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Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan2.5 stars
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Buy from IndieBoundThough written with a powerful sense of compassion for the emotional struggles of its protagonist, Vylar Kaftan’s Tor.com novella Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water feels like it needed more time in the oven. It’s not the first time I’ve read a Tor.com novella that I wished were, if not a novel, just a bit more substantive than it is. I suspect it won’t be the last. The story’s an uneven mess. But it did end up as a Nebula finalist, once more validating the evergreen adage that Your Mileage May Vary.

Bee (short for Bianca) is a telepath living in a future in which her kind are hated and oppressed. We meet her as she is imprisoned in a vast underground cave system on the remote world Colel-Cab, with a companion, Chela, also her lover. The two of them spend their days desperately trying to reach supply drops before they’re overrun by the voracious local insect population. Bee has no memory of her life before imprisonment, thanks to an implanted chip that suppresses her telepathy.

But despite the chip, Bee begins receiving telepathic communications from outside the caves. Her pursuit of answers leads to recovering buried secrets of her past, which include Jasmine, a woman who may have been Bee’s wife. Kaftan devotes considerable attention to Bee’s emotional trauma and sense of disconnection here, as well as her guilt over her relationship with Chela, and whether or not it can be considered infidelity or betrayal when Bee’s memory was deliberately blanked.

Kaftan’s story lacks both sufficient world building and character background to fully satisfy. I wanted so much more detail about the animosity between telepaths and human society, with all of its related backstory, in particular what exactly Bee had done to make her the kind of heroic rebel figure who inspired an entire resistance movement. We get a lot of things described and explained that would have been much more exciting and fulfilling dramatized. Moreover, Bee’s relationship with Jasmine never makes us feel as invested as it should. The scenes focusing on Bee’s ongoing conflicted feelings for Chela are much better in the way they explore the more turbulent parts of Bee’s emotional landscape, and they carry the story to a climax that is honestly moving.