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Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan

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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