Review: the one harmless great thing by brooke bolander

January 15, 2019
the one harmless great thing, brook bolander, InToriLex
Published By: Tor.com Publishing on January 23, 2018
Format Read: Paperback Edition (93 pages)
Genre: Sci-fi/ Fantasy/ Historical Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Source: Purchased
In the early years of the 20th century, a group of female factory workers in Newark, New Jersey slowly died of radiation poisoning. Around the same time, an Indian elephant was deliberately put to death by electricity in Coney Island.

These are the facts. 

Now these two tragedies are intertwined in a dark alternate history of rage, radioactivity, and injustice crying out to be righted. Prepare yourself for a wrenching journey that crosses eras, chronicling histories of cruelty both grand and petty in search of meaning and justice.


Content Warning: Graphic Violence, Animal Cruelty, Animal Death, Radiation Poisoning


In less than a hundred pages I fell in love with a elephant and cried for real humans I never knew. This book is a tour de force glimpse into the unforgiving way industry has poisoned people, animals and the environment in our recent past. The book follows the life of a female factory worker who is dying from radiation poison due to her work in a factory and Topsy an elephant who is being trained to continue the work that poisoned humans. In this alternative world elephants can communicate with humans and their history is kept through group story telling. Its is a tragedy told in a non-linear way with beautiful prose and memorable characters.
No matter what you did, forty  or fifty or a hundred years passed and everything became a narrative to be toyed with, masters of media alchemy splitting the truth's nucleus into a ricocheting cascade reaction of diverging alternate realities.
The magical realism and harsh reality of factory women being poisoned and dying flowed together to create a master piece. The elephant mythology completely immersed me in a world that was inhumane with too many parallels to our reality. This was a wonderful novella that pulls on your heart strings in a unique way. I am excited to read anything this author publishes in the future.
In a history book swollen tick-tight with so many injustices the poisoning of a factory if girls and the mean public death of a small god don't even register as particularly noteworthy.
Recommended for Readers who
- enjoy magical realism in science fiction
- appreciate alternative history narratives inspired by real events
- wants to read a story that will challenge them to look unflinchingly at injustice


Brooke Bolander
Brooke Bolander writes weird things of indeterminate genre, most of them leaning rather heavily towards fantasy or general all-around weirdness. She attended the University of Leicester 2004-2007 studying History and Archaeology and is an alum of the 2011 Clarion Writers’ Workshop at UCSD. Her stories have been featured in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Nightmare, Uncanny, and various other fine purveyors of the fantastic. She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Hugo, Locus, Theodore Sturgeon, and World Fantasy awards, much to her unending bafflement.

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