REVIEW: “Some Thoughts on Exposition” by Tobias S. Buckell

Review of Tobias S. Buckell, “Some Thoughts on Exposition”, in Tod McCoy and M. Huw Evans, eds., Pocket Workshop: Essays on Living as a Writer (Hydra House Clarion West Writers Workshop, 2021): 39-43 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Buckell’s piece, an adaptation of an earlier piece, “Expository Narrative” published in It’s All Just a Draft in 2019, discusses five ways expository information can be delivered in a story, and identifies positives and negatives for each:

  1. Flashback
  2. Dialogue exposition
  3. Narrator exposition
  4. Exposition through a character’s internal voice
  5. Interacting with information

Most of the negatives for each of these focus on how they can cause the momentum of a story to come to a halt. The more effective ways are the ones that can provide the reader with the background info that they need without compromising the pace and momentum of the story, which is partly why (according to Buckell) dialogue exposition can be more effective than, e.g., flashback — so long as you avoid the “as you know, Bob” dialogue exposition! But as with any good writing, “the key to making exposition work is…in incorporating all of these tricks throughout a story and scattering them evenly in between” (p. 42). He suggests, as an exercise, taking a short story and highlighting all occurrences of exposition, and classifying them according to the categories above. First, it will teach you what is exposition and what is not; second, it will show which types of exposition are most effective in which contexts. I’m certainly going to try this, both on stories written by others and on my own work.

REVIEW: “N-Coin” by Tobias Buckell

Review of Tobias Buckell, “N-Coin”, Apex Magazine 120 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

A stockbroker is about to end his life, after losing one billion dollars of his firm’s money money (not to mention his own) on a new crypocurrency: Negrocoin, or N-coin, as he prefers to call it.

This is a unique take on both the volatility of the stock market, and on the complete lack of reparations ever made to African American after slavery was abolished. I did not really understand the details of how this crypocurrency worked, but I had no trouble at all following the historical anecdotes about how former slave owners were compensated for their “lost property,” but the 40 acres and a mule promised by General Sherman never materialized for those freed slaves to make a start at live, how how that has never been rectified, leading to huge differences in generational wealth over time.

This story is short and sweet, getting straight to the point without any meandering. The first person narration works perfectly, capturing the stockbroker’s desperation and lending a personal voice to all of the lessons on history and economics.

This is a good, quick read for anyone interested in a bit of a revenge fantasy for structural inequality, based very closely in reality.

REVIEW: “A Different Kind of Place” by Tobias Buckell

Review of Tobias Buckell, “A Different Kind of Place”, Apex Magazine 109 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Zadie just wants to distract herself from the zombies. She goes to the salon to escape from the news stories, but the subject just keeps following her as she deals with the residents of her upper class small town who don’t trust the new vaccine or see the need for any sort of zombie protection. After all, Chester isn’t that kind of town.

I think zombies work best as an allegory, and they work particularly well in this story about the early days of a zombie apocalypse. This is a sharp commentary on how people, especially the well-off, assume that bad things only happen somewhere else, whether that’s another town or another country.

The undercurrent of racism serves to both ground the story in reality and further define the sort of town Chester is. As a brown-skinned school teacher in a mostly white town, Zadie is never sure if she can trust the intentions behind the smiling faces she sees everywhere. These aren’t the sort of people to express overt racism, but they express themselves in small, subtle ways that neither she nor the reader can mistake.

All in all, this is a thoughtful zombie story whose themes are highly relevant to our times.