Saturday, December 20, 2014

Spoonfuls of Sugar (e-short story) by Elizabeth McCoy

Spoonfuls of Sugar is a short story set in McCoy's Kintaran universe. It's 10,270 words long.

Because this is so short, I'm not going to include any read-alikes. Also, warning: my review includes major spoilers.


I really liked McCoy's Queen of Roses. My feelings about her Lord Alchemist duology were more mixed, but I was hoping that her Kintaran stories would work better for me, since they're science fiction like Queen of Roses. McCoy's chronological listing of the stories indicated that "Spoonfuls of Sugar" would be a good place to start.

A couple things made me a little nervous right away. A section on the copyright page mentioned that some of the alien species and technology came from GURPS, which I'm completely unfamiliar with. Also, the “Glossary and Names” section, while short, was a little overwhelming. I was worried I might not be able to follow along. Thankfully, that didn't turn out to be as much of a problem as I'd feared, although I'm sure I pictured some of the aliens incorrectly as I was reading. The story was pretty light on descriptions.

Anyway, "Spoonfuls of Sugar" stars Coli-nfaran and Klarin-yal, two Kintaran sisters who decide to go off on their own for a while. The new leader of their clan wants to transform their clanship into a pirate-hunter. In order to oppose him and buy a controlling share in the ship, the two sisters need to make a lot of money, which is why they jump at the chance to become very well-paid medical research subjects.

Coli-nfaran and Klarin-yal were probably the best thing about this story. They made a good pair. Klarin-yal was the hothead, more comfortable with fighting and action than her sister. Coli-nfaran, being fairly small for a Kintaran, was used to solving problems with her brains and knew how to think outside the box.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the story, the medical research stuff, really bugged me. The free food, free living quarters, and amazing pay should have made the sisters at least a little nervous, especially considering they had no one who could take care of Kroygharl, Klarin-yal's child, if they died. It wasn't until after they'd been accepted as test subjects and had signed nondisclosure agreements that Coli-nfaran finally asked what was going to be done to them and what the possible side-effects were. The researcher's response about the side-effects:
“'First, there aren't supposed to be any, and second, even if there were, I don't want psychosomatic reactions interfering with the tests.'” (17)
This particular treatment involved a virus that was supposed to make subjects immune to all foreign viruses and bacteria. That's pretty major, so the doctor's statement struck me as being extremely suspect. Coli-nfaran, who'd supposedly taken online medical courses, just accepted what she'd been told. My suspicions turned out to be correct when the treatment made the sisters violently ill as it destroyed microorganisms in their digestive systems. I'd consider that a significant side-effect, and also potentially very scary, although the only thing anyone seemed to worry about was keeping the sisters hydrated.

Near the end of the story, one of the characters was sentenced to be a research subject as punishment for participating in a kidnapping – apparently medical ethics is very different in this world. It was also revealed that Coli-nfaran was supposed to be the control in the study but had somehow gotten the treatment anyway. The researcher said she had a theory about how that had happened, but she never explained her theory and, even after rereading portions of the story, I still have no theory of my own beyond "the virus is contagious." And yet the researcher somehow magically knew that the sisters wouldn't be contagious and sent them on their merry way, leaving me both confused and horrified.

I already own the next couple stories in the series. Here's hoping they're better than this one.

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