The Boston Citgo sign, all 3,600 square LED feet of which has served as the backdrop to Red Sox games since 1965, is now officially a "pending landmark."

Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí spent much of the 1940s in the U.S., avoiding World War II and its aftermath. He was a well-known fixture on the art scene in Monterey, Calif. — and that's where the largest collection of Dalí's work on the West Coast is now open to the public.

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The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla.

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

"Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history," the FBI's Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement, "the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities."

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.


Echoes Of Orwell In 'The Office Of Mercy'

Feb 26, 2013

It was no less than the master of dystopian fiction, George Orwell, who noted in a 1946 essay that "political language has to consist largely of euphemism. ... Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air ... the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification." It's a scary thought, but he wasn't giving lessons on how to write pointed satire like his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four — he was describing the actual political climate of the day, when governments were using linguistic tricks in an attempt to explain away incidences of mass violence against innocent people.

As Orwell knew, the best dystopian fiction is close enough to reality to make it scarily believable, and that's why the rulers of Oceania, the country in Nineteen Eighty-Four, used euphemism to couch their horrible intentions. It's the same way in Ariel Djanikian's thrilling debut The Office of Mercy, where undesirables aren't "murdered" by the government, they're "swept" or, more chillingly, "granted mercy." It's all an attempt to fulfill the government's stated core values: "World Peace, Eternal Life, and All Suffering Ended."

The government in question here is America-Five, one of a series of heavily guarded, technologically advanced communities that were founded after a worldwide disaster essentially destroyed most of civilization. America-Five is an attempt at a utopia; its scientists are at work on making humans immortal, and its citizens have only occasional attacks from tribes of people from "the Outside" to fear.

The young Natasha is assigned to work in the Office of Mercy, which is in charge of killing all the Outsiders it can find. Like everyone in America-Five, she's been taught this is a necessary act of kindness. But when she's sent Outside on a mission, she meets members of the Pine tribe, and starts to question the humanity of the government's constant "sweeps."

The biggest trap for authors of dystopian fiction is heavy-handedness, and it's one that Djanikian, for the most part, does a good job of avoiding. At its heart, The Office of Mercy is a thriller, and the author doesn't bog down the plot with earnest, pedantic morality lectures. There's also no cartoonish archvillain, and that makes the book both scary and realistic — Natasha and her small group of like-minded compatriots are doing battle against an ingrained mindset, not some half-baked rogue evildoer.

And although the fast-paced plot makes The Office of Mercy exciting to read, the highlight of the novel is Natasha herself. Protagonists in dystopian fiction are too often retreads of the "lone voice crying out in the wilderness" archetype: flawless, brave and morally unimpeachable. But with Natasha, Djanikian has crafted a hero who is memorable precisely because of her imperfections — there's an initial gullibility and hypersentimentality to her, and it's fascinating, and at times heartbreaking, to witness her incremental growth as she begins to question everything she's been taught.

It takes a blend of intelligence and compassion to pull off that kind of convincing character arc, but it also takes great authorial skill — nobody's going to stick around to the end if the writing isn't good enough. Luckily, Djanikian proves to be expert at both narrative pacing — The Office of Mercy is an indisputable page turner with a surprising ending — and crafting prose. Describing mourners at a funeral for victims of a "sweeping," she writes, "They imagined the souls lingering just above the sand, in the exact place of the body's death, waiting, however the dead may wait, for God to call them home."

The stunning, willfully oblivious cruelty of America-Five is chilling because of its plausibility — you don't have to look past our own history for examples of mass slaughter, eugenics and euphemized government propaganda. It's hard to miss the echoes of Orwell in Djanikian's dark vision of both the past and the future — and an all too familiar-sounding country without conscience, hope and mercy.

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