Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Finished! — times two

Okay! So, busy weekend!

1.First, I’m really glad to say that I finally completed the entire Copper Mountain revision. It turned into significantly more work toward the end than I initially thought it was going to; I re-worked some of those chapters a fair bit, including cutting the entire last chapter and replacing it.

As a side question, I wonder how many of you prefer which pov character? The four pov characters we have had so far in the novels are: Natividad, Alejandro, Justin, and Miguel, pretty much in that order chronologically. I did not exactly do this on purpose, but Natividad and Miguel almost entirely split the narrative in Copper Mountain. I hope that’s all right with readers.

Of course the pov moves around a lot more in the shorter works. Let me see, who else has gotten pov stories … well, Thaddeus, Ethan, Keziah, Carissa, Tommy … anyone else besides the main protagonists from the novels? I think that’s it. The next Black Dog project will be another collection, so whom would you most like to see take the pov again? There will be another Ethan novella for sure — I wrote that last year some time — so who else? I have vague ideas for a couple more stories, but I’m not sure what I’ll be doing for those, so if you have preferences, this would be the time to let me know.

All right, next:

2.Second, did I mention that I’d written a long novella / short novel set in the world of Tuyo? I’m not sure I mentioned that, except to a couple of you whom I asked to critique it. It’s just about exactly 70,000 words, about 215 pages, so that’s roughly half the length of Copper Mountain but well within the typical length for a short novel.

Well, I got that revised this weekend and I think it’s in pretty good shape for, if all goes well, release later this month. It’s quite different from Tuyo. It’s third person, set 14 years earlier, from the pov of Nikoles Ianan. The story he told Ryo in Tuyo stuck with me, so this is that story. I hope you all enjoy it!

I’m ready for typo reads for both of these books, so if you volunteered to read something for me, thank you! You will be getting one or the other of these stories in your mailbox today.

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Recent Reading: To Ride Hell’s Chasm by Janny Wurts

You may remember that I mentioned this book recently and said ooh, I like the description. Here’s the description:

When Princess Anja fails to appear at her betrothal banquet, the tiny, peaceful kingdom of Sessalie is plunged into intrigue. Two warriors are charged with recovering the distraught king’s beloved daughter. Taskin, Commander of the Royal Guard, whose icy competence and impressive life-term as the Crown’s right-hand man command the kingdom’s deep-seated respect; and Mykkael, the rough-hewn newcomer who has won the post of Captain of the Garrison – a scarred veteran with a deadly record of field warfare, whose ‘interesting’ background and foreign breeding are held in contempt by court society.

As the princess’s trail vanishes outside the citadel’s gates, anxiety and tension escalate. Mykkael’s investigations lead him to a radical explanation for the mystery, but he finds himself under suspicion from the court factions. Will Commander Taskin’s famous fair-mindedness be enough to unravel the truth behind the garrison captain’s dramatic theory: that the resourceful, high-spirited princess was not taken by force, but fled the palace to escape a demonic evil?

Here’s the cover, one of several versions; this one shows a bunch of horses, so I prefer it to some of the other versions:

Those griffin-dragon things, called kerries, are MUCH BIGGER than implied in that image. They can easily pick up a horse, complete with rider(s), and fly off with them. They roost in Hell’s Chasm, in surprising numbers. There are other reasons why No One Has Ever Made It Through, plus for this particular attempt, besides having to run a gauntlet of kerries, the good guys are being pursued by demonic flying creatures, a problem that as you may imagine complicates the situation.

Okay, so, the story. It’s … um. It stands out in several ways, let’s say.

a) The florid style. This is nothing like the much more straightforward style I expected from author of the Daughter of the Empire series. Let me quote a snippet:

Commander Taskin bent his ice-pale gaze on the tearful maid who had last seen Princess Anja in her chambers.

“What more is left to say, my lord?” she despaired, her pink hands clasping and shaking. “I’ve told you all I know.”

Tall, gaunt, erect as tempered steel, with a distinguished face and frosty hair, Taskin radiated competence. His silences could probe with unsubtle, scorching force. While the distraught maid stammered and wept, he stepped across the carpet and bent his dissecting regard over the clutter on Anja’s dressing table.

