The first half of this novel was pure and unadulterated fantasy pleasure. The prose is very good. Descriptive but quick and lively. It's pretty straig...moreThe first half of this novel was pure and unadulterated fantasy pleasure. The prose is very good. Descriptive but quick and lively. It's pretty straight up third-person past, but it has a tinge of the poetic about it.
The story tightly follows Lia, an orphaned kitchen drudge living in an alternate Medieval Abbey. She's a very lively personality and a lot of fun. There's an interesting magical/religious system which is about halfway between "hard" and "soft" magic. I'm not going to get into the plot, per se, but this first half is basically of the "something new and strange comes into someone's life" variety. This part is excellent.
About halfway through the book, this intrusion forces Lia to leave the Abbey and go on a quest. This occupies the second half of the novel and in the end the secret of her parentage is more or less revealed. There was nothing seriously wrong with this second half and I read it easily enough, but it somehow lacked the visceral grab that the setup did. Putting on my structural hat, I'd have to guess that the problem was one of drama and complication. There are complications, but they just sort of pop up and are resolved one way or another without a tremendous amount of agency from the protagonist. I'm excepting the final confrontation, which while abbreviated, did have said agency. This is all in contrast to the first half of the book where Lia is extremely proactive, even if it got her in trouble.
But there could be other factors. In the first half, she's pretty sharp tongued, but this takes a back burner outside the Abbey.
I admit to sometimes having this "second act" myself, as it's hard to both adhere to the plot target and simultaneously make the protagonist proactive rather than reactive. Still, it robbed Wretched of some drama. I felt less engaged.
There is also the possibility that it's all me, as I seem to be having this problem in recent years where I enjoy the first act and not the second or third. Maybe I'm jaded. But this complaint aside, Wretched is still one of the better fantasies I've read in some time. It's more personal (and shorter) than the traditional epic novel, but that seems to be a trend in this new e-book centric age.
Recently, I've noticed a lot of epic fantasy novels in the Kindle top sellers, and taking a look at the epic fantasy category list many are Indie publ...moreRecently, I've noticed a lot of epic fantasy novels in the Kindle top sellers, and taking a look at the epic fantasy category list many are Indie publications. This being my favorite genre, I figured I'd give some a try.
The Godling Chronicles: The Sword of Truth (don't confuse with Terry Goodkind's series of that name) adheres to many of the classic tropes: a sort of Indie The Book of Three meets The Eye of the World. Plotwise, we have a kind of Dark Lord, and we have a young guy from the country with a destiny. He has a mentor, he goes on a journey. There are girls (but no sex - boo!). The (relatively) unique element is that he's really a god — albeit a reduced in-human-form god who doesn't know it.
I liked this book, and if I were 13-14 again, I'd have loved it. The plot is straightforward but fine and it's actually a bit refreshing harkening back to those classic "Shanara type" fantasies of the 80s. With the exception of the brief prologue, the narrative sticks tightly to a single protagonist and that keeps the pace up. As an added bonus, the story was co-written by the author's 9-10 year-old son, which is very cool.
It's not a long novel, 344 pages, and represents an opening salvo, more of a "first part" than a traditional "giant chunk" like a Wheel of Time book. This is fine, as it's inexpensive and you can just download part 2 when you get there. I actually like that changes in publishing are allowing for more flexibility of form.
But I do have a few problems with the mechanics. The sentence work itself is fine. Workman like, but never awkward. However, the novel is simultaneously both over and underwritten. Let's start with the under part. The book is written in 3rd person omni with no strong narrative voice and a focus on a few of the characters. Fine. But, the author mainly uses two tricks from his narrative toolbox to advance the plot: dialog and inner dialog. There is some action, but it's fairly thinly painted. There is almost no narrative description, or description at all for that matter. This keeps the story lean and moving, but leaves us with a very thin sense of place and world. We pass through several cities and various countryside, but I was left with no particular sense of any of them. Most of the words are devoted to conversation and almost all plot points are revealed (and re-revealed) this way.
Which comes to the overwriting part, which isn't so much at the sentence or fragment level (this, as I said, was decent) but occurred as (often) characters felt the urge to repeat news and revelations to new parties. Of course this happens in real life, but as a reader, once we know something we don't usually need to hear it again. This is a first novel, and probably not HEAVILY edited, so I expect this kind of thing has improved by book 2, but in general fictional dialog (in books, movies, TV, etc) is like a facsimile of real dialog. It gets the point across in an ideally witty way (probably with more arguing than in real life) and stripped of a lot of the glue that real conversations contain. Those mechanics like "hello" "how are you?" and "Meet me at the fountain." "You mean the one past the statue around the corner from the butcher shop?" "No the other one, um, um, past the Inn with the greenish turtle sign and the tree that got hit by lightning the other year." I.e. Stuff we don't really care about.
