Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 04 Jun 2019

Member Reviews

Bee is a powerful telepath imprisoned on a prison planet for crimes she can’t remember with only one dear companion to help keep her sane. Bee is also a powerful telepath lost for a decade to her friends and family, trapped in her own mind. Finally pulling free of her prisons, she has to come to terms with her guilt, power, and love all in a beautifully written introspective novella.
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Having read a number of stories very similar to this one, I predicted the end long before I had even read the first 50 pages. It is perhaps worth noting this is a short story at only just over 100 pages. 
Anytime there is only one person feeding a BS sounding story to a character with a memory loss problem I get skeptical. You just know something is definitely not right here. The story has overtones of Momento in which the “helper” is not telling the whole truth (or any truth). 

Overall this is really well written. For a book only 100 pages long I appreciate that there is no info dumping. Vylar Kaftan has used his words wisely and conservatively. A good little study in twisting plot points and handling amnesia; but nothing special here in my opinion. Many well-read readers of mystery stories are likely to guess the outcome far in advance. 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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Published by Tor.com on May 21, 2019

There seems to be a disturbing trend of science fiction publishers omitting the word “romance” when they market science fiction romances. Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water has the trappings of a “telepath revolution” story, but it’s the kind of novel that will appeal to fans of romance fiction more than fans of science fiction. The revolution, and even the telepathy, is undeveloped and very much in the background.

Chela and Bee are telepaths and (according to Chela) terrorists from Earth, although Bee doesn’t recall the mass destruction they caused and barely remembers Earth. The neck chip that blocks her powers seems to have damaged Bee’s memory, or so Chela theorizes. There was a war, Chela says. They used their powers and people died, Chela says. Now the two women climb through tunnels, battling bugs the size of flying rabbits, in search of the printed food their captors have left for them. Sometimes they stop to have sex. In fact, they have regular sex. Good for them. Sex is a pleasant way to pass time when you aren’t dodging insect rabbits.

It is clear enough, early on, that Chela is hiding something from Bee. Perhaps the truth will set Bee free. When Bee regains some of her memory, however, she does not know whether to believe that Chela is warning her of a threat or that Chela is the threat. Neither does the reader.

The story’s second half devolves into an anguished cry about how awful it is to be an oppressed telepath in love. Women remember the taste of each other’s bodies and the feel of swelling nipples. That shouldn’t be dull but my eyes glazed over at the unrequited yearning and the assurances that characters give each other that they are just so amazing and nothing is their fault. Perhaps I cannot identify with their “desperate need to be cherished.” I thought the flying insect rabbits were more interesting.

This is sort of a “power of love; love conquers all” story. The writing is fluid (pretentious title notwithstanding) but most of it is devoted to how much Bee loves her wife unless she’s thinking about how much she loves Chela, except for the moments when she considers how much she hates one or the other of them. The plot (which might make sense but maybe it doesn’t; I stopped trying to understand it after I lost interest) is secondary to the declarations of love and accusations of love betrayed.

The virtue of Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is that, as a novella, it is over quickly. I have no problem with romance but I am not drawn to cheesy romance fiction, and I am irked by romance fiction that is marketed as science fiction by science fiction publishers. I read this novella because it was blurbed by Ann Leckie and Nancy Kress, two sf writers I admire. They apparently found something worthwhile that I missed.

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The story started out very interestingly, in an underground prison on a distant planet, memory loss and the hope of escape and a tantalizing world of space ships and telepathy. The two female characters are strong and tough and gay, apparently prisoners from some unexplained war. However, the story seems to devolve very quickly from there. The memory-loss storyline peters out halfway through as she regains all of her memory and the author completely destroys all of the mystery and sci-fi interest by making it all a figment of the main character's imagination. The story turns into a sad sort of PTSD love story about being discriminated against. And then it just ends.
I found it very unsatisfying, but at least it was short.
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Vylar Kaftan – Her Silhouette, Drawn in WaterAre you familiar with the concept of a Book Hangover? When you're not ready to start another book because the setting, characters, and story of the previous one are still so vivid in your head? Well, I had a similar effect when I picked up Vylar Kaftan's Novella Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water. You see, beforehand I had read Adrian Tchaikovsky's Walking to Aldebaran, which follows an Astronaut lost in an Alien Artefact, walking through endless tunnels.
And this story started with “These caves have never been friendly...”. Direct cross-contamination in my head, to the point where I had to put this down, read something else, and then go back to it to be able to do it justice!

