Casca 1: The Eternal Mercenary
So the Casca series is a little off the Fuldapocalyptic beaten track for me. But really, I of all people couldn’t resist a series written by Barry Sadler of ‘Ballad of the Green Beret’ fame with the premise of “The Roman soldier that stabbed Jesus with the spear is fated to be a soldier/warrior forever”, fusing the Longinus and Wandering Jew mythologies. That part brings a very different song to my mind.
The first book opens in Vietnam where the main character heals ridiculously fast from a seemingly fatal head wound, and one “hypnotic narrative” later, returns to nearly two thousand years in the past. After the event, he gets in a fight with his “sergeant” over a girl and ends up with a deep wound… …which heals, because in practice, he turns into essentially Marvel’s Wolverine without claws. Cue a long stretch of time where he fights throughout dynasties of Roman history, then a final scene in the then-present where Casca/Casey has escaped from his Vietnam hospital-and is fighting in the Arab-Israeli wars.
This is very much a pop-historical “sword and sandal epic” rather than trying for any serious attempt at realism, and is all the better for it. Casca becomes a slave, he becomes a gladiator, and he enjoys a bit of peace before returning to his horror.
One of the low points of the book is its cultural er- insensitivity. While an action novel in the 70s is not going to top anyone’s “most progressive” list, this has a few moments that made me raise eyebrows. The walking stereotype Chinese martial arts master (yes, in ancient Rome, it’s a long story) who teaches Casca I was more bemused by than anything else. I went ‘uhh….’ at both the vicious savage African gladiator whose victims included (of course) a young blonde woman and the man whose marriage improved after he started hitting his wife.
But even the worst I found tolerable, because it only felt offensive and not offensive and creepy. This is, after all, a 70s action novel. And what it does well, it does very well. The Eternal Mercenary can make its action dramatic even with an immortal protagonist, and that’s no small feat.
Casca: The Eternal Mercenary is lightweight sleaze, but it’s good lightweight sleaze.