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  • Wed, 20:17: RT @bbclaurak: Labour loses its amendment – so, in theory, the party should shift its position now to backing another referendum
  • Wed, 21:53: RT @YvetteCooperMP: Amendment wins 502 to 20. Strong support from every party & from across the Government too. Shows the support across th…
  • Thu, 08:42: RT @nick_gutteridge: 1/ A common conception in the UK that fundamentally misunderstands both what the backstop is and what the EU’s priorit…
  • Thu, 09:24: RT @jimwaterson: The coverage of the Momo challenge is possibly some of most irresponsible journalism in this country for ages. Samaritans…
  • Thu, 10:45: The lost tunnels buried deep beneath the UK Specifically, Liverpool. Fascinating.
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Tuesday reading

Present Danger, ed. Eddie Robson
A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot

Last books finished
The Capital, by Robert Menasse

Next books
Troll Bridge, by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran
The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan

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My tweets

  • Mon, 22:06: RT @joncstone: Just a reminder that even with Labour leadership whipping for a second referendum, unless more Tories decide to support it,…
  • Mon, 22:30: Reading The Capital by Robert Menasse. The book is set after the 2016 Brexit referendum, but has the @epc_eu still…
  • Tue, 06:55: RT @jonworth: Don’t get too excited about Labour backing an Amendment calling for #PeoplesVote. I can’t see how it can pass. Enough fierc…
  • Tue, 08:43: RT @LGBTIQAGreens: Really important letter. Listen to trans people. Listen to their children. Listen to the evidence. Be trans inclu…
  • Tue, 10:45: Northern Ireland peace pays dividends in Bogota, Bougainville and Beirut Lessons learned, useful elsewhere.

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When in Rome…

I was fortunate enough to be invited to give a lecture in Rome a couple of weeks ago, and made it into a long Valentine's Day weekend with Anne. I was speaking to students of the University of Washington in the Palazzo Pio near Campo de'Fiori. The building itself in 15th century, remodelled in the 17th century, but it incorporates parts of the temple of Venus Victrix built by Pompey as part of his theatre in 55 BC. Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC at the other end of the building complex, ten minutes' walk away. So it was rather thrilling to speak to students in a building that had been in use, off and on, for over two millennia.

We did a number of the usual tourist things, but also went a little off the beaten track. If you want to do the standard attractions, even in February which is not exactly top tourist season, you have to do a bit more forward planning than we did and get your tickets in advance. (Next time, I want to book a guided tour of the Forum.) Even so, we were very lucky with the light and I think we got some good pictures of:

The Colosseum
The Arch of Constantine

The Forum

Panorama at St Peter's Square

The Portico of Octavia

Marcus Aurelius, not meditating

The Wedding Cake

Castel Sant'Angelo

The Great Synagogue

So we made a strategic decision to concentrate on the earlier Christian monuments in Rome; and gosh, there are plenty of them. I should say that we were tremendously helped in this by the Churches of Rome Wiki, which has a very engaging combination of erudition, enthusiasm and snark.

We started with Santa Maria in Trastevere, partly because I had misremembered it as the burial place of the Irish Earls (actually they are ten minutes away up a steep hill in San Pietro in MontorioMadonna della Clemenza, one of the oldest known icons in existence, rather worn but believed to date from around 700.

(Just to add some snark of my own – we had gone over to Trastevere for a Valentine's Day dinner, at a mid-range place on Via della Pelleccia. There were two American women at the next table, and from body language and overheard scraps of conversation it became clear to us that one of them thought they were on a romantic date and the other didn't. The less romantic one made her excuses and departed just as their main course arrived, leaving her friend furiously texting. We've all been there.)

Now that we had got into the early Christian vibe, our next stop was Sant'Agata dei Goti, built (or reconstructed) by Ricimer, the power behind the throne in the mid fifth century (as the Western Empire staggered to its end) as an Arian church for his followers. Rather obviously, it was renovated in the 17th century, but the ground plan and the pillars are still those that Ricimer would have known, and the white structure above the altar topped by a pyramid (the baldacchino) is 12th century. The 17th century paintings at the top depict the life of St Agatha, who was gruesomely mutilated for her faith. The little gold roundels just above the pillars depict Irish saints – the church was part of the Irish College of Rome from 1836 to 1926, and in a weird bit of history it is believed to be the final resting place of Daniel O'Connell's heart, though they have unfortunately mislaid it.

One thing in the church that was not mislaid but destroyed in a ceiling collapse in 1589 was Ricimer's original mosaicfor above the altart, showing Christ holding an open book and enthroned on a globe. Fortunately Alphonsus Ciacconius had made a copy of it. Even in the fifth century, the Arian heretic Goths knew that the world was round; don't believe anyone who tries to tell you otherwise.

