Existential Graphic Science Fiction

The Acme Novelty Library
Number 19
ISBN: 9781897299562



$15.95 US / $15.95 CDN

Published by and available from

Drawn and Quarterly


Angela and I both like comics.

From super-heroes to Carl Barks’ ducks, I have a keen appreciation of classic comic art in all its forms. While I don’t read a lot of current titles, there are a few that I especially look forward to – anything by Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore, Ed Brubaker’s innovative storytelling, and Jason Lutes’ amazing Berlin. But one comic is a true treasure when it shows up – never more than once or twice a year.

There really isn’t anything comparable to the Acme Novelty Library.

Chris Ware has been gracing us with the Library for over 15 years now and the 19th “issue” was released just a couple of weeks ago, a trim little hardcover volume that is one of the best in years. One never knows what a number of the library will look like – some issues have been comic book sized while others have been smaller or gigantic, near tabloid size. The production and packaging is always meticulously detailed and artistic.

Judged merely as design pieces, the Library is impressive, but Ware’s art and writing are equally masterful. His drawings are often tiny but beautifully rendered in the style of early 20th Century cartoonists, with a modern touch, and his stories are elaborate, dark internal landscapes of pathos and little triumphs of the human spirit, tinged with just enough surrealism to keep them from being mundane.

Issue 19 tells the latest chapter in the life of middle aged schoolteacher Rusty Brown, a character who has appeared in a gradually shifting state in Ware’s universe for many years. Originally introduced in a series of strips that poked loving (if brutal) fun at grown-up toy collectors, Brown has evolved into a fully  realized person, continually trying to come to grips with the indifference of the world and his continuing sense of wonder that usually fails to provide any protection against the slings and arrows of life.

The first half of 19 is a science fiction story, told in a kind of retro, vaguely Braburyian style. In the story of a tragic attempt to colonize Mars, we follow the narrator through his training and into the dangerous tedium of space, one of four humans and three dogs sent to the Red Planet in a polite terraforming scheme that goes terribly awry, with episodes of unspeakable violence and horror and, ultimately a metaphor for loneliness that may define the human condition.

The art of Ware’s tale is in the telling, the detail that captures and satirizes the culture of late 50s America, much as a sensitive piece of sci-fi from the era might have, but skewed.

Mdway through the book, we learn that the comic we have been reading, “The Seeing Eye Dogs of Mars,” is actually Rusty Brown’s imagining of an award winning science fiction story by his father, a failed journalist and unsuccessful author who has left behind a body of work for his son’s appraisal. Through Rusty’s eyes, we see his father’s life, love, and hope unfold as a projection from the story, sad and wistful through the filter of a son who shares the same fatal belief that life should be better than it is.

Darkly funny, heartrending in places, and astonishing in its layers of feeling and meaning, Ware’s narrative is visual poetry.

In a world that was as good as it should be, he would win the National Book Award.

Eros in Fantasyland

Erotic role play is one of those things like a taste for olives. Either you like it or you can’t imagine why anyone would.

I imagine there are countless reasons why people engage in ERP. Certainly some people do it out of loneliness or because they are feeding a fetish they cannot indulge in their fleshly life, and some people do it for the same reasons they spend hours in chat rooms, as an aid to masturbation.  Regardless of motivation, the bottom line really is that ERP is another way to have a good time.

As most people know, making virtual love with an on-line partner or partners is called cybersex or cybering. Cybersex has probably existed as long as people have been networked. I’m sure there are stories of people engaging in glacially slow exchanges of racy messages on CRTs at the dawn of computing, but cybering entered mainstream awareness during the formative years of the popular internet when America Online chat rooms were over-run with joyous explorers and deviants of every sort. Sexual identity became transitive and the concept of extremity in intercourse – at least in the realm of imagination – expanded immeasurably. Early Multi-User Domains (or Dungeons), the ancestors of today’s MMOs, enabled cybersex in a fantasy context, and true ERP was born.

So, what’s the difference between cybersex and ERP? Any answer to that question is likely to be conditional and subjective. For some people there is no difference at all. Their goals for cybersex in an anonymous chat context are the same as their goals within the framework of a fantasy world – to be aroused, to arouse, and probably to achieve a one-handed climax, but for many people who roleplay erotic scenarios, there is a huge difference.

