This year marked a special anniversary for me: it’s been ten years since my first SFeraKon! And o, boy, that first one! I did not even get a chance to get a shoe in before Vlatko Juric-Kokic, then president of SFera, came up to me and asked: “Did you happen to come in your Dad’s Mercedes today?”
I had and innocently said so and was thus immediately put to work as the driver of that year’s guest of honor, Ken MacLeod, on the grounds that even though I was a complete newbie, a Mercedes was a much nicer car than Vlatko’s own Yugo and a GoH must be treated nicely.
The complete newbie part did not turn out to be irrelevant. It was my first year in fandom. I had heard of SFeraKon, of course, but for all the hearing and invitations, had never gone. It was part loyalty, part ignorance. One of my best friends in high-school had dated (and later married) a man who went every year, mostly to play games. He and his gaming friends knew I read SF and they would always invite me to SFeraKon. Their girlfriends and wives, however, would always shoo them away. No one, SFeraKon press at the time included, stressed the literary aspect of it so I remained ignorant(1). And loyal, since my friend’s birthday is in April and would fall generally at the same time as the convention.
So, even though Vlatko knew me and the car I drove – because I had come into fandom to sit on the SFERA Award Jury and he was actually there for that-hilarious-in-hindsight-but-not-fun-at-all-at-the-time meeting – few others did. This meant that, once I collected the GoH from the hotel and got him to the con, I was denied entry.
The Security team refused to believe me it was Ken MacLeod – why would anyone in their right mind give such a task to a complete stranger? In their defense, getting into SFeraKon without paying was something of a national sport at the time and people did get very elaborate and inventive about it. Vlatko was nowhere to be seen, I can’t remember if I had a mobile phone then, but even if I did, I did not have his number. It was roughly 5 minutes before Ken’s first speaking engagement at the con. I decided to buy a cup of coffee for him and wait outside for Vlatko to start panicking and come and find us, so I started to simply lead Ken out again.
All who have been to SFeraKon know how long the lines are on Friday evening and there was no way I was letting the GoH get into one. Lucikly, when Security saw that I was actually leaving and not getting into the line, they let us through. Once I deposited the GoH at his Q&A session, they actually came to find me and escort me back into the line to buy a membership. I thought them strange, rude and not a little insane. Never in a million years did I think I would become just like them.
I do not remember much from that year. I know it rained – because I was still smoking and that had to be done outside, there was not much room. I met Goran Konvicni, who turned out to be the weirdest person I ever met: an awesome writer and an incredibly reticent man who endured my chattiness remarkably well. I remember taking a picture of Darko Macan looking miserable that I would love to find and post here but am afraid is now lost forever. I did not visit a single item of programming other than the SFERA Award Ceremony and I got my first Croatian SF writer autograph from Ivan Gavran (the entire jury did). There was no party on the first two evenings but there were interesting conversations – Boris Švel springs to mind.
In the past ten years I did not miss a single one, even timed my return from Australia to fall on the SFeraKon weekend so I could attend. I did a number of different jobs at SFeraKon over the years and I think I’ve helped improve it. A decade after my first one, I had a strange one. I gave a lecture for the first time. (Yes, I know, most get sucked into fandom by being a lecturer and a panelist. What can I say? I have this tendency to do stuff backwards.) And, also for the first time ever, I attended a large chunk of SFeraKon programming and loved it. Can’t wait for the next one!
There are some more pictures of SFeraKon 2004 here.(1) And in my ignorance, missed out on the two previous years when Lois McMaster Bujold (2002) and George R. R. Martin (2003) were Guests of Honour. As SFera’s PR manager, I am never allowed to forget it, as both authors are translated, quite popular and widely read in Croatia. Meaning, every so often someone rings me up to ask when SFeraKon will invite one them to be GoHs.