San Bartolomeo all'Isola, in the middle of the Tiber, was built around 998 – so not quite as palaeochristian as some of the other places we looked at, but it is based on the ruins of the ancient temple of Asclepius, and has always been a place of healing (there is a direct link with Rahere and the founding of Barts in London). The peculiar stone structure on the altar steps is the well-head for the ancient well which would have been used to draw water by the priests of Asclepius. I am struggling to think of another Christian church which actually has a built-in holy well. The Orsini side-chapel was rather lovely.

Going back to the old stuff, the church of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill dates from 432, as the dedicatory inscription implies, and was restored to what was believed to be its original state in the early 20th century. As with Sant'Agata dei Goti, we were almost the only people there – it showed the extent to which Rome concentrates tourists in some places but not others. It is lovely and tranquil, and has one superb and unique asset…

The church's wooden doors are the originals, dating from the early fifth century. The top left panel (not very visible in my pictures, unfortunately) is reckoned to be either the oldest or second oldest depiction of the Crucifixion in existence. The single panel detail in my photo is the Exodus – the 19th-century restorer reshaped Pharaoh's head to look like Napoleon. It is thrilling to look at these beautiful panels still where they were first put almost 1600 years ago.

No pictures, but also worth visiting:

Crypta Balbi Museum – brilliant city centre presentation of life in Rome over two millennia, through archaeology and art; however NB we did the upstairs part backwards, which was a mistake caused by our lack of understanding of the signage

Catacombs of San Sebastiano – we had wanted to do the Catacomb of Callixtus, but it was closed; however this was a very acceptable substitute, including many ancient Christian bits and pieces but also three pagan mausolea, the frescos still as sharp as the day their owners were buried; across the road is the country estate of Maxentius. No photos allowed, but very good guided tour.

San Clemente – a 12th century church with much older crypts which we were frustrated from getting into; the opening times for the downstairs bits were not clearly displayed and I think we missed the window by minutes. However, even so there was plenty to see, the schola cantorum and sanctuary screen having been reassembled from the originals bought by Pope John II during his brief reign in the 530s. Again, no photos allowed, and rather grumpy staff.

Food and accommodation:
Hotel Campo de'Fiori, pleasant boutique place and very central.
Tuesday and Friday dinner at Obicà, Campo de'Fiori, recommended by a friend,nice food, grumpier service on Friday than Tuesday for some reason.
Wednesday dinner at Visconti 2.0, looks a bit unprepossessing but really fine dining.
Thursday dinner at La Tavernetta Di Tony E Andrea, not quite as special as I had expected given location and price, but as noted above we had fun people-watching and it was a busy evening.

I hope they'll invite me back.

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On The Waterfront (1954)

On The Waterfront won the Oscar for Best Motion Picture of 1954, and picked up another seven, Best Director (Elia Kazan), Best Actor (Marlon Brando), Best Screenplay (Budd Schulberg), Best Supporting Actress (Eva Marie Saint), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration Black-and-White (Richard Day), Best Cinematography Black-and-White (Boris Kaufman) and Best Film Editing (Gene Milford). Three of the cast were nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but lost to Edmond O’Brien in The Barefoot Contessa. Leonard Berstein was nominated for Best Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, but lost to Dimitri Tiomkin for The High and the Mighty. That record of eight Oscars was the same as the previous year’s From Here to Eternity, and also Gone With the Wind (though both had thirteen nominations to On The Waterfront‘s twelve). The other contenders for Best Motion Picture were The Caine Mutiny, The Country Girl, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Three Coins in the Fountain.

Both IMDB rakings, by score and number of votes, put it in 4th place for the year, with Rear Window and Seven Samurai ahead in both tables. The only other 1954 film that I think I have seen is The Belles of St Trinian’s. (I am not really a film buff.) It’s interesting that this is in black and white, fifteen years after Gone With the Wind. This trailer references Going My Way, which won ten years earlier:

It’s a gritty story of corruption on the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey, with Brando’s character a naïve young ex-boxer whose brother is the fixer for the local chieftain. The good guys eventually triumph, and the evil mr Friendly’s grip is broken. I’m ranking it almost exactly half way down my list of Oscar-winning films (13th out of 26, if you want to know); I think it takes a similar theme to How Green Was My Valley and indeed Going My Way, but does it somewhat better; on the other hand I enjoyed it a bit less than Grand Hotel. I would have put it below Mrs Miniver apart from one redeeming virtue which I’ll get to at the end.

All About the Men: Eva Marie Saint is luminous and effective as Edie Doyle, whose brother is killed by the mob in the first scene and who then becomes the love interest and inspiration for Brando’s character Terry Molloy. She absolutely deserves her Oscar. (Aged 94, she is still around as of this writing.) But she is the only credited woman actor of the entire film. (There are several uncredited women in minor speaking or non-speaking roles.)