The whitespace style in this book is very horizontal (i.e. few line feeds) and I think actually having more can make this sort of thing clearer to author and reader alike. Each line must strive to say something new — ideally even several new things. These things can be plot points, details about the world, revelations of character, or general nuance. If a line can't defend its right to exist, several ways, well as Faulkner said, "In writing, you must kill all your darlings."
But that being said, if you're a young fantasy fan, The Sword of Truth is still a fun little romp. It's straightforward, and unapologetic about the genre. That's fine with me. I've got nothing against some good Dark Lord action.
The film version of Life of Pistuck with me for days. I'mfascinatedby the transmutation stories undergo from one medium to another, and in the middle...moreThe film version of Life of Pistuck with me for days. I'm fascinated by the transmutation stories undergo from one medium to another, and in the middle of adapting my own novel Untimed, so I picked up the book. Plus, when a film is based on a novel, the later is usually superior.
This is true here. The book is deeper and its allegorical presentation much clearer, but the film translation is decidedly faithful and effective (I discuss my initial impressions of the movie here). In this article I'll focus on two main points: my perception of the meaning of the book, and the process of film adaption relative to the book. I will not go into the plot, as that's been covered before.
As Pi himself comments, you have two alternate versions of the same story presented. In both, a ship sinks, everyone but Pi dies, and most of a year later he washes up in Mexico. Neither version makes any effective difference for anyone else in the world. When Pi asks the Japanese investigators to whom he tells these tales which is the better story, they chose the one with the tiger. Pi observes, "so it goes with God."
This is the crux of the book's double allegory. The Richard Parker (or animal) story can be seen as an interpretation for the unacceptably horrific "more realistic" story. I'll discuss that in a second, but more fundamentally, the whole double tale can be seen as an allegory for faith, for the very act of seeing the universe as God(s)' work (true be there one, three, or infinite gods). When faced with the hard cruel story, Pi chooses the miraculous interpretation - and so do most people.
This central thesis is the weakest part of the film, which generally does a wonderful job with both the introduction and the harrowing animal allegory itself. In the novel, the parallels between the animal and human tales are more numerous and clear. Both tales are more horrifying, the human one doubly so. This subtle tonal shift is absolutely crucial when we come to the choice and juxtaposition between tales. Each reader/viewer choose for himself what to believe ("and so it goes with God"). The film leans this choice more heavily toward Richard Parker as its compressed telling of the human tale does not do justice to Martel's careful construction of the internal allegory.
Still, I can not emphasize too much, given the limitations of both mediums, how terrific an adaptation of this wonderful novel the film is. The book is more personal, internal, philosophical, realistic even. Martel did some serious research and every bit of Pi's life, particularly the time on the boat feels very real. He sells this story as effectively as one possibly could. And despite musings, philosophy, asides, and copious detail does it in an immersive and gripping way. I stayed up to 4am to read the final 2/3 of the novel in one go.
The film, for its part, is more visually arresting, more luminous and surreal. The writer, director, and actors have constructed scenes where only narrative existed, and brought them to life with great color. Even the fairly elaborate build up is transmuted essentially intact. There are nips and tucks. We lose a minor characters as their dialog folds into more important ones. Richard Parker is introduced earlier, picking up a crucial scene from another tiger. For the most part, these tie the story tighter to the central narrative. A process crucial to which films adaption. A few changes are more mysterious: 1) a brief love interest is introduced in the film and 2) Pi's father becomes a less competent zookeeper. They don't detract in a serious way, but I didn't see the point.
In the central portion, the bookish Pi's musings on what it takes to survive the ordeal, and his detailed walk through of many details (including turtle butchery, hunger, and dining on excrement, etc.) is effectively replaced by specific moments and young Pi's wry narration and gifted facial expressions. But this weakens what Richard Parker represents in the interior allegorical interpretation. He servers as Pi's animal nature, his will to survive, and the film doesn't dare show that as graphically as the novel does. Likewise the odd "two blind men" sequence in the novel is deleted. This had to be done, as it has no real place in a film, and was the dullest section of the book. Still, it serves to bind the two versions of the crossing together, completing the allegory.