Okay! That’s plenty to give you the idea. I was quite startled to discover how often Wurts uses words like “despaired” as dialogue tags. I mean, she does this A LOT. And those descriptions! Erect as tempered steel! Silences that probe! Regard that both bends and dissects!

And yet … I got used to this style surprisingly fast, just kind of reading over the dialogue tags and past the flamboyant descriptions and so on.

b) Villain points of view.

Toward the beginning, there are long stretches of villain points of view. I dislike that and just skipped those chapters. The only chapters I read for at least the first third were those that focused on Mykkail and Taskin.

Did something important happen in the sections I skipped? Not sure, but I have to say, I didn’t feel like I missed much.

At one point about halfway through, I was quite startled to find out this one thing about Prince Kelian, but actually that plot element worked great as a surprise. Probably it would have been a lot less surprising if I’d been reading the whole story, but who knows? Maybe the author managed to reserve that element even while lingering in the villain points of view.

c) Uneven pacing.

This story is like reading two separate books, a mostly slow-paced one about court intrigue, followed by a fast-paced one about a horrendous ride through Hell’s Chasm.

We take absolute AGES to meet Anja. I think we’re close to halfway through the book before Mykkael meets up with her. During the first entire half of the book, it seems like the central relationship is going to be between Mykkael and Taskin, as they circle around each other and develop trust in each other. Obviously this element appealed to me a lot. But once they separate in the middle, they never come together again. Taskin and everything in Sessalie recedes in importance — I mean, the fate of Sessalie is important to Anja, but it’s very much backgrounded as we move into the second part of the story. At that point the relationship between Mykkael and Anja becomes central.

Until the end, and then they’re thrust apart by events and everything gets tied off in a rapid-fire series of scenes that serves as an epilogue to let you know that everyone gets to live happily ever after. The threat is built up SO much and then bang! it’s over.

d) Animal character death

I’m not sure I’ve ever read a novel where so many animals were built into secondary characters with distinct personalities and then killed. Granted, it would have been highly implausible to get six horses and a dog through Hell’s Chasm. Still.

Just putting that out there, in case any of you appreciate the warning.

e) Now, having said all that … Wurts pretty much pulls ALL of this off. I’m not exactly sure how.

The style is consistently florid. Maybe that helps? I liked both Mykkael and Taskin quite a bit, despite the over-the-top descriptions. Mykkael, to be fair, was over the top in Every. Possible. Way. I liked him a lot anyway, but then I often like ubercompetent good guys.

I liked Anja, even though actually I’m not entirely sure why she COULD NOT LEAVE A NOTE. Not sure who to trust? Leave twenty notes, widely scattered! Good heavens, girl, use your head! But despite that, I did like her.

I liked a lot of the secondary characters — Jussand, for example, though I have NO idea what he was DOING in Sessalie, that makes NO SENSE, but he was a neat character. Honestly, lots of good secondary characters.

The situation in Hell’s Chasm is so dire, maybe that’s why the deaths of all those horses seems tolerable? Though not taking all the horses into Hell’s Chasm in the first place … not that there weren’t justifications for doing so. But still, the author can almost always avoid this sort of thing if she wants to. I can think of exactly how to have avoided it without changing a thing about the dangers the good guys face. I might have killed one horse. Not in that scene you might have just thought of. I have a different way to solve that problem. Oh! Two different ways.

The depth of stupidity of some of Sessalie’s court officials would have been super annoying, except I largely skipped or skimmed past almost all of that, so it didn’t get in the way. Anyway, toward the end, they mostly got their noses rubbed in the obvious fact that they were totally wrong.

So what I’m basically saying here is, I liked the story quite a bit, probably more than it deserves. The elements that appealed to me let me enjoy it despite (quite a few) elements that did not appeal to me at all.

If you’ve read this book, I’d love to know what you thought of it!

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Melting

As I’m sure is the case for lots of you, I’m not happy when the lows are over eighty and the highs over ninety every day for weeks on end, especially because our humidity in southern MO is permanently stuck on “sauna” from June through September.