Plot: I’m marking the film down a bit for the actual story. It’s pretty clear from early on what’s going to happy; the nice characters move along inevitable arcs of redemption at different speeds (apart from those who die trying), and the bad guy is irredeemable. My revolutionary soul is struck by the fact that while the evil unions are clearly portrayed as the problem, there is no corresponding critique of the economic system that keeps the longshoremen trapped in dangerous low-paying jobs. (Also the agents of state coercion are all good guys.) At least collective action does survive to the end. It’s a rather right-wing film, and I’m a little surprised to see so little commentary about this aspect of it online.

Whitewashing: This is normally my starting point, but in fact On The Waterfront is the first Oscar-winning film since Casablanca to have a black actor in a speaking part – Don Blackman as Luke, one of the longshoremen. I should add that as far as I can tell, there really weren’t a lot of non-white dockworkers in Hoboken in the 1950s. Even today the city’s black population is only around 4%. I’ll be interested to read the journalism on which the film is based (I have it on order), but this may be an unusual case where one black guy in a cast of several dozen is actually over-representative for the time and place (and that’s not a bad thing, let’s be clear). Don Blackman, born in 1912 (so 42 when the film was made) had only just ended his career as a professional wrestler, where he fought under the name “Black Panther” and briefly held a world championship. This was more than a decade before Stan Lee invented the character of the same name for Marvel. Several other cast members were former professional boxers and wrestlers.

Brando: Being a film ignoramus as I am, I think the only other films I’ve seen Brando in are Guys and Dolls and The Godfather, which I will get to in eighteen years’ time, plus of course Superman. His performance here is pretty electrifying. I complained above that Terry Molloy’s character arc is a bit predictable, but Brando is completely magnetic as he portrays a not terribly bright kid who is compelled to raise his game and do the right thing, depite the potential personal cost. I commented earlier on his spark with Eva Marie Saint; I was also struck by the relationship with his screen brother, played by Rod Steiger (playing the older sibling despite being a year younger than Brando in real life). This is probably also the point to say that Steiger, Lee Cobb as the evil Mr Friendly and Karl Malden as the uncertain priest Father Barry all got Best Supporting Actor nominations. The only other film to get three Oscar nominations in this category is, again, The Godfather.

Cinematography: As noted above, Kazan chose to make the film in black and white, and it gives a tremendous sense of atmosphere which perhaps we might not have had in full colour. (A few seconds of colour film survive from filming.) The town of Hoboken, never actually named, is convincingly brought to life in the location shooting. (I don’t think any of it was done in studio.) The camera tells the story as much as the acting, and it’s the main channel for the Biblical references which reinforce the plot.

Music: This is really impressive. I wish I had been keeping a separate scorecard for the best incidental music in these films; this is up there with William Walton’s Hamlet, Hugo Friedhofer’s The Best Years of Our Lives, Miklós Rózsa’s The Lost Weekend and the various arrangements in Grand Hotel, and possibly the best of them if you like Bernstein’s kind of thing (and I do). Listen for yourself.

So I was generally satisfied with the film, despite some grumbles. You can get it here.

Next up is Marty, of which I know nothing at all.

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008) | The Hurt Locker (2009)

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BSFA Award for Best Artwork, 2018

As noted earlier, the BSFA final ballot is out!

I'll have to be cautious commenting on anything that is Hugo-eligible, but that doesn't apply to the Best Art category, where there are eight finalists (which appears to be a record, presumably due to a multiple tie for fifth place). My own subjective and very unauthoritative ranking is:

8) Cover for Rosewater by Tade Thompson, Charlotte Stroomer (Orbit)

Geometric, didn't say much to me.

7) Artwork for Sublime Cognition conference, Sing Yun Lee & Morris Wild (London Science Fiction Research Community)
(see pages 3, 8 and 46)

Wasn't sure what I was looking at here!

6) “In the Vanishers’ Palace: Dragon I and II”, Likhain (Inprnt)

I generally like Likhain's work, but unfortunately these two didn't quite do it for me.

5) Wraparound cover for Strange Tales slipcase set, Ben Baldwin (NewCon)

Interesting art, not sure if it was more than the sum of its parts.

4) Artwork for Monster Portraits by Del Samatar & Sofia Samatar, Del Samatar (Rose Metal)

Again, interesting elements but wasn't sure that the whole composition worked.

3) Cover for Concrete Faery by Elizabeth Priest, Bede Rogerson (Luna)

Some great faces. I just liked the other two more.

2) Cover for Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar, Sarah Anne Langton (Tachyon)

Interesting colours and composition.

1) Cover for Paris Adrift by E.J. Swift, Joey Hi-Fi (Solaris)

Love this. Lots to look at, interesting balance of colours, carefully structured. Gets my vote.

Previous votes in this category: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2011, 2010, 2009.