The novel's POV trick in the third section, where it switches to the Japanese investigator's report, also helps provide the proper balance for evaluating the allegorical positions. In the film, we remain more tightly with Pi, and hence with the Richard Parker version. But POV is the novel format's biggest gun. It enables voice and interior monologue. Proper POV in a novel is as crucial as casting in a film, as both must shoulder the emotional burdens.
Any which way, read the book, see the movie, or both.
This novel is an indie publishing effort, released just last month, that has shot up the charts. It’s a debut, and the author has no previous platform...moreThis novel is an indie publishing effort, released just last month, that has shot up the charts. It’s a debut, and the author has no previous platform, so this means its success is based on its own merits — or blind luck. Let’s look closer.
As of this writing, the book is #143 in the Kindle list and #36 in Kindle Contemporary Romance, as best as I can tell, this translates to between 500-1000 copies a day. It’s $3.99 and there is no paper edition. This is really good, and as a side note, reminds me that Romance is hot hot hot as there are 67 OTHER Romances doing better on the Kindle list. Wow! That’s half the top books.
As to Losing It, the novel is without a doubt, totally “publishable” by New York standards. There is nothing particularly amateur about the writing. The cover is decent and the title — even if used by several previous novels — catchy. There are a few typos, particularly omitted trailing double-qoutes from dialog (and no, this is not a case of long dialog that flows from paragraph to paragraph where obscure typographic rules permit an elided middle quote). There is a minor amount of overwriting, but plenty of New York books are guilty of this too.
The story chronicles a female acting student’s final semester at college and her halfhearted efforts to lose her virginity and confused efforts to woo one of her professors (a popular theme lately, as I’ve seen it in Pretty Little Liars and Life Unexpected too).
Fundamentally it’s a fun book with great voice and an adorable protagonist. I read it in one sitting, which is always a good sign. The first 70% was first rate fun. There’s nothing super revolutionary here, and romances, or even books without fantastical elements aren’t my thing, but the protagonist was endearing enough to trump all that. Things moved in a fairly breakneck way and the characters felt defined and real. I enjoyed the final act of the book a bit less. It wasn’t bad, but it was highly predictable and a little underwelming. For my taste, the whole thing was a bit of a sexual tease. It felt steamy, or at least seemed to promise steamy, but never delivered any real smut.
I can’t say I understand exactly why the book went viral, but it is a well written and enjoyable romance, well worth a read, and far, far above most of the dreck I try to wade through.
I'm a multi-disciplinary thinker and I read a lot about history, so I consider most people mistaken when they assumethe complexities of the modern wor...moreI'm a multi-disciplinary thinker and I read a lot about history, so I consider most people mistaken when they assume the complexities of the modern world are new and unprecedented. Certainly there are remarkable changes occurring, like the internet, but most existing institutions are grounded in historical ones and human nature hasn't shifted a millimeter.
Occasionally, I'll read a book that sheds a broad swath of light on the big patterns that have given rise to our world. Guns, Germs, and Steel was one of these. Repetitive and over-simplifying it was, but it touched on something primal in the human condition: what the author called "history's broadest pattern."
Debt deals with another: the very basis of value and obligation, which are at the root of what we vaguely call economics.
The first half of this book blew my mind. It places debt at the very core of what it means to live in a human society. It torpedoes a number of fundamental economic assumptions, and then promises to lay out a history of the institution. I was left with the feeling that if I persevered through all 544 pages a great secret would be revealed, an Eleusinian Mystery of sorts. The second half didn't quite fulfill on this promise, but that doesn't change the fact that anyone interested in politics OR economics OR being human should probably read this book.
Insights include Graeber's attack on the "myth of barter." Generally, economic theories assume that money arose to deal with the fact that barter was awkward. Debt argues that barter societies never really existed, and that credit and virtual money always dominated human interactions before the arrival of coinage (roughly 600 BC). This I buy 100%. In my readings about the pre-coinage ancient world (mostly Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia) it has long been clear to me that "money" existed, if only on paper (achem... clay tablet). Heck, writing, and therefore history itself, was invented as a tool to record debts. The earliest documents are all ledgers: "so-and-so owes the temple fifteen chickens and thirty-two bushels of grain" and that sort of thing. Early civilizations usually converted productions into one or more virtualized "money" currencies, like bushes of grain (not so coincidentally called shekels!). Few lugged piles of grain or weights of silver around with them, they merely agreed to the common value of various goods in these units. Therefore: money!
