Exclusive Interview: “We Speak Through The Mountain” Author Premee Mohamed


When writer Premee Mohamed released her climate science fiction novella The Annual Migration Of Clouds in 2021, she thought it was a one and done kind of thing.

But let this be a lesson to you, kids: Sometimes, if you ask nicely, good things will happen. Which is why fans of Mohamed’s Clouds are getting not one but two sequels to that story.

In the following email interview, Mohamed talks about the first one, We Speak Through The Mountain (paperback, Kindle), as well as the other, and the two other new books she’s recently released.

Premee Mohamed We Speak Through the Mountain

For people who didn’t read it, or the interview we did about it, what is The Annual Migration Of Clouds about, and when and where is it set?

The Annual Migration Of Clouds is about Reid Graham, a young woman living in post-climate disaster Alberta, and navigating the rebuilding of her community as well as her chronic illness, caused by a widespread fungal parasite. When she gets an acceptance letter to a faraway university, she must choose between leaving her family and responsibilities, and taking steps towards a very different future than she ever expected.

It’s set in an ambiguous future around 90 years from now.

And then what is We Speak Through The Mountain about, and how is it connected, narratively and chronologically, to The Annual Migration Of Clouds?

We Speak Through the Mountain is about Reid’s journey to Howse University, and her attempts to both succeed at her classes and fit in with the other students after she realizes that the administration fully intends to continue hiding its level of technology rather than opening up to help the rest of the world.

It starts basically right after The Annual Migration Of Clouds ends.

What made you decide to write a sequel to The Annual Migration Of Clouds?

I’m trying to think of a polite way to say that it was a combination of mercenary reasons and flattery…

I loved the ending of The Annual Migration Of Clouds, and never intended to write a sequel. Truthfully, I was not even sequel-agnostic; I was anti-sequel, I wanted it to exist as a stand-alone. I wanted the ending to be so open that the reader could speculate for themselves what might happen next, given all the ambiguity in the text about the university and what it might or might not be. If you wanted it to be a happy ending, it was happy; if you wanted it to be a sad ending, it was sad; if you wanted it to be hopeful, hopeless, horrifying, whatever, that was what it would be for you.

But ECW Press reached out for two more sequels, and after talking it over with my agent, I figured there was a way to both preserve the uncertainty and openness of the first book while continuing with different stories in other texts. And anyway, it was nice to be approached to write more in this world!

And what gave you the specific idea for We Speak Through The Mountain?

It seemed natural to continue with Reid’s journey in the first sequel (I wanted to track Henryk for the second sequel, or the third book), so my first question was whether it would be more interesting to have Howse University be real or a hoax, and then whether it would be more interesting to have her get there or not get there.

Eventually I decided on the story we see in We Speak Through The Mountain — where she’s no longer contending, as she was back home, with her own personal demons and a life of scarcity and work, but something much stranger to her (strangers, technology, and the past).

Premee Mohamed We Speak Through the Mountain

The Annual Migration Of Clouds was a post-apocalyptic cli-fi science fiction story. Is We Speak Through The Mountain one as well?

I still don’t think of either book as post-apocalyptic; I don’t think of climate change as causing apocalypse. It won’t be the end of a world, just a different world. We wouldn’t call changes to our lives after a flood or a tornado a literal apocalypse.

At any rate, they are both climate science fiction stories: reckoning with the choices of the past, the effects of technology and industrialization, and most importantly, the changes to society caused by changes in the climate as well as widespread disabling disease. The suggestion is certainly that in the future, as now, there are some populations making decisions that affect populations far removed in time and space from their own who have no say in it, and feelings can be expected to be mixed about that.

We Speak Through The Mountain is obviously not your first published book. Heck, it’s not the first book of yours published this year, which we’ll get to in a moment. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Mountain but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially not The Annual Migration Of Clouds?

Not really. I guess in a sense I was drawing from the larger literature, or the general hive-mind knowledge, of books about boarding school and living away from home for the first time with a ton of people your own age. (Had to draw on literature for that as I attended university while living at home rather than on / near campus.)