Ugh, this weather! I walk all the dogs at six in the morning because it’s barely bright enough to read on my Kindle while walking them. I can manage three dogs on flexi-leads in one hand and hold a Kindle in the other hand, incidentally, without having to pause to untangle them more than a couple of times per walk, which takes considerable practice.

Anyway, as I say, I walk them at dawn, in sets of three. I need the exercise and they like to sniff around, though it’s not much exercise for them. Then we all stay indoors until dusk. At dusk, the puppies go out and run in mad circles for an hour in the immense yard, incidentally often finding burr plants even though I thought I’d gotten rid of all the burr plants last month. The older dogs think the puppies are nuts and remain indoors, lying in front of air conditioning vents.

None of this is actually a complaint. This year — knock on wood — we are getting significant rain rather than having a three-to-five-month drought, so YAY for that. It’s just, ugh, what unpleasant weather.

This is the time of year I want to read books with COLD, WINTRY settings. There are zillions of them. Let me see if I can put together a good list.

Science Fiction Winter Novels: I KNOW there are many, or at least some, that I am forgetting. What’s that one Poul Anderson wrote? With ice ships? Anybody recall? If you think of any other SF novels with frozen settings, drop them in the comments, please. The same goes for the other categories, obviously.

  1. Fallen Angels by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
  2. The Snow Queen by Joan Vinge, which of course has one of the all-time great Michael Whelan covers:

Fantasy Winter Novels: SO MANY. Here the trick is to stop.

  1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, obviously.
  2. Mapping Winter by Marta Randall
  3. Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett
  4. Tuyo

Magical Realism Winter Novels: I can only think of one. But, wow, winter.

  1. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

Mystery Winter Novels: Huge numbers, but here are a few. I particularly appreciate setting in mystery novels — setting and character — the mystery itself is not as important to me, but I do think these are good overall mystery novels too.

  1. In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming
  2. Winter’s Child by Margaret Maron
  3. Icy Clutches by Aaron Elkins
  4. A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

Romance Winter Novels: Obviously a million trapped-by-the-snow romances, but here are a handful that come to mind.

  1. Snow Kissed by Laura Florand
  2. Season for Surrender by Theresa Romaine
  3. A Kiss for Midwinter by Courtney Milan
  4. A Rose in Winter by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

Suspense Winter Novels: I don’t know quite whether to call this suspense or horror. I really liked it, either way.

  1. The Silent Land by Graham Joyce

YA Winter Novels: Obviously a bunch, but this is one I loved and read over and over when I was a kid.

  1. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

Please drop any favorite novels with winter settings in the comments, because I’m sure we could all use help cooling off here in the middle of summer.

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The intricacies of commas

Here’s an entertaining and possibly useful post about commas:

You win this round comma.

Did you immediately get the joke in the title? Like: You win this round, comma. versus You win this round comma. I have to admit, I didn’t get it at first. I just found that sentence confusing, full stop.

Turns out it’s based on this joke:

And then the punctuation jokes continue:

[Oxford comma laughing in the distance.]

[Vocative comma wondering what Oxford comma thinks it’s doing here.]

And okay, yes, I thought that was all pretty funny because what can I say? I appreciate punctuation humor.

Anyway, the post is largely about the somewhat subtle-ish use of commas in restrictive vs nonrestrictive clauses and why you really, really cannot just stick a comma in where you would breathe. I will pause here to wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve said to a student, “No, actually, you can’t just stick a comma in whenever you would take a breath. That is a completely unreliable method of putting commas into your paper. Sorry.”

Anyway, the post offers various examples, like so:

Restrictive—The bread that I bought yesterday is stale.

Not the bread I bought today, or the day before yesterday. The phrase “that I bought yesterday” is essential; it restricts the sentence to just that loaf of bread.

Nonrestrictive—The bread, which I bought yesterday, is stale.

The commas tell us there’s only one loaf of bread. That I bought it yesterday is informative but not essential, since readers just need to know it is stale.

The post also points out the [American English] use of “that” in restrictive versus “which” in nonrestrictive clauses, which I eventually internalized after three or so copy editors changed half my “whichs” to “thats,” or the other way around (I can’t remember my default before I started to follow the rule).