But here you are – another story set in a claustrophobic cave environment, or at least starting there. In these caves we meet our protagonist Bee (full name Bianca del Rios), and her companion Chela. The setting is Colel-Cab, a prison planet. Why are they there, locked up all alone in a dangerous environment, with regular food/supply drops they have to scamper for before other denizens of the caves get them, is not entirely clear. I mean, not just in the story, but to the protagonists, either.

Yes, Bee is a Telepath (she has a chip in her neck suppressing that ability), but she has no memories of what misdeeds she got up to. Chela tells stories of a destroyed space ship, and thousands of victims, but somehow things don't add up. And it's not entirely clear why Chela is there, either – is she a (misguided) lover who went to prison with her love, is she a co-conspirator in these supposed crimes, or is she part of the jail? Of the punishment?
But Bee's telepathy suppressor is not fully effective, and there's another telepath nearby – and she learns more of what and where she is, and starts to work towards escape, something Chela is strongly opposed to.

I won't spill more of the story, save for the fact that the 2nd half doesn't play in the caves, and worked (not for that fact itself!) significantly better as a story for me. Maybe think of it as an overly long set-up before things kick off and get interesting? Either way we work through several layers of misdirection on part of the author (cleverly done, I hasten to add!) before all the pieces fit together and make sense. Even if the story leaves much to be told at the end...

The society this plays in is believable – technology-wise derived from ours into the near-future, and with a very realistic take on society's reaction to telepaths in their midst. No, it's not pretty, but all the more believable. The love story, playing out between Latina protagonists is at the core of the story, and makes the final twist even more surprising. Or maybe that was just me falling hook, line, and sinker for the author's plotting and misdirection, of course.
But if strong non-white lesbian female characters taking the lead makes a story more interesting or attractive to you then you're in for a treat here.

Vylar Kaftan is an American short-fiction writer (at least so far) with a good number of published stories under her belt, including an entry in Farah Mendlesohn's amazing collection Glorifying Terrorism. She's the winner of both Nebula and Sidewise Awards.


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Title: Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water
Author: Vylar Kaftan
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher: Tor Books
Publisher URL: http://www.tor.com
Publication Date: May 2019
Review Date: 190613
ISBN: 9781250221148 
Pages: 67
Format: ePub
Topic: Telephathy
Topic: Prison Break

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.
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I tried really hard to get into this because I loved the premise, but I strongly dislike the narrative voice and the characters. The whole setup is also kind of confusing, too; amnesia plotlines are tough for me anyways, and I don't think this one is written very well. Since it's so short, I kept telling myself I'd force myself to finish it, but it's been 2-3 weeks since I've read a single page so I might as well drop it.

Thank you so much to the publisher for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
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I feel this was a case where the synopsis was a bit misleading. I was expecting a sci-fi story, and it ended up being more of a lesbian romance with sci-fi elements. Not my cup of tea, but others may enjoy.

I received a digital ARC from the publisher via Netgalley.
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I don’t have strong feelings about Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water, which is why I decided this should be a shorter review than normal.

All Bee can remember is the darkness of the prison planet. She doesn’t remember anything of her life before. Luckily she’s not alone — she’s got Chela. Chela tells her that they were both psychics and that they used their powers to kill a bunch of people during a war. That they deserve to be here. Bee believes her, but then she starts hearing something… another psychic? And everything Bee thought she knew is turned upside down.

The concept of Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water was really intriguing. Psychics trapped on a prison planet made up solely of caves is a really cool idea! Also, it’s got the sort of messy lesbian relationships that would appeal to fans of The Luminous Dead. Unfortunately, the execution never worked quite right for me. I think this novella would have benefited from stronger world building. The pacing felt off — like it slowed down a ton around the 60% mark. And Bee also felt way too passive for most of the story. All in all, it didn’t work quite right for me.

I received an ARC with the expectation of a free and honest review.
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This is a very cleverly written, and credible depiction of what it might be like to be a telepath in a world of hostile normals.

It begins on a prison planet , where Bee follows fellow prisoner Chela through a maze of caverns, striving simply to survive and perhaps recover some of her memories. Her escape is enlightening.
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3 stars, Metaphorosis Reviews

A woman and one companion are trapped in an endless labyrinth that seems to have no exit. Or are they? When the woman escapes, leaving her companion behind, has she found freedom?

