The Only Harmless Great Thing

The Only Harmless Great Thing - Brooke Bolander

I decided to pick this slender volume up because of its recent Nebula win for best novelette. This very much feels like a book centered around an idea more than a story, which isn't a bad thing but is worth noting. This is also a book that asks a lot of questions and posits some interesting answers.


What if the Radium Girls were replaced by elephants? What if those elephants could communicate with us and vice versa? What if elephants were also caretakers of stories, and generational knowledge that stretched back to the beginning of history, and could endure far into the future? What if we used those elephants as sign posts, warnings, in a distant future that may or may not have language?


This short book takes on a lot. Due to the length and ambition there are some things that just can't be focused on. There are multiple points of view and timelines, which means you never get to spend very long with any of them. Nonetheless you get the idea. And as I said earlier, the idea is the thing. This is a well crafted, tightly packed, little story. The only reason I don't rate it higher was because it wasn't quite to my taste.