I never think “Is this clause restrictive?” by the way. I just put “which” after a comma. If there’s no comma, I put “that.” In order to use this shorthand, easy method, you have to have a feel for whether the comma goes there, so without that, I guess you can spend a lot of time asking yourself, “Uh, is this clause restrictive?”

From the linked post:

But is it that big a deal if I mess it up? Most of the time, no. Most of the time, context will help readers autocorrect the mistake and infer what you meant. Other times, getting this wrong will create ambiguity, or worse, confusion. All of the time, it creates extra work, and if part of your reader’s brain is busy trying to decode syntax-level meaning, that part of the brain cannot fall in love with your protagonist, your plot, or your prose.

I agree with this. I think a lot of writers make errors in punctuation, grammar, syntax, and word choice that cause brief confusion and extra work for their readers and they should all do their best to learn better.

However, as we all know, there are many usage choices for commas that are genuinely a matter of artistic judgment. In particular, the copy editor for one of my more recent books … I guess that was probably for WINTER OF ICE AND IRON … took out a lot of my commas after introductory clauses.

I was following the general “put a comma after introductory clauses” rule.

She was following the specific “short prepositional introductory clauses do not need a comma” rule.

After consideration, I let most of her changes stand. What’s more, going over the copy edits for that manuscript shifted my general inclination. Now, unless doing so improves clarity or rhythm, I don’t put a comma after a short prepositional introductory clause. That is, I now prefer not to use a comma in sentences like, “At last the warleader dismounted.” or “In the winter country we can evade them and stay out of their reach.” I’m still a little surprised that one copy editor could permanently shift my preference, but apparently so.

Another context in which commas are pretty much a matter of artistic taste is acknowledgments, such as “Yes, sir.” I very strongly prefer including a comma there, but plenty of writers disagree, as quickly becomes obvious if you read space opera and military SF. Also historical military fiction, I presume, though I haven’t specifically noticed. The only time I wouldn’t is if a character, speaking very fast, slurs the words together into “Yessir.”

Similarly, I think it’s crucial to use a comma in “Hi, Bob” even though lots of people don’t bother when dashing off a quick email.

So the linked article is pretty good, and now I’m curious: do you even notice whether there’s a comma in “Yes, sir” in military fiction, and does it bug you at all when the author disagrees with your preference?

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Keyboard shortcuts

Okay, after writing WINTER OF ICE AND IRON, I have a lot of keyboard shortcuts memorized for accent marks. Like:

Control + shift + : = an umlaut on top of the next vowel you type, for example.

I can type vowels with accent marks almost as fast as vowels without, which is seldom useful in normal life, probably, but there it is, a skill that will probably stay with me for the rest of my life.

Yesterday what I wanted was the upside-down exclamation mark for Spanish. I have that sort of thing saved in a different Word document so I can open that document and copy and paste symbols without having to scroll (in vain, too often) through the “insert special character” list. Having the upside-down punctuation marks saved in a file has been my workaround for years, and it’s . . . a moderately convenient workaround, I guess.

Well, here is a super-useful post at Kill Zone Blog that tells me the keyboard shortcut for the upside-down exclamation point is:

ALT + 1 = ¡

I wish I’d known that yesterday! I have never taught myself the Alt shortcuts. There are heaps of them, apparently. The upside-down question mark is harder, and in fact the linked post does not appear to offer that one, so I googled it and it is this:

Alt + Ctrl + Shift + ? = ¿ 

I will never be able to do that on the fly, without looking at the keyboard. But on the other hand, it’s slightly more convenient than opening a different Word file to copy and paste the symbol.

The linked post offers lots more — too many, really — but those two above are the ones I need to remember.

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Falling down the rabbit hole

At Book View Cafe, this fun post by Phyllis Irene Radford: RESEARCH RABBIT HOLES

Back in 2000 I needed to know the name of the Bishop of Paris in 1558 for an historical fantasy Guardian of the Vision, Merlin’s Descendants #3.