I didn't blog my 2012 vote at the time, but for the record it was:
1) Dominic Harman for the cover of Eric Brown’s Helix Wars (Rebellion)
2) Blacksheep for the cover of Adam Roberts’s Jack Glass (Gollancz) – the actual winner
3) Ben Baldwin for the cover of Dark Currents (Newcon Press)
4) Si Scott for the cover artwork for Chris Beckett’s Dark Eden (Corvus)
5) Joey Hi-Fi for the cover of Simon Morden’s Thy Kingdom Come (Jurassic London

I have voted for the winner four times out of nine.

Also: Best Novel, 2018.

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Nebula Short Lists – Goodreads/LibraryThing stats

Lots to crunch here. First of all, the GR/LT stats for the Best Novel finalists:

Goodreads LibraryThing
owners av rating owners av rating
Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik 114,671 4.3 793 4.28
The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang 76,250 4.04 371 3.98
The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal 27,696 4.22 321 4.08
Blackfish City, by Sam J. Miller 18,116 3.63 189 3.4
Witchmark, by C.L. Polk 15,627 3.92 182 3.71

Impressive lead on all four metrics for Spinning Silver.

For Best Novella, there is also a clear leader, if not quite so strongly ahead, but the different modes of publication may mean that we are comparing apples and pears here:

Goodreads LibraryThing
owners av rating owners av rating
Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells 28,406 4.29 378 4.26
The Tea Master and the Detective, Aliette de Bodard 8,036 3.96 159 3.81
The Black God’s Drums, by P. Djèlí Clark 6,132 4.12 107 4.27
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, by Kelly Robson 4,172 3.71 104 3.72
Alice Payne Arrives, by Kate Heartfield 789 3.79 14 4
Fire Ant, by Jonathan P. Brazee 540 4.27 4 4

And we can do the same calculations also for the The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book:

Goodreads LibraryThing
owners av rating owners av rating
Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi 267104 4.23 1333 4.04
Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland 49732 4.17 491 4.23
Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman 29456 3.94 266 4.07
Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi 30470 4.12 233 3.92
Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword, by Henry Lien 1111 4.1 23 4
A Light in the Dark, by A.K. DuBoff 108 4.41 1 0

Another front-runner. But the last of these is rather mysterious – only one owner who has bothered to register their purchase with LibraryThing? Surprisingly low for a Nebula shortlisted book.

Anyway, plenty of time to go.

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BSFA shortlist: Goodreads/LibraryThing stats

The BSFA shortlist is out – somehow I only spoted it today. (The Nebula final ballot is out too, but I'll post the stats for that tomorrow.)

There are five shortlisted novels, which were 8th, 13th, 16th, 17th and 32nd on my previous ranking.

Goodreads LibraryThing
owners av rating owners av rating
Tade Thompson – Rosewater 20,063 3.86 192 3.79
Yoon Ha Lee – Revenant Gun 7,147 4.21 146 4.06
Gareth L Powell – Embers of War 4,651 4 69 3.67
Emma Newman – Before Mars 3,504 4.09 75 4.05
Dave Hutchinson – Europe at Dawn 359 4.14 37 4.4

It's striking that although Rosewater has the most owners on both systems, it's also relatively low-ranked, last on GR and second last on LT.  Meanwhile Europe At Dawn and Revenant Gun take first and second place in both systems.

Well, we'll see. 

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Tuesday reading

Present Danger, ed. Eddie Robson

Last books finished
Expo 58, by Jonathan Coe
Tweaking The Tail, by John Leeson
The Life of Sir Denis Henry, by A.D. McDonnell
Bitter Angels, by C. L. Anderson

Next books
A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot

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When the square root of n is less than or equal to n’s number of divisors

Just in case you ever needed to know, there are 55 positive integers whose square root √n is less than or equal to their number of divisors τ(n).

√n < τ(n) in 53 cases, and in two cases √n = τ(n): 1 and 9.

They are:

n τ(n) √n
1 1 1
2 2 1.41
3 2 1.73
4 3 2
6 4 2.45
8 4 2.83
9 3 3
10 4 3.16
12 6 3.46
14 4 3.74
15 4 3.87
16 5 4
18 6 4.24
20 6 4.47
24 8 4.90
28 6 5.30
30 8 5.48
32 6 5.66
36 9 6
40 8 6.32
42 8 6.48
48 10 6.93
54 8 7.35
56 8 7.48
60 12 7.75
72 12 8.49
80 10 8.94
84 12 9.17
90 12 9.49
96 12 9.80
108 12 10.39
120 16 10.95
126 12 11.22
132 12 11.49
140 12 11.83
144 15 12
168 16 12.96
180 18 13.42
192 14 13.86
210 16 14.49
216 16 14.70
240 20 15.49
252 18 15.87
288 18 16.97
300 18 17.32
336 20 18.33
360 24 18.97
420 24 20.49
480 24 21.91
504 24 22.45
540 24 23.24
720 30 26.83
840 32 28.98
1260 36 35.50