When not writing, you work as a scientist. As you said in The Annual Migration Of Clouds interview, that you’ve, “…worked in environmental science as a consultant, and on-site environmental management for heavy industry.” How, if at all, did your scientific expertise influence We Speak Through The Mountain?

There’s definitely a lot of memories of my early science classes in Reid’s experience — the impatience of wanting to go faster than the class or do different things in my labs, the excitement of learning things I didn’t already know, the irritation of working with people who clearly had different academic goals from me.

I think the main thing is that I probably couldn’t have written this book at a younger age, or while I was in school; I had to get out into the world, work in environmental science, work in policy, see what the higher-ups were doing to the environment here in particular, the choices they were and are making that are going to lead to a very difficult future for some populations. The local population of students at Howse is looking at the climate disaster as a kind of academic exercise; Reid, meanwhile, and the other students coming in from outside, are living it, they’re not protected from it, so it’s a very different experience.

Were there ever any times when you wanted to do something in We Speak Through The Mountain but it would’ve run counter to scientific fact?

Oh yeah, so many times — particularly with the forcefield around the university, the “dome” that Reid has heard so much about. My way of getting around that, as with so much sci-fi, is to handwave it; it doesn’t affect the plot if people know or don’t know how it works. All they need to know is that it runs on electricity, without spoiling things too much. My excuse is, as always, they discovered it near the “end” of our major technological age, sometimes in the 2040s, so of course we here in 2024 can’t know about it.

You said earlier that your publisher asked you to write two sequels to The Annual Migration Of Clouds. What is the third one going to be called, and do you know when it’ll be out?

The First Thousand Trees will be coming out from ECW Press in 2025 (if I hand it in on time).

Now, as I mentioned, We Speak Through The Mountain isn’t your only new book this year. Earlier this year you released a dark fairytale fantasy novella called The Butcher Of The Forest, and a novel called The Siege Of Burning Grass that mixes steampunk science fiction and fantasy, and you have two other books — The Rider, The Ride, The Rich Man’s Wife and One Message Remains — that have not gotten release dates yet. We did an earlier interview on Butcher, but for those who didn’t read that Q&A, what is that story about, and what kind of world is it set in?

The Butcher Of The Forest is about a middle-aged woman, Veris Thorn, who is forced into a rescue mission — specifically to rescue the two young children of the local dictator from a dangerous magical forest. I don’t specify a time or a place, but I think it’s almost like a fairytale medieval Europe. Guns are just coming into use, the great forests of the world are mostly uncut, and magic is very real, if not very scientific.

And then what is The Siege Of Burning Grass all about, and what kind of world is it set in?

The Siege Of Burning Grass is about a recently-wounded pacifist paired up with a military fanatic on an espionage mission to end the endless war between two superpowers in their world — both sides recognize they’re at some kind of tipping point in time and resources, so it’s definitely known that both sides will try to shift the balance, and the book is basically about one side infiltrating the other to see what their push will look like.

It’s set in kind of a weird sci-fi world where the things that go unexplained are probably technology rather than fantasy, and a lot of things are engineered to be living or semi-living rather than machinery. Worms as lighters, wasps as hypodermics, that kind of thing.

Going back to We Speak Through The Mountain, in the interview we did about The Annual Migration Of Clouds, you said you thought it could be adapted into a TV series. Do you feel the same way about Mountain?

I think so. I guess this would be a new season…and because they’re novellas, I think each would be short, three or four episodes. I think the events in the books need a little bit more space to spread out compared to a movie.

And do you still want Sophia Lillis from Dungeons & Dragons and the It movies to play Reid?

Still her actually! (I had to look her up again because I didn’t remember saying that, haha.) She’s also about the right age — Reid is 20 in We Speak Through The Mountain. Hey movie people, call me!

Premee Mohamed We Speak Through the Mountain

Finally, if someone enjoys We Speak Through The Mountain, and they’ve read all your other books, they might want to read something by someone else to balance out their bookshelves. So, what novella of someone else’s would you recommend they check out and why that one?

I love all the books in Nghi Vo’s Singing Hills Cycle, which starts with The Empress Of Salt And Fortune. They are so smart and thoughtfully written, absolutely immersive, and such a perfect example of the novella form.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *