Nebula Finalist: Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water • 2019 • SF novella by Vylar Kaftan


Synopsis: Bee tries to escape a harsh environment together with Chela, her lover. They are the only human souls underground in a maze of rock chambers on a foreign planet. Large bugs compete with them for the 3D printed food that they chase every day. Bee finds out why she’s here: it is a prison and she is a telepath who killed thousands of people.

As Bee fights for recovering her memory, she sees through the deception, and as soon as someone reaches out for her, she tries to break free. It is her former wife Jasmine who tries to rescue her.

Layer upon layer, Bee finds her way out.

Review: The surreal planet remembers me of Ellison’s story I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, only that it’s been far more visual, and immersive in the older story. I only waited for the deception’s uncovering. After the rescue, the story built up a plot similar to PKD’s Total Recall, where the protagonist can’t differentiate between imagination and reality any more. It plotted that trope only halfway and I really was confused where the story would be running to. Bee’s struggles, her emotions, and confusion were well drawn and I could sympathize with her trauma and recovery. Her romance stories with both Chela and Jasmine didn’t reach me, though I found the question of infidelity interesting.

While gripping and rich in action, the story didn’t satisfy because it felt like in search for a full novel or a first chapter to a telepathic rebellion. It tried to reach to much and did its work only halfway.

Meta: isfdb. I’ve read it as part of the Hugo and Nebula Award finalists.

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