The bottom line for most ERPers is that ERP is fun. With a smart, articulate partner, the exchange of erotic dialogue and action (through “emotes,” which are essentially descriptions of what the character is doing) is stimulating, funny, dramatic, engaging, and arousing. To play an ERP scene with a pixelated lover can be an exercise in fast-paced creativity, repartee, innuendo, and surprise equal to reading a first-rate erotic novel – only you get to respond in kind. There is sometimes an intense intellectual and emotional tension, even a competition between two (or more!) ERPers, to see who can ratchet up the eroticism or better convey the sensation of the moment. As a writer of erotic literature, I always find it an exciting exercise and one that sometimes gives me an insight into the way a lover might think.

But such pleasures do not come without a price. Although many ERPers are indiscriminate in their partners, the act being an end in

itself, I fear I am not so liberated and I have always (well, nearly always – we all have our wild spells) been very discriminating in my choice of partners. There are many degrees of trust in ERP. At a minimum, you are trusting that the person on the other end of the pipe won’t ridicule you, but that’s really only the tip of the iceberg.

Although most gamers who engage in ERP will tell you there is no emotional connection between them and their on-screen partners, for me,  this is hard to imagine.  I am a woman, so I can truly only speak from my own experience and the conversations I’ve had over the years with many folks who choose to engage or not engage in ERP.  Many women – myself included –  stake some measure of emotional currency on sex acts – even cyber ERP encounters.  Call it biological hard-wiring, or just a desire to perhaps want something more, but regardless of the reason, it’s not uncommon for people to look upon ERP encounters as they might skinspace sexual encounters in their lives – fondly, wistfully, or sometimes painfully.  

Next time around, I’ll talk about some of these trust issues and how they can be played out between people who are in a relationship in the real world as well as the cyber world.

Stay sexy, whichever world you’re in!

Virtual World Sex

Technology begets erotic impulses. Media is the extension of our senses.

I’m betting that, not long after Bell rang Watson, someone made an improper advance over a telephone. Photography served prurient ends almost immediately after its invention, as did film. Moveable type made cheap erotica possible.  The problem with Bell’s technology was that at the time, no one was recording it for future posterity.

But now… computers and the internet, oh my!

The unleashed libidos of millions of semi-anonymous horndogs and damsels have washed across the electronic world for over two decades now, redefining gender and sexuality, turning words into sex toys.

On the internet, no one knows that you are not really a transsexual dwarf who is turned on by milkshakes and latex. Or, if you prefer, everyone knows and you have your own Yahoo group!

From sexysecondlife.co mAs a writer fascinated by sexuality and fantasy in all their forms, I am especially interested in the way sexuality has emerged as an element in online games that are not deliberately sexual, and fascinated by the ways that game players manifest their sexuality and by the taboos that communities may impose on themselves. This is the first in a series of mini-essays on the phenomenon and my experiences with it.

First, let me be clear that I am not talking about virtual realms like Red Light Center, where sex is the whole point, but about games like World of Warcraft or Age of Conan (see previous entries on this blog), that are, at least theoretically, concerned with other types of fantasy entirely.  

Since many of the people who read this blog probably are not familiar with these games, or at least with the role playing elements of them, this first column will be a simple introduction to concepts, beginning with some definitions.

MMORPG – Massive, Multiplayer, Online Role Playing Game. A game played on a computer with an internet connection that involves simultaneous, interactive play with (potentially) thousands of other players all over the world.

Playstyle – The way any individual player approaches the game.  Playstyles are infinite in variety, but tend to break down into broad categories, often overlap, and are not necessarily exclusive for any particular player. Many players exhibit different playstyles, depending on the game design and their preference of the moment. Some common playstyles include:

PvP, a playstyle that favors combat with other players, a competitive, sometimes predatory approach to gaming.

PvE, a playstyle that favors the player interacting with the environment provided by the game’s designers – killing monsters, solving puzzles, earning rewards.

RP, a playstyle that favors role play. RP comes in many varieties and there are different degrees of role play. “Serious” RPers try always to stay “in character” and to react to other players and the environment as though they are a method actor within a spontaneous play, weighing actions and responses as their character would, not as a player of a game.

ERP, erotic role play, a subset of RP wherein players enact erotic encounters with other players. Players who participate in this playstyle are (probably) a minority among RPers.

The division between RPers and non-RPers can be sharp and usually comes down to the accusation that RPers are forgetting the game is “just a game”. There is some truth to this allegation. When one invests time, care, and emotion into the portrayal of a character, it is much like an actor “getting into the role” and perspective can be lost, which brings us to two more important concepts.

IC, in-character. Behavior that is ideally only related to the environment offered by the shared world (game). In the most obvious sense, it means that your necromantic wizard shouldn’t be talking about his college team’s big win while chatting with the elf ranger at the tavern.