I've been hearing the name Vylar Kaftan for years, it seems like, but never read of any of her work. So when I saw this novella available, I thought I'd pick it up. It's fine, if not particularly inspired.
It's generally well written, though the prose is choppy in places. However, there's not that much to the story that's new. The basic concept - a psychic prison - is very familiar, and Kaftan doesn't do much with it that's innovative. The middle of the piece is long, slow, and repetitive, and likely this would have been better off as a short story. Instead, however, it reads like an excerpt or introduction to a longer piece.

The strongest aspect of the piece is its characters, but ever there, the narrator feels very self-involved, without too much interest in others - while constantly bemoaning her effect on others. The end is pretty muddled.

I can't say I'm sorry I read this; I'm glad to at last have a sense of Kaftan's skills. But there's nothing about this story that would make me search out another of Kaftan's books.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water 
by Vylar Kaftan 
Sci Fi & Fantasy
Abeja and Chela have been crawling around in caves, forever on the run. They are telepaths who have been imprisoned because they killed thousands aboard a starship. They've been given a chip that will knock them out if they ever try to use their talents. Large robots patrol the outside and Chela and Abeja only have each other.

Except Abeja senses a presence, a voice calling her telepathically. Chela warns it is a telepath in league with the government. But the voice is familiar and Abeja wants to connect.

This parallels Philip K. Dick territory, but veers into something else. It's quite intriguing although it bogs a little in the middle. Definitely worth your time. It wouldn't surprise me to see it on award ballots.
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I haven’t read much speculative fiction, but when Tor.com publishes a novella, my curiosity is instantly piqued, no matter the genre. The blurb on this one sounded promising and -- let’s be honest -- the gorgeous cover and unique title drew me in as well. So I thought I’d give it a try!

And whaddya know -- it’s wonderfully weird! It’s also intense, introspective, dream-like and diverse (sapphic latinx characters). I loved the pacing of the story (FAST) and the twists (NUMEROUS). It’s trippy in a very good way and a lot deeper than I expected.

I would love to talk more about the themes, but that discussion could become spoilery quite quickly, and I do think this is one of those books you’re better off diving into without knowing too much beforehand.

As with pretty much any novella, you’re not going to get every detail of the world-building, but if you enjoy glimpses into a larger world that allow you to imagine what else might be going on behind the scenes, you’ll enjoy the way this story is written. I would recommend Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water if you’re looking for a quick mind-bender (it took me under an hour to read!) that’s full of twists and leaves you thinking.

Advanced copy provided by Tor.com publishing through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

(Review posted to Goodreads & Amazon. Short graphic also saved to Instagram sci-fi recommendations highlight.)
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The nitty-gritty: A short, well written tale with a dream-like quality that gives readers plenty to think about.

This was such an odd little story, but I enjoyed it a lot. Vylar Kaftan has written a twisty, hallucinogenic tale about mental health and inner strength that didn’t go where I was expecting it to go—at all. I’m still not sure I understood everything that happens in this short novella, but I loved Kaftan’s atmospheric writing style and her exploration of how the minds of telepaths work. The main characters are queer Latinx women so if you’re looking for diverse rep in your reading, then look no further.

The story opens as two women are trapped in an underground cave system. The narrator, a powerful telepath named Bee, describes climbing through the dangerous corridors of the cave with her only companion, a fellow telepath named Chela. Together they help each other survive as they scramble to find food stores left behind by their captors and try to avoid the swarms of dangerous insects that seem to be everywhere in the caves. We soon learn that Bee and Chela have been imprisoned on the planet Colel-Cab after causing the deaths of thousands of people. Chela insists that there is no way to escape the caves and that they should just make the best of things. At least they have each other, right? But Bee is determined to find a way out of the caves and off the planet. Unfortunately, she’s also lost her memories and can’t remember anything about the incident that brought her here, or any details about her past. She must rely on Chela to fill in the blanks, but Chela seems oddly reluctant to explain too much.

One day Bee senses another presence close by, and suddenly a memory blooms in her mind—she can hear the voice of her wife, Jasmine. Convinced that Jasmine is trying to help her break out of prison, Bee decides she’ll do whatever it takes to find her freedom, even if it means leaving Chela behind.

