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.

Alabama authorities say a home burglary suspect has died after police used a stun gun on the man.  Birmingham police say he resisted officers who found him in a house wrapped in what looked like material from the air conditioner duct work.  The Lewisburg Road homeowner called police Tuesday about glass breaking and someone yelling and growling in his basement.  Police reportedly entered the dwelling and used a stun gun several times on a white suspect before handcuffing him.  Investigators say the man was "extremely irritated" throughout and didn't obey verbal commands.

It can be hard to distinguish among the men wearing grey suits and regulation haircuts on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. But David Margolis always brought a splash of color.

It wasn't his lovably disheveled wardrobe, or his Elvis ring, but something else: the force of his flamboyant personality. Margolis, a graduate of Harvard Law School, didn't want to fit in with the crowd. He wanted to stand out.

Montgomery Education Foundation's Brain Forest Summer Learning Academy was spotlighted Wednesday at Carver High School.  The academic-enrichment program is for rising 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in the Montgomery Public School system.  Community Program Director Dillion Nettles, says the program aims to prevent learning loss during summer months.  To find out how your child can participate in next summer's program visit Montgomery-ed.org

A police officer is free on bond after being arrested following a rash of road-sign thefts in southeast Alabama.  Brantley Police Chief Titus Averett says officer Jeremy Ray Walker of Glenwood is on paid leave following his arrest in Pike County.  The 30-year-old Walker is charged with receiving stolen property.  Lt. Troy Johnson of the Pike County Sheriff's Office says an investigation began after someone reported that Walker was selling road signs from Crenshaw County.  Investigators contacted the county engineer and learned signs had been reported stolen from several roads.

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At Home In Fantasy's Nerd-Built Worlds

Jan 6, 2013

Once, in an age long past, "epic" was a dirty word.

Way back when I was a young nerd growing up in the Midwest in the 1980s — long before I became a professional writer — histories of magic rings and chronicles of ancient evils were not exactly mainstream fare. Indeed, to publicize one's knowledge of Elvish sword-names and Orcish myth was to contract a kind of voluntary leprosy.

But it would seem that age has passed. In recent years, American culture has fallen in love with epic fantasy. Film versions of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth books have grossed more than $3 billion. Tens of millions of viewers have tuned in to Game of Thrones, HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. And next week the concluding volume of the late Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series is almost certain to debut at No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list.

What is it that draws millions of readers and viewers to these works? Surely, the vast casts of compelling characters and the harrowing, twist-filled plots have something to do with it. But there are other genres that scratch those itches. What is it about fantasy?

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to attend an informal lecture/pep talk for up-and-coming fantasy writers by the man Time called "the American Tolkien," the now-world-famous Martin. The grizzled master described the very early days of Tolkien's cult popularity to a room of us wide-eyed newbies. When college students and hippies started hanging up Lord of the Rings posters, Martin pointed out, "It wasn't the book covers or some artist's conception of Frodo that went on our walls. It was the map of Middle-earth."

In other words, more than the profound lessons on the corrupting influence of power, more than the stirring battle scenes, more even than beloved characters like Frodo and Sam, readers came to Tolkien's books for the rich, magical world that they built out of his words. Martin has taken this lesson to heart in his work — as have some of his most successful contemporaries, like the late Jordan — pulling fans into constructed worlds every bit as elaborate as Tolkien's. And readers, it seems, can't get enough. Indeed, for many readers and no few writers of fantasy, world-building is the very heart of our genre.

Roughly put, world-building is the attempt to describe an invented, fantastic world by cataloging that world's history, geography, languages, religions, economy and so forth. It's a way of nudging the reader into Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief" through the accumulation of telling details. It sets readers and writers asking and answering a sometimes jarring array of questions, ranging from "Does this world have (a) God(s)?" and "Does it hold true good and evil?" to "How fast do the boats go?" and "What are the orcs' loincloths made out of?"

Not all novelists, nor all readers in the field, are interested in such literalism and mundane detail, of course. Some of the most talented and challenging fantasy writers of recent years have indicted the genre's world-building fetish. "How can we map every corner of a nonexistent place?" acclaimed British novelist China Mieville has asked. "Why do we want to?" And M. John Harrison, one of contemporary fantasy's most inventive writers, raised quite a stir a few years back when he raised doubts about "the psychological type of the world-builder," famously disparaging world-building as "the great clomping foot of nerdism."

Even among writers and readers who agree upon the importance of world-building, there is great disagreement over how to do it right. A thousand blog posts have been launched arguing over how much detail ought to be revealed to the reader. Jordan's Wheel of Time series, in particular, is a sort of perennial target of parody, even among die-hard fans, padded as it can be with relentless descriptions of clothing, hairstyles, furniture and food. And Martin can spend page after exhausting page detailing the coat-of-arms of every attendee at a royal banquet. For readers used to the protocols of literary fiction, novels that come with glossaries and appendices can feel distinctly like homework.

But at its best, work that prioritizes world-building offers pleasures that just can't be found in other sorts of literature, the joy of traveling to, as Tolkien put it, "a Secondary World which your mind can enter." The type of immersion that a massive built world provides is unique. It's an almost physical sense of getting lost somewhere that isn't home, but which comes to be home. A sense that one is walking, sometimes even dancing, on a tightrope between the fantastic and the mundane. As with the Thousand and One Nights, which so often — and yes, clompingly — mentions things like which vegetables were just bought or who the monarch was at a given time, the modern fantasy novel's nerdy attendance to world-building gives it a strange mimetic heft not present in, say, fairy tales.

Like a detailed model railroad the size of a football field, or a small city of fully furnished dollhouses, the well-built fantasy world astonishes us with the vastness of its intricacies. And from this wood, paint, cloth, metal, and hours and hours of painstaking nerds' work, a kind of magic is made.

Saladin Ahmed's debut novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon, received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, and was selected as one of Barnes and Noble Book Club's Best Fantasies of 2012. You can find him online at www.saladinahmed.com.

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