Or to put it another way:

n τ(n) √n
1 1 1
2 2 1.41
3 1.73
4 3 2
9 3
6 4 2.45
8 2.83
10 3.16
14 3.74
15 3.87
16 5 4
12 6 3.46
18 4.24
20 4.47
28 5.29
32 5.66
24 8 4.90
30 5.48
40 6.32
42 6.48
54 7.35
56 7.48
36 9 6
48 10 6.93
80 8.94
60 12 7.75
72 8.49
84 9.17
90 9.49
96 9.80
108 10.39
126 11.22
132 11.49
140 11.83
192 14 13.86
144 15 12
120 16 10.95
168 12.96
210 14.49
216 14.70
180 18 13.42
252 15.87
288 16.97
300 17.32
240 20 15.49
336 18.33
360 24 18.97
420 20.49
480 21.91
504 22.45
540 23.24
720 26.83
840 32 28.98
1260 36 35.50

The number whose square root is smallest relative to its number of divisors is 12, whose 6 divisors are almost twice its square root of 3.45.

There, aren't you glad I told you?

Edited to add: Looks like I miscounted and there are only 54.

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Return to Bosnia and Croatia

Two weeks ago, I took F on his first trip to Bosnia. I lived in Banja Luka, the main city of the Republika Srpska (the Serbian part of Bosnia) from January 1997 to May 1998, and was joined by Anne and B from that September (B, who was born in June 1997, was very tiny). We then moved to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, from May to December 1998, before I got my first job in Brussels at the start of 1999; by then, F was on his way, but did not fully appear on the scene until July.

Since leaving Zagreb, I had been back to Banja Luka only once, in November 2002, though I'd passed through Zagreb a few times (most recently last June when I was stranded there one evening by air traffic problems). F had never been at all – we'd taken him to the Croatian coast when he was two, but not to Zagreb. So when I realised that I could take a long weekend of travel in advance of some work meetings in Zagreb on the first Tuesday in February, it seemed like a good opportunity to revisit the past.

Zagreb, nights 1, 4 and 5:
Night 1: Hotel Jägerhorn: good and central, boutique atmosphere, car park two blocks from hotel which made for slightly tricky navigation and suitcase-trundling, but at least there was a car park.
Friday dinner: Batak Grill, Flower Square branch, F's first ćevapi; basic but filling.
Friday drinks with T (former colleague) and H (T's partner): Grif Bar, newly opened, former button factory, smoky and noisy but didn't make me feel too old.
Zagreb, nights 4 and 5:
Nights 4 and 5: Hotel Westin, formerly the Opera, formerly the Intercontinental; standard international business hotel. Left to myself, I would stay a bit closer to the centre.
Monday dinner: Agava, nice traditional Croatian place among the many restaurants on Tkalčićeva Street (which has gone way more international and diverse than in my day).
Tuesday lunch: Vinodol, efficient business lunch.
Tuesday dinner: my former colleague P kindly cooked for me.
Wednesday lunch: at the airport.

Pictures here are from both legs of the trip to Zagreb, where we started and ended – F returned to Belgium on the Tuesday, but I had to stay an extra day. I rented a zippy little Clio from Enterprise at the airport.

F in front of the statue of Ban Jelačić in the central square.
(Statue by Anton Dominik Ritter von Fernkorn, 1866)

His parents and sister, 21 years earlier on the other side of the horse

Panorama with F in Flower Square (Cvjetni Trg)

His parents and sister in the same square in 1998

My old office at Preradovićeva 22. It's seen better days.

At the end of the street is Šoštarićeva 4, the building where we lived in 1998, then (left) and now (right x2).

St Mark's Church, in 1997 and 2019.

The great local physicist Nikola Tesla, decorated for the occasion. He wasn't there in 1998.

Memorial commemorating Croatia's EU membership, 1 July 2013.

St George doing some smiting. (Anton Dominik Ritter von Fernkorn again, 1853)

I had time to go to one museum, where the rocket attacks on Zagreb in 1991 and 1995 are commemorated, but no photography was allowed.

Here's the funicular between the lower and upper towns, my colleagues talking in the background.

Banja Luka, night 2:
Hotel Jelena: new since my time living there, staff very friendly especially over breakfast.
Lunch: Kod Brke Pizzeria, tasty and good value
Dinner: Kastel, the ultimate dining place in Banja Luka, in the old Roman fort.

In my day, the square at the centre of the city was a building site, with the Banski Dvor, which housed the main government offices, and the National Bank on the northern side of the square.

Now it's dominated by the new cathedral, the Banski Dvor is under wraps and the president's office has moved across the road to the former bank. (I was really lucky with the light here.)

When I arrived in Banja Luka in early 1997, the first thing I did was to hire Danijela Dabić, aged 21, slim as a rake, smart as a whip, sarcastic as only a child of war can be. She was my best friend in Bosnia, and I learned more from her than I can ever express.

