The Fuldapocalypse Year in Review

This has been a great year for Fuldapocalypse. Not only have I completed many reviews, and many diverse reviews, but the blog finally broke free of the shackles I’d initially imposed on it. After tinkering with the narrow scale a bit, I just tossed it aside entirely in March without any regret. Of course, my reviews became a lot more off the cuff and looser without that structure, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

It’s definitely not a bad thing that Fuldapocalypse has become a general fiction review blog with an “analytics of World War III” side-section. As I’ve said before, I would have literally run out of books had I kept trying to do that.

While I did not read a 27-book series in one binge, I did read all eleven Blaine McCracken books and all seven Black Eagle Force books.

What were my favorite literary discoveries of 2019? It’s a little hard to figure out given how much I read, but here they are.

-Northern Fury: H-Hour.

I knew very much of the Command scenarios this book started from, but was impressed by the novel itself. It managed to not fall into the pit of being just a thinly-veiled lets play, and flowed well. This is how to use wargames well for writing.

-Blaine McCracken.

If the Survivalist was last year’s “binge read a long series”, McCracken was this years, with me devouring all eleven books in short order. Jon Land tosses aside such frivolities as “plausibility” and “logic” in favor of ridiculous set-pieces. And I loved them.

-The Draka series.

This has been an infamous series in internet alternate history for a long time. Reading the actual books was something weirdly relieving, cutting through the decades-long telephone game to find. I had the suspicion that they were less than their reputation beforehand, but reading them confirmed it.

I’m left with the conclusion that, weirdly like the Spacebattles-favorite Worm, the Draka series became internet-famous for having a legitimately distinct setup and a variety of timing/circumstance-related things that had little to do with the prose itself. It’s mostly just “the bad guys win” and “bizarro-America, a continent-sized superpower founded on tyranny” used as the (interesting) setup for middling sleazy pulp in a variety of genres.

-The Casca series.

Ah yes, it’s one of those series where the background of “Guy who sang The Ballad Of The Green Beret makes a cheap thriller series about an immortal Roman soldier” is more interesting than the bulk of the books themselves. The first two books will never be more than trashy cheap thrillers, but they’re still good trashy cheap thrillers.

Everything beyond that is incredibly formulaic and risk-averse, even by cheap thriller standards. The immortality gimmick is just a way to get the same dull character into whatever pop-history period the book demands.

-Marine Force One.

David Alexander’s Marine Force One is perhaps the single most middling piece of fiction I’ve read. It’s so mediocre, so “51%”, that it actually stands out somehow. Thus it makes a good benchmark for other “51% books”, especially action thrillers, that I’ve weirdly come back to time and again.

It’s been a great year for this blog and for me in terms of reading. See you in 2020!

Review: God Of Death

Casca: God Of Death

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So I figure I should mention the best Casca book in my eyes. That would be the second, God of Death. By some accounts in the confusing internet tangle of rumor and whisper surrounding the series, it’s the last book Sadler personally wrote. I have no knowledge or evidence for any of this being true or not, but figure I should mention it.

In the book itself, Casca sails with the Vikings and ends up in pre-Colombian Central America. Then he gets his heart cut out-and puts it back in what should have been the defining scene of the series. Cue many of the Casca staples. The doomed romance, the “exotic” historical eras, and the lack of strict accuracy.

What makes this Casca stand out is that it actually runs with the supernatural qualities and the immortality gimmick in a way that many of the later ones simply don’t. It could be that the series was still fresh and new, or it could be that the vagueness of this time and place gave Casca more breathing room than a more documented one where he ultimately has to stick to history. Whatever it is, God Of Death is one of the few books where Casca’s premise lives up to its potential.

Review: Balkan Mercenary

Balkan Mercenary

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Although not the latest Casca book, Balkan Mercenary is the most recent chronologically, occurring in the beginning of the Yugoslav Wars. It’s the first book in the series I’ve reviewed that’s written by Tony Roberts, who’s the current official author of the Casca franchise.

So, I have get this out of the way first. If this had no connection to Casca at all and was just the story of a man and his team of mercs going into the Yugoslav Wars to take down a war criminal and avenge the death of his loved one, it would be a modestly decent “51% book”. There are far better books than something in the same league as Marine Force One, but there also worse ones (which is why, in spite of my complaints, I still read the Casca books).

But this is the 44th installment in a long series that I think just doesn’t work as well in more modern times as it does in the distant past. It’s even mentioned in the book itself that Casca’s aliases are getting easier to track, so I can understand why Roberts seems keener to keep Casca a historical character.

Here, every reminder that this middling action-adventure tale featured a millennia-old immortal felt blatantly shoved in. A piece on how he remembered medieval Serbia. A piece on his blood being poisonous (this was present in the early books). And a tie-in with designated recurring enemies the Brotherhood of the Lamb, who feel especially forced. Balkan Mercenary, like many other Cascas, just plods to the middle, not daring to  try and take the extraordinary premise any farther than 51% of the way.

 

Review: The Samurai

The Samurai

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With the nineteenth entry in the series, The Samurai, Casca swings and misses dramatically like a called-up minor leaguer facing Nolan Ryan. Of all the Casca books I’ve read, this is the worst of them (so far). I’ve heard conflicting answers as to who was actually writing the later Casca books before Sadler’s death, but whoever was did not succeed here.

Knowing the history of the series, I was expecting a clumsy, stereotypical depiction of ancient Japan. And I got it. But it also has very blocky, clunky prose and flat fight scenes that take away the biggest strength of the Casca series-the ability to have effective action despite its protagonist being, you know, immortal.

Not that it really matters much, because here Casca himself might as well just be a second-rate hired gun in a dull story about dull rivals fighting for power in dull battles. Having all the weaknesses of the Casca books but none of the strengths, The Samurai is something I wouldn’t recommend even to fans of the series.

Review: Soldier of Gideon

Soldier of Gideon

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The Casca series takes its path to the Arab-Israeli wars hinted at in the first book. Soldier of Gideon is a “modern” Casca, as opposed to the ancient Cascas. Taking place in the Six Day War, it’s typical of later Cascas-formulaic but good.

The action-packed book is in this kind of particular subgenre of war story that’s more gory and grisly than a John Wayne-style sanitized work, but still far more over the top and spectacular than a truly grounded novel. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s interesting.

(Sidenote: For whatever reason, historical war fiction isn’t usually my cup of tea. I’ve read good examples, but it just doesn’t grab me the way action-adventure or even technothrillers do. That being said, I have read enough to tell which slot Soldier of Gideon fell into)

The Arab armies seem to use primarily western equipment (to the extent that only Jordan did in the historical war)  with a few IS-3 tanks thrown in as level bosses challenging encounters. Casca and friends go to every theater of the war. In the process, Sadler demonstrated both his greatest strength and greatest weakness as the series dragged on.

The greatest strength is managing to maintain dramatic tension and fluid excitement in a story that features A: A historically decisive blowout victory, and B: An immortal protagonist. This is no easy task, and it’s a sign of Sadler’s proficiency that Casca never devolves into the “unironic One Punch Man” that it could have.

However, the other side of the coin is the almost complete lack of interest in using the immortal protagonist who’s lived for thousands of years, met every important Eurasian historical figure in that time, and is linked personally to Christianity as anything but a placeholder to build period pieces around. While cheap thrillers like these aren’t philosophical works, the wasted potential is still very high.

That said, as cheap thrillers, the Casca books still work, and work well.

 

Review: Casca The Eternal Mercenary

Casca 1: The Eternal Mercenary

Casca 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.