Friday, February 3, 2012

The Endless Battle: Barry Sadler and CASCA

(I'm still working on getting the other PAC Squad books into ebook format; the other books are now available for free to Kindle Prime members.)

Naturally my father left behind numerous boxes of the men's adventure books that he loved so much, and was attempting to make a living at writing when he died.

I've been examining many of these and probably my all-round favorite is the CASCA series by Barry Sadler.

The wikipedia entry about the CASCA series

The very high-concept story of Casca is the tale of Casca Rufio Longinius, a Roman legionnaire who has the (good? bad?) luck of being granted immortality when he stabs "the Jew" Jesus Christ with a spear during his crucifixion, apparently to relieve the prisoner's suffering.

Gradually, in the first book of the series, CASCA: THE ETERNAL MERCENARY, after being sentenced to work in a labor mine, Casca realizes that he will not age and that he can't be killed. The first book follows his fortunes and misfortunes through a couple hundred years, including slavery and a spell as gladiator.

The series follows Casca as he fights, fucks, and drinks his way through the ages, encountering famous figures and becoming involved with the various great societies and armies of history.

I've only read the first few books -- some sources say Barry Sadler himself wrote the first 29 books, others say that he farmed most of them out to ghost writers -- and they are written in a glibly professional and assured fashion, moving quickly, with just the right mix of gravitas and humor. Sadler displayes a nice ability to alternate gruesome violence with a good fart joke or a roll with a lusty tavern wench and some male bonding over beers. There's enough detail about not just the militaries and weapons of the times, but also about day-to-day life to show that Sadler was probably a genuine history buff.  

Casca is a typical man's man, proficient with weapons as well as his huge cock; fortunately for an immortal, he's also good with languages. He is a soldier first and foremost though, and lives for the thrill of battle. (Just as well for the reader -- CASCA: THE ETERNAL GOATHERDER wouldn't be particularly compelling.) He's also not happy to stab or slice a particularly-hated opponent, when he can castrate them or jam an axe handle down their throat or whatever.

There is, as would probably be expected, quite a bit of casual sexism, racism, and homophobia in the novels, from big-bootied slave wenches to leering child-raping Nubians; but Casca's appreciation of other cultures is rather profound compared to many of his 70's and 80's men's adventure counterparts, who never met a foreigner they didn't shoot.

His second adventure, GOD OF DEATH, finds him leading a shipful of Vikings into Mexico among the Teotecs and Olmecs; he is impressed by their level of civilization and culture, although of course he uses his unique abilities to put a halt to that nasty human sacrifice business.

The author does make some general attempts to deal with the science and physics of Casca's condition; at the beginning of the first book, we witness Casca regenerating from being grievously wounded by an exploding shell in Vietnman. Casca fears lengthy imprisonment or being buried alive more than anything; it is explained that he can survive on the merest traces of moisture and eat practically anything to obtain nourishment.

The story of author Barry Sadler is damn near as bizarre as the story of Casca.

The wikipedia entry on Barry Sadler

Barry Sadler's official website

After his time as a combat medic in the U.S. Special Forces in the 1960's, where he was wounded with a feces-covered punji stick, Barry Sadler released several singles, including THE BALLAD OF THE GREEN BERETS and I WON'T BE HOME THIS CHRISTMAS, a love-letter to the folks at home written from the trenches of the jungle in Vietnam. He wrote and performed these himself, and though you may criticize the earnest sappiness and jingoism of his lyrics, you can't deny he has a rather pleasant singing voice.

Other highlights of his eventful life include shooting country singer Lee Emerson Bellamy in the head and killing him, and training Contra revolutionaries in South America. He himself was shot in the head under mysterious circumstances in Guatamala City in 1989; even that failed to kill him quickly, though he fell into a coma and died a year later.

Like his creation, Sadler was clearly a tough and interesting guy.

The parallels to something like the HIGHLANDER series or films and TV shows is obvious, though the first book was written several years before the first HIGHLANDER movie. This is extremely rich material for a series of books, and fans of men's adventure, history, and fantasy will all find something to enjoy. The series continues to the present under various other authors. If they can match the level of cocky, deadpan confidence that Sadler brings to the first few books of the series, it's a very worthy series for you to invest your time in.

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