I’ve reviewed a few of the Casca books at Fuldapocalypse. I guess I just couldn’t resist the notion of a series with the background of “Guy who sang The Ballad Of The Green Berets writes a series about an immortal soldier.”
Basically, it’s “the Longinus and Wandering Jew legends are fused into one person, who proceeds to have a lot of pulp historical fiction adventures.”And I do mean pop-culture pulp history. Trust me.
But as long as one accepts that these are historical popular pulp cheap thrillers and not expected to be the most accurate or deep, they often work. And they frequently succeed in turning tales of “Wolverine without claws” into something dramatic by emphasizing the ways Casca can be harmed rather than the ways he can’t be. They’re still often good as just fluff reading (although I’ve been on a “losing streak” with the latest few Cascas I’ve read).
But at the same time, the Casca series is just massively unambitious and formulaic. Now, normally, criticizing cheap thrillers for being formulaic is like criticizing candy for having lots of sugar in it. However, A: it’s a little worse even than the low norm, and B: the origins of Casca kind of set a higher standard. Imagine a series with someone who gets a form of superpowers from some religiously significant event-and then does nothing but shoot mobsters in one rote 70s thriller after another. It’s not even that over-the-top much of the time.
One of the secrets that reading a few Casca books will reveal is that its main character is surprisingly replaceable. You could write dozens of historical pulp novels with dozens of different main characters either connected by some Eternal Champion-style spirit/fate or just unrelated save for being pulp heroes, and about the only change you’d have to make is having them be concerned about dying outright and not just being trapped/harmed. There’s the millenia-old Brotherhood of the Lamb as a halfhearted attempt at recurring antagonists. That’s it.
This is like having the defending Super Bowl champions at 1st and goal and immediately deciding to kick a field goal. Yes you get points [readable books] where you possibly couldn’t have gotten any, but the opportunity for so much more was there.
I think of what a more serious and philosophical author could have done with such a figure (I mean, for one they could actually mention the religious implications in more than passing). On the other hand, I think of what a more bombastic writer could have done (Given that Jerry Ahern was desperate to stretch his writing legs and had plans for a continuous one hundred book series, having Casca’s struggle against the Brotherhood go from spears to Detonics to lasers would have been something).
Instead, the entire central gimmick, the one that attracted me (and no doubt others) in ways that a bunch of unrelated historical novels didn’t, is used for little more than not having to come up with new names and basic character backgrounds for each book. It’s a shame to let such potential go to waste.