Few short story collections are as complex as Charlie Jane Anders’ Even Greater Mistakes.
Made up of 19 stories, Even Greater Mistakes doesn’t limit itself to a single form or style, or perspective. There are campy fantasy stories and serious pieces of sci-fi; stories that border on flash fiction and multi-part, multi-perspective novellas. Some of the stories are slow and contemplative, like the post-apocalyptic climate change story “Because Change Was the Ocean and We Lived by Her Mercy”. Others, like sci-fi heist “A Temporary Embarrassment in Spacetime”, are fast-paced, bombastic adventures.
But this isn’t a disjointed collection, nor is it lacking in substance. Themes of identity and connection run through nearly every story, often funneled through Anders’ vibrant (and hilarious) characters. She also doesn’t shy away from tackling heavy issues, writing about the struggle with mental illness or the pain of watching a loved one experience a degenerative disease with incredible deftness and sensitivity. Probably the most powerful example is “Don’t Press Charges and I Won’t Sue”, a horrifying and sobering take on a possible future in Trump’s America. In many ways, Anders is a fearless writer, not only willing but eager to peel back the layers of our society and ourselves, even if that means exposing something ugly or uncomfortable.
Even Greater Mistakes is ambitious and imaginative, however, not all of Anders’ experiments are successful. The short introductions that precede each story only work half the time, as although many of them contain amusing anecdotes or nuggets of backstory, others state Anders’ authorial intent. This colours the reader’s experience of the stories, and in some cases, like “As Good As New”, weakens the story. There are also some feeble descriptions and jarring turns of modern phrase, and instances where the stories could have been taken further - where Anders could have made her characters’ emotional life more visceral and real. In “Rock Manning Goes for Broke”, the characters’ loss of hearing could have hit harder if the first half of the story showed more dialogue. In “Ghost Champagne”, there could have been more heat to Gloria’s anger.
Although it’s flawed, Even Greater Mistakes is still a collection to admire. Anders is a writer who takes risks and revels in the infinite possibilities of genre fiction. She reminds us that sci-fi and fantasy can be both weird and powerful - that they can make you laugh right before they make you cry.
EVEN GREATER MISTAKES by Charlie Jane Anders is out now through Titan Books