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Charlie Jane Anders talks fiction, her new short story collection 'Even Greater Mistakes'

Speculative fiction writer Charlie Jane Anders tells us all about her new collection of short stories.

By Jackie Jennings
Charlie Jane Anders On Writing and Time Travel

The sole survivor of an apocalypse and her genie. A couple struggling to make it work. A club of time travel LARPers (kind of) who become actual time travelers (sort of). These are just some of the characters you will meet in Even Greater Mistakes, a  new collection of Charlie Jane Anders’ short stories. SYFY WIRE recently had the chance to sit down with Charlie Jane for an interview about her work, the collection, and what show she’d binge post-apocalypse.

You might know Charlie Jane from her novels such as All the Bird in the Sky or Victories Greater Than Death. But she’s also a prolific writer of short fiction and has been for years. So we asked about the difference between the two, other than length.

“The difference between a novel and a short story is just that there’s a lot more middle in a novel,” Anders said.

Of course, there’s way more to it than that. Novels allow room for play, exploration, and “magic tricks,” where subtly planted information from the beginning can play a key role in an elegant and surprising ending. Short stories don’t always allow for the same verbal sleights of hand. But Anders might change that.

“I recently have been thinking: I want to break down that division a little bit more and try to write short stories that are more like novels and novels that are more like short stories,” she said.

It’s no surprise that such a paradoxical challenge would interest Anders. She’s a speculative fiction writer who is frequently intrigued by actual science and inspired by the way our universe works.

“I love when I get excited about a real science thing,” Anders said. “When I’m reading New Scientist or scientific papers and something jumps out at me and I’m like, ‘Oh, how would that work? What would that be like, to be in the middle of that phenomenon?’ ”

But more important than the plausibility of a set of rules is the writer’s strict adherence to them. A perfect example of that writerly discipline? None other than the classic, Back to the Future.

Charlie Jane Anders Goes Back to the Future

Time travel shows up in Even Greater Mistakes, too, in the story "The Time Travelers Club." In the story, Anders toys with a seemingly obvious but little explored dilemma: Even if time travel is possible, isn’t the universe in constant motion? If a person or object was moved through time alone, without accounting for that motion, wouldn’t they end up floating in space?

The idea is simple and frustrating (for her characters) and frequently funny (for us). But, of course, the story isn’t about time travel or untangling the scientific knot she presents — not really.

Like all great science fiction, Anders uses outlandish premises to explore deeply human emotions and far more tangled knots than a little science can tie. In Anders case, she’s often looking at intimate friendships, romantic relationships, gender, and love. OK, and the weird sci-fi stuff is also really, really fun.

So does Anders have a favorite story in the collection? She was quick to tell us she does, in fact:

Charlie Jane Anders on Her Favorite Short Story

The whole Even Greater Mistakes collection is worth a read, a great introduction to one of the most unique voices writing speculative fiction today. Oh, and her post-apocalypse eternal binge? Doctor Who — to find out why, watch the full interview!

Charlie Jane Anders On Writing and Time Travel