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When I was last in Banja Luka in 2002, we met up for what we both knew would be the last time, and indeed we lost her a few months later. This was my first chance to pay my respects.

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After the cemetery, we went to see her mother. We don't have much common language, but sometimes few words are needed.

Danijela's best friend D sorted us out. She was a student back in those days, sometimes playing with young B and dropping by the office for a laugh.

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D now has a pretty responsible government position. For dinner we went to the Kastel, where I had last eaten with Danijela in 2002, and had a brilliant if somewhat emotional time.

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D's parents still live in the apartment that we rented from them in 1997-98. The streetscape has filled out with some more new buildings.


Her parents and brother were very hospitable to us before we took the road south to Sarajevo via Travnik.


Travnik, Sunday lunch: Ćevabdžinica Hari,

The drive over Mount Vlašić to Travnik was, er, interesting. The rain over the previous couple of days had washed significant parts of the road down the slopes, up to half of it in places, and elsewhere rocks from above had fallen onto the road surface; some of them rather big rocks.

As we drove I was listening to a Big Finish audio, The Thousand Worlds, starring John Hurt as the War Doctor, in which he returns to a planet where he has not been for a while and discovers that the young woman student who he had got to know on his previous visit has now has a pretty responsible government position. It seemed to fit.

I wanted to take F to Travnik because of its tremendous cultural history: the Coloured Mosque, and also the heritage of Ivo Andrić who made the town famous in his best book.

An added attraction, according to D in Banja Luka, is Hari's Ćevabdžinica which she assured us serves the best ćevapi in Bosnia. She was dead right – the ćevapi were very good. When we got to Sarajevo, I mentioned to everyone I met that we'd had good ćevapi in Travnik, and they all said, "Oh, you must have been to Hari's then." Unfortunately the weather did not co-operate, and the Coloured Mosque was closed for renovations, so all we did in Travnik was eat Hari's ćevapi and then leave for Sarajevo.


The rain was getting worse, and on the fringes of Travnik we were diverted across a park to avoid the main road which was underwater. As we drove south we found ourselves splashing through the Lašva at several points. The little Clio performed well.

Sarajevo, night 3:
Hondo's Pansion: where I had usually stayed on my visits in 1997 and 1998, still run by the same two brothers, still very hospitable if a little basic (but good value).
Dinner: Ćevabdžinica Hodžić, claims more modestly to just have the best ćevapi in Sarajevo; certainly they were very tasty.
Drinks with O: Wine bar Dekanter, very helpful with suggestions; where the political elite hang out.
Monday lunch: Preporod, former Gajret cultural centre, very pleasant airy space

When I first arrived in Sarajevo in 1997, I was struck by the view from Hondo's Pansion where we usually stayed:

22 years later, exactly the same instinct struck me, but the rain had now cleared and the light was glorious:

The National Library is particularly fine, especially with the castle in the background.

We met up with several old friends of mine, most particularly O, a former diplomat, who took us on his personal tour of the old city of Sarajevo, taking us around the confectionery shops and also very gently pointing out the street where he was born, and where his sister was killed during the war. We ended up in a very nice wine bar where the Bosnian elite hang out.


I felt that the old city had not changed much since the 1990s, but others assured me that I should have looked at the modern west of the city a bit more (I was fighting traffic jams when there, which perhaps proves their point about growth). F pointed out that there are very few Bosnian flags on display in either Banja Luka or the old town of Sarajevo (we saw one, outside the Bakijska džamija in the Baščaršija); again, I was told that you’ll see more in the western part of the city.

Time has passed, as demonstrated by these three pictures taken of the same building from the same vantage point over a period of 105 years, the second two by me:

Schiller's bakery (1914)

The remains of the former Young Bosnia Museum (1997)
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The Museum of Sarajevo 1878-1918 (2019)

This museum makes a brave attempt to interest us in life in Sarajevo under Austro-Hungarian rule, but the fact is that most of us are interested in only one thing that actually happened there. They have done well, though, in terms of mementoes of the event that sparked the first world war:

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The coffee cups used by Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek just before the assassination;
the cutlery with which he ate his last breakfast.
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The clothes and weapons confiscated from the assassin.

On Monday morning it was snowing with thick wet flakes which melted on impact, and I discovered that a hole in my shoe was allowing my foot to be saturated with freezing mush. We did manage a bit more culture:

Inside the Emperor's Mosque (actually Sunday evening)

The Svrzo House museum, a wealthy family's residence from the 19th century

The Jewish Museum, and the somewhat disturbing woodcuts of Daniel Ozmo

Finally, the War Childhood Museum's usual Bosnian exhibits were not on display that week; instead, there was a very moving set of objects donated by children of the Syrian conflict, reminding us that this century has not escaped the sins of previous times.