Graeber makes mind opening points about the relationship between debt, money (which is often about exact measurement of debt), the state, and human politics and freedoms. States were/are fundamentally military and money exists in no small part as an expediency to supply the army. He questions again and again the assumption that "everyone should pay their debts" and points out that really translates to "everyone should pay their debts unless they are holding the gun." This leads to tackling and exploring the conditions that lead to that most unpleasant and also long-lived of human traditions: slavery. His discussion of the relationship between "human context" and the lack of it being a prerequisite for chattel slavery is alone worth the price of admission.
He also explores the incredible tie between debt and morality. Our relationship with God is usually even couched in credit terms: reckoning, redemption, and so on.
Much of the middle of the book explores four big periods of history. 1) the pre-coinage credit kingdoms of the remote ancient world 2) the axial empires of middle antiquity (600BC - 600AD) 3) the middle ages and 4) the modern imperialist era. He points out that these periods oscillate between credit and bullion based economies. He also argues that we have recently moved into a new 5) credit economy. I'm not, myself, sure that the current period isn't more of an evolution of the imperialist/capitalist stage, but anyway.
However, Graeber is not without bias. He appears to despise the coinage ages and glorify the credit based ones while I see things as more of a progression. He is perhaps right that the "axial age" (600BC - 600AD) was dominated by bullion/military/slavery economics and a tremendous scale of warfare. But he seems to ignore the subsistence living of the prior and middle ages and the wild cultural and population growth allowed by the expanding axial economy. He seems to have a love affair with the middle ages, particularly in their Eastern incarnation (read the Caliphate period). Don't get me wrong, I have a bit of an Arabian Nights fetish myself, but this was not a time and place free of human misery. Far better that Western Europe during the dark ages, sure, but we all knew that (or should have).
In the later stages of the book, when discussing the Imperialist and modern eras, Graeber remains fascinating, but grows a bit confused and political (in the sense of having an axe to grind as opposed to discussing politics, which are, after all, fundamental to the work). I'm not sure where he leaves us, in our world of debt imperialism and mandatory expansion, but he certainly provides tremendous food for thought. His is a keen mind that resists carving culture, history, and all that into neat little bundles. Civilization is a messy knot. More scale, more people, bigger cities, bigger armies, it all requires infrastructure. Resources must be moved, systems must be invented, the machinery of state and the greed of individuals must be fed. Where does it all end? Who owes whom?
While this Omnibus feels like a novel, it was originally published as a series of fivenovellas— and self-published at that. But don't let that scare y...moreWhile this Omnibus feels like a novel, it was originally published as a series of five novellas — and self-published at that. But don't let that scare you, it's better written, better edited, and far more engaging than 95% of New York published SciFi. In some ways a throwback, in some ways very modern, Wool is a contained (in both the literary and literal way) post apocalyptic tale in the mould of Larry Niven or A Canticle for Leibowitz. Technically this is an ARC story, about an isolated world built to survive a destroyed environment. The people in Wool live in a 148 floor Silo in the ground. To leave is to die.
The book is written in first person tight from multiple points of view. Each section has a fairly clear POV character and the narrative voice highlights their perspective. There is no single protagonist. The first novella is basically a short story introducing the world and ending with the usual short story twist. It did very well on Amazon and the author wrote a second (using a minor character from the first as the POV) and then a third which essentially transitions to the larger story's most important character (Jules). It's very much to Howey's credit that this serial construction does not feel artificial. The works holds up both individually as a cohesive and epic novel.
Several things lead to the overall excellence: The characters are well developed and mostly likable (the main villain is a little thin, but interesting enough). The world is intriguing and detailed with an appropriate pacing of reveals. There is a good amount of death and suffering in this novel and it lends a generally tragic air to the whole situation as well as the specific events. There is also a lot of tension despite what might nominally be plotting that doesn't showcase a lot of overt external conflict (in the first 2-3 books). Basically it's just very good.
The silo is well thought out. My only real beef at a technical level (and this doesn't distract from the book at all) is the unlikelyhood that such a contained ecosystem (in all senses of the word) could remain so functional over several centuries. On a practical level earthly eco-systems function because of the ENORMOUS quantity of solar energy constantly added. Wool features a pretty big system powered by a single main fossil-fuel generator. Maybe that's possible, and Howey's navel background lends copious verisimilitude and gritty detail, but I suspect to really make a big spaceship or ARC last a long time you'd need some really serious juice. Large scale hydroponic farming alone would require a hell of a lot of power. But as fiction, it's really well worked out.
