try new things, change their perspective… I would almost say no one is even the same person from book to book. So if someone raced through the first book and then started the second the next day, I could almost see them being like, “Oh, these aren’t the people I remember, this feels inconsistent.” Maybe after a couple of months the freshness would wear off, and that might be a better way to head into the next book.
Some people who’ve written trilogies have later expanded upon them with side stories or prequel trilogies or sequels. Are you planning to do the same with the Beneath The Rising series?
No plans as of the moment. I think a trilogy is a good place to stop for the main story. I would probably consider side stories though, because I’m sure Johnny in particular has a lot of science disaster anecdotes that would be fun to write.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about The Void Ascendant or the Beneath The Rising series?
I guess I would like to shout out James Paul Jones, who did the covers for all three. After the second book I was like, “Well we did black on white and white on black, what are we going to do for a third book? Grey?” We did not, but he came up with something, and it is brilliant and logical and the three books look very nice together.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Void Ascendant and the other books in the Beneath The Rising series, which of your other books would you suggest they read next?
I would probably suggest These Lifeless Things — not just because it’s also published by Rebellion but I think it’s also that mix of sci-fi, fantasy, and cosmic horror. It’s about the worst thing in the world happening, and then how people rebuild afterwards (and during). Plus, it’s a novella, so not a very long read. It might help people to read the short story “And Sneer Of Cold Command” first [which you can do by clicking here], but the two stories stand alone in terms of narrative.