There’s a powerful mystery to all these events, and you’ll have to read to the end before you understand what’s going on, but that was half the fun, not understanding but trying to piece things together as the story progresses. We’re given some scant background details about this world, where telepaths live in danger of being captured and “T-locked”—having their minds locked so that they can’t endanger anyone. It’s sort of terrifying if you think about it, having a gift like telepathy but everyone is afraid of you and wants to stop you from using that ability.

It’s also hard to know who to trust in this story. Bee seems like she’s an innocent, and both Chela and Jasmine might be lying to her. I even suspected at one point that Bee might be the unreliable narrator, but Kaftan’s story was hard to predict and I found that my theories were completely wrong at the end.

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is short but powerful. The ending surprised and delighted me, and I love the way everything seemed to come together and finally make sense. I’d love to read something longer from this author, because I think her ideas are unique and a novel length story would give her even more room to develop those ideas.

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
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The ARC of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan is a futuristic sci-fi novella whose main character is a queer latinx woman. 
I enjoyed very much the rep here: three of our main characters are queer women. Plus, this book deals a lot with important themes such as PTSD, anxiety and loneliness. 
One of the strenghts of this novella is definetely the writing style. I could feel on my own skin the sense of claustrophobia and darkness perceveid by Bee. It was something pretty strong.
Also, I find the plot twist really interesting and quite unexpected.
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Bianca, or Bee, is in a solitary, but open world, prison on an uninhabited planet, Colel-Cab. She cannot remember the crime she committed that led to her arrest and imprisonment, or anything at all for that matter. All Bee knows is that she's a powerful telepath and her crimes and her abilities make her very dangerous to others. Bee and her girlfriend, Chela, have managed to survive the planet's harsh environment together. For several months, the two of them explore the caves on Colel-Cab and mapping out the layout. Bee is hoping for a way out of the prison and off the planet, but Chela is extremely reluctant to leave, saying over and over again that it's not safe. 

One day, Bee is able to make contact with someone beyond Colel-Cab. To Bee's delight and Chela's horror, there's a chance for escape. But the question is, who needs rescuing and why? 

Vylar Kaftan's novella, "Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water," is a beautiful story about love and illusion. The love triangle is an interesting subplot, but the author does an amazing job giving life to her ideas of the mind, an individual's thoughts and beliefs, and PTSD (and how to cope with it). The plot and the theme of this story is fear and how an individual, and those within both their social circle and within society, survives and overcomes it. 

"Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water" will draw readers into the imagery surrounding this story. The themes of love, fear, and trauma are told in this brilliant narrative. The characters are well-developed and poignant. Emotional and beautiful from beginning to end. Another stunning novella published by Tor Books!
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Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan (Macmillan, 2019) is a queer psychic thriller that can be a quick read, but you’ll find yourself wanting to slow down to savor the gorgeous language and beautiful characterization.

The main character, Bee, is in an unusual prison without guards, where every day is an exercise in survival. She has few memories of what she did to get there, but Chela, who shares this prison, has told her that they are both psychics who caused a massive disaster. When Bee begins reaching out with her allegedly stunted psychic abilities, she discovers layer upon layer of lies and deceit as she struggles to break free from her imprisonment and its after effects.

The world had a bit of a dystopian feel, and both the world and the memory loss reminded me in places of Altered Carbon. If you enjoy thrillers that deal with issues of oppression and disability, along with a stunning cast of queer characters, you’ll love Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water. It’s available on May 21, 2019, but you can pre-order now.

The publisher provided us with a free copy of this novel in exchange for review consideration.
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[my review will go live on my blog at the link provided on 21 May — it has already been posted to goodreads and LibraryThing]

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan is a short novella about a woman imprisoned in a cave system on an alien planet. Or so it starts. She does not fully remember who she is or what her crime was, but at least she is not alone. Her fellow prisoner seems to know more than she does but is reluctant to divulge the information.

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.

This novella grabbed me straight away. Even though it is not very clear at first what's happening, I was drawn in my my desire to find out more about the world. I wasn't expecting the story to be about telepaths (probably because I don't pay overly much attention to blurbs), but it played out more interestingly than I would have expected. On the one hand, the plight of telepaths in this future world is central to the story since it's closely bound with the reasons for Bee's imprisonment. On the other hand, the actual conflict is backgrounded with the main focus being on Bee's personal struggle. In a society at war, we are presented with a very stark example of the personal being political.