A quick Google search provided me with a long list of names of every bishop of Paris since Rome appointed the first one back in the post Roman dark ages. Except there was an eight-year gap surrounding 1558. Blank. No name. Nothing.

This gap in the records eventually leads to the conclusion that beer is responsible for the rise of civilization. The rabbit hole that leads from the starting point to that conclusion is what makes the post fun.

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Writing “echoes”

Here’s a post by James Scott Bell at Kill Zone Blog: Stir your echoes

A writing echo is the close repetition of a word or phrase:

Monica charged into the room.
“So there you are!” she said.
Harvey said, “You don’t understand.”
The girl in the bed elbowed Harvey. “I think she does.”
“See you in court,” Monica said as she charged out the door.

The obvious echo here is charged. The words occur in close proximity. The echo clangs on the ear of the reader. It’s what I call one of those writing “speed bumps” that, even for a brief moment, can take the reader out of a smooth, fictional ride.

So don’t put them in.

But an echo is easy for a writer to write and overlook when editing his own manuscript. It should be something a good editor or reader catches for you.

Bell is SO RIGHT that this kind of repeated word is “easy for a writer to write.” He does not go far enough in his comment. Let me rephrase it more forcefully:

These echoes are AN ABSOLUTE PLAGUE UPON US.

Bell suggests doing a search to find words you tend to echo. Well, that’s a peachy idea, except that there is no specific word that I personally “tend to echo.” I mean, sure, maybe, but that isn’t the problem. If there were specific words, I could do a search for them as Bell says and there would be no problem.

But, no.

The problem is with every dratted word in the dictionary. It’s like the back of my brain says, OH! Let’s describe this guy as “sauntering!” And then for the rest of that page, the back of my brain continues to consider “saunter” and variations the ideal word for everyone moving anywhere. Then I’m over it and don’t use “saunter” or “sauntering” again during that book.

This is incredibly hard to spot when revising.

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Mystery and Suspense Novels: revealed!

So, I’m currently listening to a Great Courses offering called (somehwat amusingly) The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction. I do get a kick of the use of the word “secrets” in this kind of title — LOOK! SECRETS! Obviously there are no secrets to reveal; how could there be? It’s just a set of lectures about the development of this genre of fiction, from Edgar Allen Poe on forward.

Thirty-six lectures. The lecturer is David Schmid of, let me see, Stanford.

I’m enjoying listening to these lectures, mostly. The topic is inherently interesting but low-key. I mean, when I listened to a Great Courses offering on terrible military blunders, I literally could not bring myself to listen all the way through some of the lectures because hearing all about the drawn-out tragedy crashing down was sometimes too stressful. Obviously this topic isn’t like that.

So far Schmid has emphasized three stories by Poe, then the Sherlock Holmes stories and Agatha Christie, then the hardboiled detective era with a lot of emphasis on the Maltese Falcon, and honestly he has barely mentioned any of the mystery authors I most would like him to bring up. He did discuss Ngaio Marsh, not too extensively. Not a word yet about Rex Stout, though I have some hope he will appear at some point.

But what I want to rant about here is Schmid’s take on cozy mysteries.

I really would like to be in his actual class so I could write a paper (I assume he assigns papers) tearing apart his view on this subgenre. Let me summarize his position as clearly as I can:

a) Cozy mysteries are criticized for their lack of realism given the lack of on-stage, dramatic violence and career criminals and the central presence of amateur detectives rather than police or private detectives, but it is that very lack of realism that appeals to readers, especially in trying times, and

b) Cozy mysteries are defined by the above characteristics and by their setting in a small town or suburb, and if we look closely at mysteries and suspense novels with those sorts of settings, we will see how many such novels push against the perception of small towns and suburbs as safe and comfortable. Just look, for example, at Gone Girl and various other novels, which show us the dark underbelly of these settings! Thus we see that human tragedy and terror lurk even where we should feel safe.

… and I listened to this lecture all the way through thinking, Good heavens, what are you SAYING? Have you never actually READ cozy mysteries?