Additionally, at a realistic level, I'm not a big believer in the predictability of human large scale behavior (aka history), but in the context of Science Fiction like this (taking its queue from Asimov's Foundation), there's no problem. In the real world, despite the endlessly repeating basic patterns of history, no human has ever proven to be a great predictor and controller of the long term specifics.
Another minor peeve is that the Kindle version, while well proofread, has a very unusual formatting with a tiny font oversized spacing between paragraphs. I had to jack the Kindle scale feature up several notches to even read the text. There's (currently) really no reason not to use the default font style for MOBI/EPUB body text in a novel.
But if you like Science Fiction, post apocalyptic worlds, or just plain old good novels. Read this. Seriously, it's one of the most enjoyable speculative novels I've read in years. Bravo.
Having recently read Baciqalupi's excellent Ship Breaker I thought I'd breeze through his fantasy novella— and breeze I did. Written in first person,...moreHaving recently read Baciqalupi's excellent Ship Breaker I thought I'd breeze through his fantasy novella — and breeze I did. Written in first person, yet with a bit of almost Arabian Nights allegorical style, this is a story about a world where all magic has consequences, specifically in that it feeds deadly bramble vines, causing them to choke and strangle the city. As usual for Baciqalupi the world building and the writing is first rate. This a very contained story with a small character count and a lot of focus so it isn't bogged down by some of The Windup Girl's problems. The mains are good too, but I did find the villains slightly contrived. Like many shorts there is a bit of a twist.
Overall, the vibe of the story is excellent, and this is conveyed through the skilled use of voice. A tasty snack indeed.
I am in utter awe with regard to the creativity oozing from this novel.
While perhaps not for everyone, and not perfect, this is a first rate work of f...moreI am in utter awe with regard to the creativity oozing from this novel.
While perhaps not for everyone, and not perfect, this is a first rate work of fantasy. And I mean that in the broadest sense because the book is set in a unique milieu that is part Dickens, part steampunk, part fantasy, part Blade Runner, part Lovecraft and a whole lot more. As one agent said of my first novel's early drafts: Perdido Street Station suffers from an extreme case of too-much-ness. It has too many words, too many characters, too many points of view, too much description, too many subplots, too many races, too many kinds of magic, too many villains, too many heroes, too many really really big words, or old words (I had to use the dictionary every couple of pages). Still, it works, even rises to greatness.
Amazing things about this book:
1. The prose: which is highly descriptive, deft, and subtle, building elaborate piles of intricacy out of slashes of words.
2. The main characters: Isaac, Yag, and Lin all have some real depth.
3. The world: is just so creepy, slimy, and cool -- although not for the faint of heart. This book is dark. It makes The Darkening Dream seem like vanilla icing.
4. The monsters and the weird: nice and creepy. This is a book where human on bug sex is the sweet part!
5. The clarity: for all its length and bewildering array of everything, the book is easy to follow and read (provided you have a dictionary handy).
6. Imagination: No shortage of amazingly cool ideas, images, races, monsters, technologies, places, etc. in this puppy.
Things that aren't as strong:
1. Pacing: the masses of description, which while evocative, effective, and downright creepy, are constant and unrelenting. The city itself is a character and this slows things down a bit. It doesn't drag, but it isn't lightning fast either.
2. The tangents: there are more than a few here, and not all of them worth it.
3. The minor points of view: A number of characters pop in, have their couple POV pages in the sun, and then vanish (usually into the deadpool). This isn't always maximally effective.
4. The baroque plot: The story is easy enough to follow, but it does take A WHILE to get going and is not always full of classic drama created from thwarted desire. In fact, the first third or so is distinctly short on that, but is fast paced mostly because the world is so fascinating.
5. Actions of the government and other non-protagonist forces: There are some big chunks in here where the government is trying to do stuff, and only indirectly involves the regular characters. This stuff is less effective because of the emotional disconnect.
6. Deus ex machina: oh-too-coincidental happenings and escapes occur a number of times.
Overall, in the same way that Vegas transcends cheese by way of pure magnitude, Perdido climbs to greatness on the strength of its positives, rising above any petty flaws. If you appreciate flights of imagination, good writing, and the weird, it's required reading. No question. Not for the square, the staid, the boring, or the grounded who do not at least dream of flying.