I don't think I can say much more without spoiling the story, but I found it consistently very readable. The setting and story was a bit unusual, and at the same time the personal journey was very unexceptional in the context of fiction (aside from the parts that were). I recommend Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water to fans of soft science fiction/science fantasy — there's no avoiding the telepathy aspect of the story — and to any readers interested in personal stories with political backdrops.

4 / 5 stars

First published: May 2019, Tor.com
Series: Don't think so
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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I received a gratis advance copy of this novella through Netgalley

Intense. Mind-bending. Kaftan's novella is an incredibly fast, breath-taking read that never lets up the pace even as the nature of the tale changes. It begins feeling like a claustrophobic thriller: two Latinx women, prisoners within a cave system on an alien world, scrambling to survive on infrequent care packs as they battle off horrendous bugs. Their intense love for each other helps them to get by. The women were sentenced here because they are telepaths who committed a mass murder. Or did they?

At heart, this is a psychological thriller that explores how the mind is the most effective prison at all. It delves into themes of PTSD and trauma through a distinctly sci-fi lens, to great effect. My only complaint, I think, is that the end felt a bit abrupt, and I was left wanting a bit more explanation and resolution. But wow, does that ending still have power.
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This lovely novella reminds me of water-colors, painted with a deft touch, often evoked rather than explicitly depicted as layers of illusion are dispelled. The story opens with Bee, incarcerated in a series of caverns with only one companion, her lover, Chela. Although her crime was blowing up a space ship, she has no memory of it. Food and other supplies are delivered, but the two of them never encounter another human being. Gradually, though, Bee realizes she has telepathic powers that are nullified by a chip in her brain, supposedly related to her crime. The more she tries to reach out with her mind, the more agonizing the consequences, and the more frantic Chela becomes to maintain their status quo, to not challenge their imprisonment, and to keep Bee emotionally entangled with her.

Slowly Bee peels away the layers of illusion, and I won’t reveal what comes to light, as “the pleasure is in the journey.” Suffice it to say that I kept turning the pages, pausing to savor the nuanced, exquisitely crafted prose. Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water showcases Kaftan as an author of immense skill and sensitivity. The end suggest that Bee’s story will continue, and I for one will be looking forward to it! 

The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, but no one bribed me to say anything in particular about it. Although chocolates and fine imported tea are always welcome.
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Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is one of the most beautiful novellas I’ve read. We see a woman with telepathic abilities, locked in a world from which she desperately wants to break free. Her thoughts are often raw and jumbled, flying between excitement and heartbreak, fear and determination. It’s one of the most human narratives you’ll find. Kaftan has captured the savagery of trauma on the mind and the beauty of a love story paused by terrifying circumstances. Prepare to feel all of the emotions as you travel on this journey to self-healing and acceptance.

Spoilers below, you’ve been warned!

I was most impressed by how well Kaftan captures the raw emotions stemming from anxiety, depression, and trauma. We see the protagonist truly struggle to recover from the wrongs done to her. It’s not an easy journey and it’s only when she reaches within and accepts herself for who she is that the healing begins. Her love story is essential to the plot, showing us a wife who never gave up on finding the love of her life, even after a decade of searching. They’re essentially strangers by the time she’s rescued but the memories live on and that love is something worth rediscovering. It’s hard to describe the emotional journey of experiencing this book from a reader perspective. To summarize, it’s intense and magical. 

Telepathy is also normalized, changing it from an all encompassing, universe altering power to something ordinary. There’s no crushing of cars or destruction of worlds, just a form of human connection that’s misunderstood. Her ability creates the most memorable interactions with her wife, allowing her to share in her emotions, to see her memories when her own have been tarnished. It made me emotional, imagining how an ability like that could enhance the life of someone unable to remember pivotal moments from their past. It’s a form of connection deeper than anything we’re able to feel in real life.

In the end, Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is a special kind of book, a character piece that lets you into the very depths of the protagonist’s soul. To experience her emotions, her love, and her self-discovery is a true gift that’s hard to find. 

Review to be published on 5/22: https://reviewsandrobots.com/2019/05/22/her-silhouette-drawn-in-water-book-review
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