It’s easy to appreciate the challenge of starting something new, of bringing something into existence that wasn’t there before. In technology, they like to call it going from zero to one, and although all that activity is usually hidden from view, it’s understood that a lot of effort goes into that change, especially if you want it to endure.
A decade ago, AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review was just an idea — an idea of a print magazine, no less. But when we unveiled it in October 2010, it was as an online publication. From that moment, the digital format, no less tangible for being made of bits instead of atoms, has simply felt right for our magazine. What mattered was that we had an engine for putting stories out into the world (I can’t think of an adjective for “stories” that doesn’t sound like someone else’s trademark, so let me just expand and say “stories that we were damn proud of and excited to share week after week.”)
It started small. Literally, with a story that first made our acquaintance as an entry to our inaugural microfiction contest. Freed from the constraints of a 200-word limit, and given just a bit more space to stretch, “A Little Thing” was a gem of a story laying on a black velvet tray waiting to catch a passing reader’s eye in the display window of our brand new magazine. It was soon joined by “Touch the Sky, They Say,” “Disquieting Postcards I’ve Recently Received from My Future Self” and “Orange,” and though that first issue was abbreviated, we knew we had something special going even before “Touch the Sky” was nominated for the Prix Aurora Award and AE itself became a SFWA qualifying market.
Bit by bit, we tuned the machine, tapped more sources of fuel and raw materials to feed it, and recruited a growing team of contributors to support our mission of continually adding a bit more awesome to the universe. AE Micro became a yearly tradition. Short stories got illustrations. Our nonfiction section blossomed into a home for reviews of Canadian science fiction both classic and contemporary, as well as thoughtful essays and interviews. And our fiction selection process became more refined over time as well. Oh, when that engine was purring, it was a glorious thing.
Alas, it wasn’t destined to continue like that indefinitely. Our engine faltered. In September 2016, AE went dark. And it hurt.
We had had setbacks before. The most dramatic was when the last-minute success of our Kickstarter campaign turned out to have been a mirage. Our pre-launch momentum fizzled temporarily before our eventual liftoff. Then, we had retooled, redrawn our plans, and refocused ourselves to capitalize on our carefully chosen domain name.* In short, we emerged all the stronger for it.
Six years into being a full-fledged magazine, it was different. Embryonic AE was resilient. It was still developing, still becoming — it was more potential than actuality. A lot had changed in the intervening time. AE was a living being. It had been born, found its voice and grown up. It had, in a manner of speaking, a body that could be wounded, and wounds take time to heal.
Some things had decidedly not changed since the beginning. Our passion for great science fiction, especially for highlighting brilliant Canadian voices. Our belief that treating both our authors and our readers well comes before whatever personal gain we might wring out of our platform. And our conviction that this reversal, too, would be temporary.
But don’t ever underestimate the difficulty of recreating. Bringing back something that already existed may seem like a simple proposition, but it isn’t. Stakes are higher this time around, or at least expectations are. When we first started AE, we had a feeling it would be — or would become — something pretty great, but we didn’t know for sure. Now, we knew what AE could be, and when we unveiled AE Mark 2, we wanted it to be worthy.
As a team, that meant learning how to build things up again from the ground up. And that started with rebuilding the team. AE originally took flight as a three-way collaboration between D.F. McCourt, Adam Lonero, and me. Today’s AE has a larger and more diverse crew, and our captain is, without question, Paul Jarvey. Paul came on board shortly after our original launch, with a polite knock at the airlock that we’re so very glad we answered. And this new spaceship, whose construction and christening he has overseen, is an absolute beauty: sleek and built to last.
But AE, the site, is just what brings us all here. What makes AE what it is are the people who make it all happen: writing content, editing stories, writing the code that runs this website, helping with business planning and press relations, and running our social media. We owe a huge thank-you to J.J.S. Boyce, Matt Moore, Erin MacNab, Bree Main (responsible for our amazing cover art), Lou Sytsma, Jonathan Crowe, David Zhang, Matthew Bin, Dylan Freeman-Grist and a wonderful community of friends and colleagues who have helped us in every way imaginable.
So, with apologies to LL Cool J, do call it a comeback. We couldn’t be more proud to fire up the engine again and start bringing you new stories and analysis about worlds that might be. For those of you who have been waiting for this moment, we promise it’s been worth it. And if you’re new to the travels of this humble vessel, welcome aboard. It’s going to be an adventure.
* The first four letters of aescifi spell aesc, or the name of the letter Æ, a ligature close to our hearts. Coincidence? Honestly, at this remove, I don’t know if any of us can remember.^