OOC, out of character. Those real-life (RL in gaming speak) things that affect player behavior. In the world of serious RP, letting OOC considerations actively influence IC behavior is a no-no. This distinction can become very important when ERP takes place.

Why would anyone want to play a role in an online game? Well, the obvious answer is that it can be a great deal of fun.  It is!  I’ve done it for years and have loved it, though there are likely psychological, emotional, and – I will admit here in the company of friends – artistic motivations as well. I’ve heard online RP described as “group therapy for adults with arrested development issues,” by someone who did not approve of it.  I consider it more a new and vastly more amazing facet of global community theater – complete with backstage intrigues!  Anyone with an interest in sociology and group dynamic psychology really needs to take an in depth peek at online RP.  You could probably write a thesis on the subject!

Why would anyone want to play an erotic role in an online game? We’ll talk about that in the next part of this essay, and go from there into some of the really fascinating aspects of role played sexuality.

Stay tuned for the sizzle, folks!  The hot stuff’s around the corner…

LUST AT FIRST BITE Released Today! (Excerpt)

Wow, wow, wow!

My first print sale was my short story “Understudy” to Black Lace for their vampire anthology, Lust at First Bite.  I will never forget getting that letter.  I was so excited I practically….well, use your imaginations.

So, six months after I got the fantastic news, Lust at First Bite is now available for sale at bookstores and on the internet in the United Kingdom, home to Black Lace Publishing. 

Check out some of the buzz at Lust Bites, the Black Lace blog.  The lovely ladies over there will be putting up some excerpts tomorrow.

For those in the U.K., pick up a copy today.

For those of us in the States, well, we have to wait a bit.  The U.S. release date is January 6th, but you can pre-order Lust at First Bite from Amazon right now!

“Understudy”
by Angela Caperton
in Lust at First Bite

EXCERPT

Mauzy ordered and as Benny bustled off, asked her, “What’s your name?”

She gazed at him, her eyes depthless and filled with laughter and secrets.  “Anastasia,” she said with a little smile to show it was a lie and the end of the subject as far as she was concerned.

Benny brought the drinks, setting Mauzy’s shot down and pouring Ana’s wine with a flourish. He would’ve hung around the table if Mauzy hadn’t waved him away.

“No,” he said, looking directly at her. “This Dracula isn’t a real role. It’s a farce, a joke.”

“So you say,” she sipped her wine, the red liquid shining on her lips.  “Many people like it, yes?”

He shrugged.  “I suppose. There are so many better plays.”

“But this one, there is something of dreams in it, yes?” Her voice caressed him.

“Dreams? Nightmares is more like it.” Mauzy replied and lifted the shot.

“Do you know the difference?” She cocked her head and watched him, the tip of her tongue showing slightly as she sipped her wine.

Mauzy considered a moment.  “When I have a nightmare, I want to wake up,” he said before he threw back the whiskey and welcomed the heat as it coated his tongue and throat.

“Yes,” she smiled, her gaze suddenly intense, black fire flickering in her eyes. “And when you are dreaming – truly dreaming, no matter how terrible or beautiful it is – you do not even know when you are dreaming, so you cannot wake up. Not until sunrise.”

A car roared wetly past. The promised rain had finally arrived.

“Plays though …they ought to be about something tangible, something real.  Not some dream.” The edges of the conversation seemed to unravel around him.

“I do not agree.” She pouted a little and Mauzy heard the rain turn to sorrowful sheets. “I have seen plays that are exactly like dreams and they are the very best. Why?  Because they show us what can be true.  Nothing is more honest than our dreams.  They are our souls. You should listen to yours, Mauzy Lyman.”
 
© 2008 Angela Caperton. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without
written permission from the author.

Read “The Adventure of the Gentlemen Travelers” at ERWA!

Once again, I’m honored that the site editors at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association have chosen my story to include in Gallery. This month’s theme was “fan fiction” or “slash fiction”.

I’d never attempted anything like this before, but came at the challenge with what I hope is a new idea. Slash fiction is generally believed to have begun among female Star Trek fans in the late 1960s and 70s, but I had a thought…

What if it had actually been born much earlier?

This was also my first attempt at writing an explicit sex scene with two male characters, and I hope I was successful.

My story is called “The Adventure of the Gentlemen Travelers” and will be posted in the ERWA gallery through the end of November.  I hope you enjoy it!

My previous ERWA gallery story, “May”, is now available here.