Exposition is not a dirty word. Nor is it something writers need to avoid. For a screenwriter who has only 90 minutes to tell a story, exposition is a convenient way to keep audiences up-to-speed while moving the action forward.
Narrative exposition is particularly useful in superhero fiction. A villain’s end-of-novel soliloquy, for example, is a great way to wrap up a story with a tidy bow. And over the years it’s become a warm and fuzzy trope we’ve all come to expect and enjoy. Let exposition be your friend, that’s what we say.
But too much expository writing is a bad thing. Readers expect a certain amount of declarative information. And they’ll put up with an occasional data dump if it’s done creatively and/or entertainingly. But when there’s too much explaining and lecturing going on, it can cause readers to become impatient and irritable.
Sadly, this is the case with The League, the first novel in Thurston Bassett’s Post-Humans series. Information between characters is needlessly rehashed over and over again. It’s extremely annoying. In the future, the trick for the author will be to find a way to disclose information without boring the reader to tears. Hopefully he’ll take our advice and he won’t hit the refresh button so frequently in the sequel.
The League follows a superhero named Athan Harper (aka Sleepwalker) who is able to physically transport himself into anyone’s body. In this way he becomes a citizen of the communal subconscious. “I can use people’s minds as a key to unlock a doorway into a metaphysical dimension,” he explains.
These cross-dimensional gateways were filled with a copse of mighty sphincters and fleshy monolithic towers. It was also a place inhabited by brooding creatures with plans to break free of their preternatural prison. In order to smash these monsters, Athan assembles a post-human league of extraordinary superheroes.
If you can forgive the tedious exposition, you might be able to enjoy The League in some small measure. In no way can we recommend this novel, but it does contain a pinch of untapped potential. For instance, Athan spends a big chunk of time traipsing across a Dadaesque landscape. These bizarro scenes could have exploded off the page with Carlton Mellick-like zeal. And later, when Athan tangles with a man who spontaneously begins to mutate and decompose, it would have been cool if the action ventured into crazy manga territory (like Parasyte by Hitoshi Iwaaki or Project ARMS by Kyoichi Nanatsuki).
T.S. Eliot once infamously said “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.” Perhaps what he meant to say was: “A good book can become a great book if an author simply follows the road previously traveled by his literary forebears.” That’s certainly the case here. The League proves that potential is just another word for missed opportunities.
[The League / By Thurston Bassett / First Printing: August 2015]