Release Date: May 21, 2019
Publisher: Tor.com Publishing
Genre: Science Fiction
“All Bee has ever known is darkness.
She doesn’t remember the crime she committed that landed her in the cold, twisting caverns of the prison planet Colel-Cab with only fellow prisoner Chela for company. Chela says that they’re telepaths and mass-murderers; that they belong here, too dangerous to ever be free. Bee has no reason to doubt her—until she hears the voice of another telepath, one who has answers, and can open her eyes to an entirely different truth.”
Trapped in the prison tunnels of Colel-Cab, Bee and her girlfriend Chela wander endlessly in the dark searching for resources sent down by their guards and hiding from huge biting bugs. Bee has lost her memory but believes what little Chela has told her: that they’re in prison because with their telepathic powers they destroyed a spaceship and thousands of innocent humans. But when another telepath reaches out, Bee discovers her entire world is a lie, a virtual construct, and Chela isn’t who she claims to be. She had a wife once, Jasmine, and a life that comes back to her in bits and pieces. Jasmine wants Bee to run, Chela wants Bee to return, but what does Bee need? Does she even know?
Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is more of a study than a fully-fleshed out story. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. It feels more like the beginning of a much bigger tale rather than a self-contained novella. Some readers might be annoyed by Vylar Kaftan’s light touch, but it kinda worked for me. It has elements of tech thriller, dystopian sci-fi, and queer romantic drama/adventure, although I wish each had gotten a little more depth. And I’m not sure I entirely understand the “rules” of this world – How do telepaths fit into the world? How are they “created”? Why is Bee so much more powerful than other telepaths?
Despite the novella’s surface skimming of genre elements, Kaftan does a deep dive into trauma and survival. I can’t get into it too much without major spoilers, but as Bee uncovers the extent of the lies she once believed to be true and as she recovers from the physical toll her psychic imprisonment took, Kaftan keeps us right there with her. We experience her PTSD and the ripple effect it has on those around her. We feel all her colliding and contradictory and complicated emotions.
This is a haunting and honest novella about making the hard choice to do what’s right in the face of absolute oppression, about the invasion of privacy and loss of freedom, and living through trauma. Hell, Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is worth picking up just for the heartbreaking and challenging characters.
These caves have never been friendly.
The tunnel is cold and dark. It’s so tight my shoulders crush together. I’m bellying up the slope in my climbing suit. Rough ridges press my stomach flat to the rock, and I dig my gloves into a crevice. I can’t return to the swampy passage below—we need to find the next supply print before the bugs do. My wet socks ooze inside my boots, but I can’t warm myself until I’m dry. I shiver. The only way out is forward.
Chela has gone ahead. The upper passage glows with her headlamp, outlining the shape of my climb. My own lamp draws an irregular gray shape on the rock wall; everything else is blackness. I move my foot, seeking better traction, and I slip. Pebbles tremble and splash into the muck below, but I’m wedged too tight to fall. My small pack feels like an iron weight.
Light shines at me. Chela’s hair hangs down like Rapunzel come to save me. “You okay, chica?” she calls. Chela is the better climber and survival expert. She says she used to mountaineer on Earth. Without her, I’d be dead.
Thanks to Tor.com Publishing for sending me a review copy.
Do the world a favor and buy this book from your local indie bookstore or borrow it from your public library.