We left Sarajevo after a hilarious lunch with an Irish friend, and drove up to Zagreb by what is the more usual route these days via Doboj. The road from Zenica up to Doboj is pretty dull, slow-moving lorries keeping you honest. The road from Doboj through Republika Srpska is amazing, though, much better than in my day, delivering you to the frontier at Gradiška in an hour (it used to take twice as long). And then I had my work meetings in Zagreb, and F went home, and I went home the next day.

You can fly from Charleroi to Banja Luka for €20. I might do that quite soon.

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Tuesday reading

Bitter Angels, by C. L. Anderson
Expo 58, by Jonathan Coe
Tweaking The Tail, by John Leeson

Last books finished
The Fire Sermon (sample), by Francesca Haig
Script Doctor: the Inside Story of Doctor Who 1986-1989, by Andrew Cartmel

Next books
The Life of Sir Denis Henry, by A.D. McDonnell
A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara

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What SF to read? Results of a Facebook/Twitter poll

I was on the road last week, and will be again next week, so blogging will be light until things settle down.

However. An old friend contacted me on the first day of my trip, asking for recommendations for either "the three best sci fi novels? Or your three favourites?" I didn't really have time while travelling to give this the thought it required, so I outsourced the question to friends on Twitter and Facebook. The results indicate only the views of a bunch of people responding to a straw poll on a Sunday evening or Monday morning, but I hope that they are interesting. I recorded 264 recommendations for 143 different books by 101 authors. (I slightly lost count of how many people had contributed to the discussion, but given that people were generally recommending three books, it must have been around 80-90.)

The top two, with 19 and 18 votes respectively, were not hugely surprising: Dune, by Frank Herbert, and The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin. Dune has its faults, but it has a lot of merits too – the ecology, the planetary politics, the role of religion in society – and I think it's fair to say that by reading it you get a good sense of where sf has come from in the last fifty years. The Left Hand of Darkness is one of the best books ever written about sexuality without being particularly erotic; its politics is ever so slightly more progressive than Dune's.

Le Guin was the top nominated author on the list, mentioned by 31 people. This is mainly because the third book in the overall poll, The Dispossessed, with 10 votes, is also by her. (The other three Le Guin votes went to The Lathe of Heaven.) The Dispossessed is even more political, partly a parable about how where you stand affects what you see. These are all great books, and I am heartily recommending them to my friend if he wants only three.

As you would expect from a survey like this, people generally opted for the classics rather than more recent work. In fourth place, with seven votes, is the only book published this century that got more than three recommendations. It was, of course, Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice, which blew most of us away when published in 2013 – a book that is more military and cybernetic than Le Guin, but equally feminist and progressive. I think it would be particularly interesting for someone unfamiliar with the field to read it soon after The Left Hand of Darkness. In fifth place, with six votes, is a personal favourite of mine, Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny, which I will admit has dated a bit but is still a good read about men and women trying to be gods. I'm quite pleased that the top five include three books by women.

Finishing off the detailed reporting, three books by men tied for sixth place with five votes: Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell (which my friend has surely already read), Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut (which I'm sure he has at least heard of) and Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson (which I suspect is less well known outside the genre). Probably I should allow Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy here too, if I combine all the votes for it. I loved all of these when I first read them, though again I don't think Asimov has aged well.

My friend can stop reading here, as he's got his top three (indeed top nine) recommendations, but I'm sure others will want to know the final scores. The following six books, by four men and two women, got four votes each:
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
Neuromancer, by William Gibson
The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks
The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells
I like all but one of these; if I had to pick a favourite, it would probably be The Handmaid’s Tale (recently a TV series of course). Personally I can't take Neuromancer, but I know I'm in a minority.

Eight books, by five men and three women, got three votes:
Cyteen, by C.J. Cherryh
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin (counting also votes for the Broken Earth trilogy)
The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
The Lathe Of Heaven, by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick
The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein
It's difficult for me to choose a personal favourite between The Lathe Of Heaven, The Man in the High Castle and Stranger in a Strange Land. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? is of course the basis of Blade Runner. The Man in the High Castle is another recent TV series. Both are by Philip K. Dick, who got six books on the list, the most of any author. Particularly significant is that The Fifth Season and its two sequels won the Hugo Awards for Best Novel for 2016, 2017 and 2018, the only time an author has managed to win it three years in a row. Myself I'm not all that excited about them, but clearly lots of other people are. It's also the highest ranking on this list for a book by a writer of colour. Here my disrecommendation is for Cyteen, but again I know that most other readers think it's great.

