Marsonikon is the youngest currently running Croatian con – this was their third year. It takes place in Slavonski Brod, a town in Slavonia which used to be known as Marsonia in the Roman Empire, hence the name of the con. It is the only one day convention in the country and also the only one that charges no membership fee. They do have guests of honor, mostly regional ones. In 2014 the GoHs were Croatian author Milena Benini, Serbian author Goran Skrobonja and Bosnian archeologist, Semir Osmanagic, famous for claiming there are pyramids in Bosnia which was what he presented at the con, the theme was alternate history.
The first awesome thing about Marsonikon is the venue. Croatian cons are usually held at universities, such as Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing for SFeraKon and Faculty of Philosofy for Rikon or at places such as Spomen dom, which is home to the Pazin library and of the local Open University.
At Slavonski Brod, however, things are a bit different. The town used to be an important strategic and traffic center. Not only did it connect main commercial routes hundreds of years ago but it was also one of the towns in which the border crossing towards Turkey were controlled. I am talking about the 18th century here, a period when Austrians built a large imperial and royal border Fortress of Brod on the Sava River. Designed by Prince Eugene of Savoy in the first half of the 18th century, it was meant to be part of a great defense system on the border towards the Turkish Empire. Today, some of the Fortress is restaured (alas, not all!) and it’s used for a number of purposes, a budding science fiction convention is just one of them.
The second awesome thing about Marsonikon is the food. The whole con is like a big con suite at an American Worldcon, there is always food around and it is constantly replenished. It’s a cultural thing: one does not visit in Slavonia without sampling the local delicacies, such as homemade bacon, sausage and bread., and one does not leave hungry. Or even half full. Ever. They charmed me off my feet by going beyond the Croatian meat-is- all-the-food-one-needs mentality by putting out bowls of fruit – apples, strawberries, bananas and apricots – all over the venue. In the evening, after the programming ended, the party began by a catered dinner, delicious local dishes. Needless to say, we were quite sleepy during the four hour the drive back to Zagreb.
Although the main event, a panel Alternative history and SF had only three panelists announced – Goran Skrobonja, Marko Fancovic and local Ivan Lutz, Serbian writer Darko Tuševljakovic and Milena Benini joined them, making it a wider discussion which towards the end, as panels often do at cons, drifted into the business of writing and publishing in and outside of Croatia. The programming was nicely varied, and quite full, but to me not thrilling. The theme was the same as SFeraKon’s, so part of the reason might lie there. I have no interest in Bosnian pyramids as I visited the site in Visoko some year backs during Zenikon which has now become the Bosnian Festival of Fantastic Literature but most of all I think it is because I am having a hard time getting over their last year’s programming which featured Serbian author Zoran Živkovic and Croatian publisher, Damir Mikulicic reminiscing about the beginnings of fandom in Croatia. I really would have loved hearing all about that in person.
Milena Benini and Goran Skrobonja did not disappoint at all. (I presume Osmanagic did not either, his lecture was packed but I did not attend it.) Milena holds interesting lectures and her Alternative futures of the alternative pasts was informative and fun. Goran, who makes his living as a translator and small press owner is also a very talented genre writer and he presented his new book, All Tesla’s Children, a prequel to his very successful hit The Man Who Killed Tesla.
Marsonikon, just like Istrakon, follows the SFeraKon example by publishing an annual collection of SF stories. It is called Marsonic. Their first effort three years ago was written by local authors in great need of an editor and some writing workshops. They have been improved immensely since, as writing does with practice, but also in the fact that the annual collection now puts out a call for stories from authors all over Croatia. I did get the sense not all members of the inner circle of people organizing the con and producing the collection are thrilled with this – during one of the discussions a woman explained how the first collection was “done without the short story contest and all that bullshit”. Her aim was to stress that local authors only were in the first collection – which I thought was a fine idea – but I felt the remainder of her comment expressed some resentment toward the selection process as it stands today. I have yet to read the new collection. With a typically big Slavonian heart, all the proceeds of the sale of this year’s collection went to the aid of people hit by the recent floods.
The GUFF auction, which was fun and which received many wonderful donations by local fans, including a hardcover copy of V for Vendetta in English, also donated half the money it raised to the same cause.
The latest news is that the organizers of Marsonikon are currently busy trying to set up an award in the SF field, so Croatia might be getting a third genre award soon!