FAMOUS FAN: Irena Rašeta

I met Irena Rašeta at my first SF convention, which was Essekon in Osijek, sometime, I think, in 2003. She was a literary guest there, because she wrote for NOSF, a online fanzine run by Davor Banović. It was a meeting that changed my life, only I did not know it then.

Petra Bulić, Irena and me went to all the Essekons after that first one, until the con discontinued, as well as to a number of other Croatian cons. Petra and me had already joined the SFERA Award jury at the time and we invited Irena to join us for the weekly SFera meetings on Tuesdays. And soon the three of us were the ones to blame for a lot of things, including SFeraKon hosting another Eurocon in 2012.

In addition to all that, Irena was editor-in-chief of the NOSF Magazine for a number of years, where she came up with an online SF fiction reading recommendation post on Thursdays (Online čitanka četvrtkom), way back when it was a real struggle to find 4 pieces of any fiction online, for free and legally. She was also an eager partner in designing the SFera program for years, among which I am especially proud of SF Vintage, a series of old SF movie screenings preceded by a lecture by Aleksandar Žiljak. Also, way back when vintage was not a buzz word yet. And yes, the name was Irena’s idea entirely.

How did you discover SF?

Well, I was reading pretty much anything I could get my hands on in libraries when I was little and I discovered I loved SF after reading Jules Verne in the 6th grade, which would have made me 12 at the time. After that, anything weird and spacey was put on my reading pile.

What’s the best thing about SF fandom?

Finally people as weird as I am! But seriously, the best thing about SF fandom for me is the amount of enthusiasm and childlike wonder that never diminishes and everybody seems to possess. No matter the age, gender or occupation, likes or dislikes, when part of SF fandom you are a part of group as long as you want to. And that’s probably forever.

What was you first convention like?

Soooo many people as weird as I am! 🙂

Actually, I was never one to make friends easily. And such good friends, so smart, witty, sometimes painfully honest (which I prefer to any kind of dishonesty), sometimes so very weird, but always diverse with awesome, diverse interests. Friends who always challenge me to be my best.

My first con was was Essekon, in Osijek, a city in Eastern Croatia. As cons go, it was on the smallish side, but so warm and welcoming. Since it was outside my hometown, I only knew one or two people there. I don’t remember any of the programming, other than the fact that there was some, there must have been… There was talking all through the night to all the wonderful people who knew so much about the subjects I was passionate about. It was beautiful and it changed my life.

And how did you get sucked into organizing them?

SFera, the Zagreb Science Fiction Society, works this way: you have an idea? Do it. I had ideas. And they were willing to let me try and implement them on SFeraKon, the biggest and oldest Science Fiction convention in Croatia. And it worked. Very quickly, I became part of the organizing committee, and the rest is, as they say, history.

My involvement in conrunning coincided with my first con at Osijek, and with making new friends. There, I met you and Petra, and then this rollercoaster ride of us three kind of inheriting the running of SFeraKon for a while. We updated it, making many changes to make it more modern and to become interesting to a younger attendance. We always made sure and insisted on keeping the well established traditions, paying homage to our predecessors, of sorts. I love that about Croatian fandom, it is inclusive and lovely.

What con-running job do you hate the most, and what do you love the most?

What I love the most is thinking up stuff – new program items, ideas for quizzes, panels and talks and such. Sitting quietly in the corner and thinking, that’s my thing.

I’m not good with bureaucracy in general, so I always avoided that kind of work. And I wouldn’t be good with budgeting because I’d probably forget the essentials and spend the money on fun things. Just don’t make me handle money.

You revitalized SFeraKon, came up with the Book Auction in its present format with Aleksandar Žiljak as the grumpy, scary auctioneer; with Bočkoteka, the SFeraKon quizz and with the SFeraKon Survivor. Tell us about it.

In those days, when you, Petra and I first got involved with SFeraKon organizing, SFeraKon lacked what was called the “fun programming”. It already had many interesting traditions and panels, but it was losing the younger crowd to another Croatian convention. I simply could not let that happen! (laughter)

But it was true, if SFeraKon wanted for people to keep on coming and to attract and raise new con-goers, we needed more fun stuff and stat! So I came up with one fun program item for each day of the con, to kick things off.

Let’s just say that once we made 16 grownup people eat baby food in order to guess the flavors, and another time, we had contestants racing tied in fours. There is always that one game when we try to come up with a good pretext for people stripping, as there are many handsome men at the con and women were running SFeraKon at the time Survivor was conceived. So once there were 15 guys and one girl hopping round the con in their underwear, competing to see who will make the longest rope from their own clothes. The (only) team with a girl in it won, of course. One should never underestimate the power of the pantyhose!

SFeraKon Survivor, modeled rather loosely after the Survivor reality show, was meant to keep liven things up on Friday evening, for everyone, even those who could not unglue themselves from the GoH (Some found this rather a challenge, so GoHs tend to participate nowdays, if they are so inclined. SFeraKon Surviror, still going strong after 13 years, consists of 4 games of survival in the tough geek world. It’s hard to explain the games as each year we come up with new games altogether and very rarely we recycle them. The only time we did was for Kontakt in 2012, when SFeraKon was also a Eurocon. A kind of best of for our international members, and that was very enthusiastically received. And it is hard to put into words, you literally have to be there to see for yourself.

Irena and me at Worldcon 75, selfie

The other thing I came up with that turned out to be a hit was Saturday’s Bočkoteka. It was a bit more serious, it was modeled after Kviskoteka, a very popular TV quiz in Yugoslavia that I watched during my childhood. SFeraKon’s hommage to it is an ultimate geek challenge in knowing Sci Fi literature, both domestic and international, Sci Fi movies and all SF related fandoms. Boris Švel, an SF fan always in a suit, and with manners from a past time, was the perfect host for it, serious when he needed to be to channel the famous TV presenter who used to host it on TV in 80s Yugoslavia, and funny enough to come up with Bosnians in Space jokes while the points were being counted.

And never being able to get enough of books, as the final program item on Sunday, I thought of Book Auction. Such a thing existed before at SFerakon, but was intermittent and nowhere near as fun as this one turned out to be. With the contribution of Croatian SF author Aleksandar Žiljak, whose running commentary of items being sold and inventive last-second substitutes for the anvil, the Book Auction has become one the most popular Sunday events at SFeraKon. It is also very lucrative, because one can give a home to books one can no longer keep, knowing they will be loved. And one can buy news ones without spending a fortune. Win-win. It’s still one of the most popular SFeraKon program items, which makes me proud, and a little nostalgic.

I firmly believe that conrunning is the best way to attend a con. I’m a little sad that this year I won’t be able to participate in organizing SFeraKon – for the first time in 13 years! – because I have a new business and my health to attend to. But, I don’t see myself not doing it ever again, because that is simply not me.

Ema Fančović and Irena Rašeta

Irena is also an SF author, with a short story collection in Croatian, Cabron (2009) and an editor of B(l)udućnost, an anthology of Croatian erotic SF stories and Blog SF, an anthology of Croatian SF blog stories. She no longer blogs as much as she used to, or at all, she is busy running her own coffee shop. But should you want to talk to her and find yourself in Zagreb, Kavantura is the place you can find both her and a great cup of coffee.



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