Hugo and Nebula wining author of the Sci-Fi novel, The Windup Girl, brings his unique vision of the future to YA. The conventions ofthisyounger demog...moreHugo and Nebula wining author of the Sci-Fi novel, The Windup Girl, brings his unique vision of the future to YA. The conventions of this younger demographic solves my biggest problem with Windup, which featured way too many characters and way too byzantine a plot. Ship Breaker has a single narrator and a straightforward enough story. The setting is the American Gulf coast some hundred years in the future after the collapse of our oil dependent technology. This could be the same world as Windup, or is perhaps merely similar. It doesn't matter, it's fascinating.
The first 50-60% of the book is absolutely first rate, fantastic. Baciqalupi has a great voice: third person, yet personal, detailed, yet fast paced. I loved the introduction to the world of the ship-breaking yards (see below for more on their real-life inspiration). The protagonist is very likable and the secondary characters mostly well developed. I loved the introduction of "Lucky Girl" (his love interest) and their time together (approximately 30% - 60%, the second act).
However, the third act involves her near complete disappearance from the book. Nailer, our protag, goes after her, but this section felt weaker and more disconnected. Even at the end, she's only around for about two lines of dialogue. Additionally, this part of the book features more traditional "big action" and this doesn't seem to be Baciqalupi's strong point. The early parts of the novel contained a great deal of physical tension and that was handled flawlessly, but I didn't totally buy some of the final scenes. And the resolution with the primary villain felt slightly off.
I'll have to go with perhaps 8 out of 10 on this book. Very very good, with a lot going for it, but not a total stunner. Still,absolutely worth reading.
It's worth a moment's discussion on real Ship Breaking, a strange and dangerous global market niche which is almost entirely done in Bangladesh, at the famous ship-breaking yards. In these real life places, old tankers and the like are driven aground on the beach and then swarms of Bangladeshi workers tear them apart for raw materials. Many are children and working conditions make 19th Century Cotton Mills look pleasant. Check out these amazing photos here. Old ships contain a wealth of valuable materials, but there is no environmentally sound or automated way to scrap them. The current practice takes advantage of the extremely poor to do it "cheaply." The cost, of course, is more human.
It's definitely superior to the film, and good campy pulp fun. Plus, when you take into account it's 1917 publication date, it's actually pretty impre...moreIt's definitely superior to the film, and good campy pulp fun. Plus, when you take into account it's 1917 publication date, it's actually pretty impressive!
The writing itself is fast and clean, even if the sentences include copious subordinate clauses, high falutin vocabulary, and the occasional archaic turn of phrase. Like "fetich" which my Kindle dictionary informed me is a dated spelling of "fetish." The style suffers a little — by modern standards — from an overabundance of "tell." The book moves rapidly and the narrator tells you in a straightforward first-person past what happened. He doesn't illustrate the points by action, but calls it as he sees it. Even the action is given to narrative summary rather than blow by blow description. This is compact and functional but feels dated.
The plot is a straightforward adventure. Our protagonist, who is pretty much great at everything, hurls himself from one predicament to the next, all the while extracting maximum drama and showmanship. Things rarely go badly for him, and there is little subtly of choice. I can see how significant an effect Burroughs had on mid century pulp Science Fiction masters like Phillip Jose Farmer or L. Ron Hubbard (I'm ignoring the religion and talking about the writer). Farmer adventures like Dark is the Sun, World of Tiers, or The Cache feel like direct descendants of A Princess of Mars.
For 1917, the world building is fairly extensive. There aren't too many outer space adventure novels before this, so he must have invented a lot of the tropes. There are flying craft, exploding bullets, terraforming machines, and all sorts of goodies. And all in an era when the biplane was the height of aeronautical tech.
The book's biggest weakness is the utter lack of subtlety. John Carter is able to instantly read into alien situations and ferret out the meaning — even when he can't understand the language. He is an instant master of the new tech, a perfect navigator, etc. The solution to his problems are usually readily available. Burroughs resorts to certain devices — like convenient eavesdropping — multiple times. The "romance" between Carter and Dejah Thoris is formulaic at best. Still, she is described repeatedly as gorgeous and nearly naked, which sets the standard for pulp heroines.
As a student of media conversions, I continue to wonder at the bungles in the recent film adaptation. Read my thoughts on the John Carter film here, but while they borrowed most of the characters, situations, and feel from the novel, they made many plot changes for the worse. Some of the camp factor does come from the source material, and there would probably be a need to simplify the action, however this doesn't excuse the addition of multiple prologues, and ridiculous meta-villains. Pulp action is pulp action. Dressing it up with an extra layer of plot complexity doesn't change that.