Superheroes rest comfortably in shared universes, battling earth-shattering enemies in parallel while their superpowered brethren are just a few continents — or sometimes just a few cities — away. But aliens make far more sense as inhabitants of a shared universe. After all, they actually have an entire universe in which to play.
The webcomic series Carpe Chaos uses that alien advantage to craft an anthology of stories centered around five alien species. Although the creatures who live in the Carpe Chaos world share a history and a galaxy (and in some cases, an anatomy), they spawn a range of stories, from slice-of-life tales and terraforming expeditions to war stories, diplomatic missions, and prison escapes. There's a lot that can happen in a single universe.
True to its shared universe premise, Carpe Chaos is not created by a single writer or artist, but by a team of creators making their own stories within the constraints of the world they've collaborated to create. The core group spent several years designing this universe: the technology, history, physiology, and geography. Five species have discovered how to travel through fourth-dimensional "Tubes," allowing them to reach other solar systems and cultures. But this technological advancement has led to social tensions as the species bump against one another.
There are no humans in Carpe Chaos. Maybe it's set in a universe where we don't exist. Maybe we haven't yet discovered Tube travel. Maybe we've gone extinct long before these events take place. The effect is that we don't readily identify with any of the aliens. We're meant to judge each individual on their own merits. And while aliens within a single species share certain cultural attributes, these are no Star Trek forehead aliens who can boiled down to a single characteristic. We have to learn about these aliens as their stories unfold.
It's easier to relate to the eight-limbed, six-eyed Kaean than the eyeless Turikasuul who have giant spikes instead of hands, but it becomes clear that the Turikasuul are just as vulnerable to the horrors of war. The slimy (literally, not necessarily figuratively) Porg count among their members politicians, soldiers, inventors, criminals, religious fanatics, and ordinary kids. Without a human or other point of view character to tell us about the character of these alien beings, we're free to explore and free to keep changing our minds.
Not all of the Carpe Chaos stories are about interspecies conflict and distrust. In "Reinvention," a retired weapons inventor finally finds meaning in his life. "Moments of Elation" features a spacewalk that is also a spiritual pilgrimage. In "Filter Dregs," a scouting team visits a post-apocalyptic world to see if it can be reclaimed for sentient life, but learns something very disturbing about the extinct former inhabitants. Each story is complete and stands on its own, but contributes to a larger understanding of the total universe.
The Carpe Chaos creators are currently running a Kickstarter for their book The Art of Carpe Chaos, which features the concept art from the series, including a closer look at that fourth-dimensional travel system.