I surmise that David Schmid likes noir detective novels and psychological suspense novels and so on and that he doesn’t like cozy mysteries, and probably hates cutesy mysteries (if he acknowledges them at all), and that’s all very well, but I can hardly see how he could be more wrong if he tried. I mean, he’s right about the small town setting and about the protagonist being an amateur sleuth, and he’s sometimes right about the lack of realism (though not always!), but he’s totally wrong about the heart of the whole subgenre.

I’m certain I wrote a post on cozy mysteries not so very long ago, but whatever, here again are the actual defining characteristics of cozies, which do not overlap in any substantial way with psychological suspense regardless of setting:

Cozy mysteries —

–Generally have a small town or village or rural setting, so that’s fine.

–Generally center a female protagonist who is a the owner of a small and quirky business rather than a cop or detective — Schmid did not mention either of the bolded characteristics, just left it as “amateur detective.”

–Generally or always involve an important romance subplot that unfolds over the course of the series, frequently though not necessarily involving a cop or detective as the male lead. Schmid does not appear to have noticed this at all! This is completely antithetical to “showing us the dark underbelly of village life,” which he considers so important to the best writers of cozy mysteries.

Let me go way out on a limb and say that if the central point of the story is to show the reader the dark underbelly of anything, that story is NOT A COZY MYSTERY. Why do you think the word “cozy” is in the name of the subgenre? The whole POINT of a cozy mystery is to center and develop positive relationships, not only romances but friendships, between the female protagonist and a bunch of supporting characters, while also involving a mystery plot. The emphasis on positive relationships and romance is the single most central feature of cozy mysteries. THIS is what appeals to readers who like the subgenre! It’s like you dropped romance novels, mystery novels, and chick lit in a blender and hit the “blend” button. That’s what cosy mysteries ARE — mysteries with much more emphasis on romance and relationships than you will find in any other subgenre within mystery and suspense fiction.

This is OBVIOUS.

And Schmid does not seem to have noticed.

And that is why I would love to write a paper in his class.

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Etymology

Here’s an article on the etymology of lots of words related to the Covid virus — LANGUAGE in a TIME of CORONA

The details here are really fascinating:

As with much of the early medical terminology, CRISIS migrated to English from Greece via Rome. The Greek word is krisis, and it was used in medicine by Hippocrates and Galen, but its general sense in ancient Greek was “judgment, the result of a trial, a selection.” It is from the verb krinein “to separate, decide, judge,” which probably is from a PIE root meaning “to sieve.”

To sieve or sift is, figuratively “to discriminate, to distinguish” (as when the police inspectors “sift through the evidence”). Sifting and winnowing were essential activities in agricultural communities, and their purpose is to separate that which is good or usable from that which is neither. Judgment is implied.

The Old English cognate is hriddel “a sieve.” Native English had the word only in a literal sense, and its best-known survival now probably is the derived verb RIDDLE“perforate with many holes.” (The other RIDDLE, the “word-puzzle” sense, is from a different root and is related to READand RHYME).

But beyond homely Old English the PIE “sieve” root has had a prolific sense development. In Latin it yielded both literal (cribrum “a sieve”) and figurative senses (crimen “indictment, accusation”), and words that had both: cernere “to sift, separate,” also “to distinguish.”

There’s lots more. Click through and read the whole (fascinating) thing.

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We live in a Science Fiction world

I know we live in a SF world, okay? I’m aware that this is The Future and we are living in it and new, wildly futuristic technology is everywhere, but still, this headline, which appears to be real (?) makes me blink:

KFC will test lab-grown chicken nuggets made with a 3D bioprinter this fall in Russia

The chicken chain has partnered with 3D Bioprinting Solutions to create a chicken nugget made in a lab with chicken and plant cells using bioprinting. Bioprinting, which uses 3D-printing techniques to combine biological material, is used in medicine to create tissue and even organs.

The 3D-printed chicken nuggets will closely mimic the taste and appearance of KFC’s original chicken nuggets, according to the press release. KFC expects the production of 3D-printed nuggets to be more environmentally friendly than the production process of its traditional chicken nuggets. The fall release will mark the first debut of a lab-grown chicken nugget at a global fast-food chain like KFC.

It’s not April 1st. I guess this is true?

Seems like a short step from this to Star Trek food replicators.

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