Seventeen books by thirteen men and five women (one book is co-authored) got two votes. Five of these were published this century (marked with a copyright symbol ©).
Ammonite, by Nicola Griffith
Blindsight, by Peter Watts ©
Brasyl, by Ian McDonald ©
A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
Flow My Tears The Policeman Said, by Philip K. Dick
Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
Hyperion, by Dan Simmons
Kindred, by Octavia Butler
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers ©
Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood ©
A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Roadside Picnic, by the Strugatsky brothers
A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick
The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
The Star Fraction, by Ken MacLeod
The Three Body Problem (counting also a vote for the trilogy as a whole), by Cixin Liu ©
Again there's one here I really bounced off while everyone else was excited by it, and it's Blindsight. (Also not wild about A Fire Upon The Deep or Hyperion.) I confess that I may not have actually read A Princess of Mars. But there's a particular favourite of mine here as well, A Canticle for Leibowitz. I also very much like Brasyl, Flowers for Algernon, Kindred and A Scanner Darkly. I am not sure if The Sparrow will stand up to re-reading.

Do you want to know what the other 105 books that got one vote each were? OK, though I must warn that the gender balance is a little embarrassing. For the record, they were:
Accelerando, by Charles Stross; Austral, by Paul McAuley; Babel 17, by Samuel R. Delany; The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal; Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut; The Child Garden, by Geoff Ryman; Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke; Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky; The Chrysalids, by John Wyndham; The City And The City, by China Mieville; Creatures of Light and Darkness, by Roger Zelazny; The City and the Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke; Dahlgren, by Samuel R. Delany; The Dark Side of the Sun, by Terry Pratchett; The Death of Grass, by John Christopher; The Demolished Man , by Alfred Bester; Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth, by Terrance Dicks; Dogs of War, by Adrian Tchaikovsky; Downbelow Station, by C.J. Cherryh; Enders Game, by Orson Scott Card; Engine Summer, by John Crowley; Europe In Autumn, by Dave Hutchinson; Excession, by Iain M. Banks; Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury; The Female Man, by Joanna Russ; The Fifth Head of Cerberus, by Gene Wolfe; The Forge of God, by Greg Bear; The Glass Bead Game, by Hermann Hesse; God's War, by Kameron Hurley; Green Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson; The Hammer and the Cross, by Harry Harrison; Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami; Helliconia Winter, by Brian Aldiss; Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, by James Tiptree Jr; High-Rise Darkness, by J.G. Ballard; His Majesty's Starship, by Ben Jeapes; Hothouse , by Brian Aldiss; I am Legend, by Richard Matheson; If/Then, by Matthew de Abaitua; The Illuminatus! Trilogy, by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson; Isle Of The Dead, by Roger Zelazny; Jizzle (anthology), by John Wyndham ; The Kraken Wakes, by John Wyndham; Komarr, by Lois McMaster Bujold; Last and First Men, by Olaf Stapledon; Light, by M. John Harrison; Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow; Little, Big, by John Crowley; Lock In, by John Scalzi (who was one of the contributors to this survey); Look to Windward, by Iain M. Banks; Madd Addam trilogy, by Margaret Atwood; The Man Who Fell to Earth, by Walter Tevis; The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury; Martian Time-Slip, by Philip K. Dick; Memoirs of a Spacewoman , by Naomi Mitchison; Mission of Gravity, by Hal Clement; The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein; More Than Human , by Theodore Sturgeon; The Mote in God’s Eye, by Niven & Pournelle; The Murderbot stories, by Martha Wells; Mythago Wood, by Robert Holdstock; The Name of the Wind , by Patrick Rothfuss; Nemesis Games, by James SA Corey; The Neutronium Alchemist, by Peter Hamilton; The Night Sessions, by Ken Macleod; Nine Princes in Amber, by Roger Zelazny; Nova, by Samuel R. Delany; Old Man's War, by John Scalzi (as noted above, a contributor; he did not vote for himself); On A Red Station, Drifting, by Aliette de Bodard; Passage, by Connie Willis; Past Master, by R. A. Lafferty; Permutation City, by Greg Egan; Pollen, by Jeff Noon; The Reality Dysfunction, by Peter F. Hamilton; Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke; Restoration Game, by Ken MacLeod; Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds; Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban; The Roderick trilogy, by John Sladek; Science Fiction for People Who Hate Science Fiction, edited by Terry Carr; The Separation, by Christopher Priest; The Shadow Of The Torturer) (and sequels), by Gene Wolfe; Shadow's End, by Sherri S. Tepper; Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut; Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem; Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente; The Stainless Steel Rat, by Harry Harrison; Star King, by Jack Vance; Star Maker, by Olaf Stapledon; Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers, by Harry Harrison; Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein; The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, by Philip K. Dick; The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells; Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer; 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke; Use of Weapons, by Iain M. Banks; Voyage Of The Space Beagle, by A.E. van Vogt; Who Goes Here, by Bob Shaw; The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss; The Wrong Man, by Danny Morrison; Women of Wonder, edited by Pamela Sargent; and The Year of the Flood , by Margaret Atwood.

Thanks, everyone who contributed.

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