Are 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.

More Vylar Kaftan

Title: Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water Author: Vylar Kaftan Reviewer: Markus

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Publisher: Tor Books

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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.