I’ve been a fan of Leo Frankowski ever since I stumbled upon his Cross-Time Engineer series, the one about a modern Pole stuck in the middle ages, a mere decade before a Mongol attack. It was fascinating reading, full of sex, violence, and a painstakingly-built military-industrial complex.
Frankowski’s later books, a slew of which have come out in the last five years, are sort of hit-or-miss phenemona: Conrad’s Time Machine, for instance, was really interesting for the first 150 pages, and then turned into the sort of sexist wish-fulfillment pabulum that Frankowski is wont to indulge in when his editor doesn’t crack down hard enough.
Kren of the Mitchegai doesn’t wallow in the same silly excess as some others, but neither does it live up to its predecessor (it’s the third in the Boy and His Tank series, the first of which was truly inventive and excellent, and the second of which was disappointing). Like a lot of Frankowski books, it simply tracks the travails of its hero (in this case, a præternaturally evil character, part of a race that tortures and eats its own young, &c. &c.), almost like a strict novelization of an RPG. “Kren wagered 100’000 Ke and hit his opponent for 50HP, scoring a critical blow and winning the round. Kren has advanced to level 20.”1 In many ways, it’s as though he took his Conrad character and turned him into an evil alien. So great is Frankowski’s love for engineering and the procurement of personal military-industrial complexes that he more or less works it into every single story he writes.
So much of the book was devoted to developing Kren’s backstory (the storyline goes up to but does not include a war with the human race) that the few short chapters interspersed throughout describing the original hero’s (Mickolai) current activies (building a military-industrial complex, of course) seem awkward and forced. By the end of the book, we are more enamored of the evil alien, because Frankowski has devoted less and less meaningful development time to Mickolai, having already introduced and resolved all the character tension and technological problems in the first book.
It’s a good book, I suppose, but it’s only saving grace was that Frankowski managed to make the bad guy more interesting. His website says that Baen books has dropped the series, so who knows if he will ever get to resolve the conflict between the humans and the Mitchegai. Next, I will read his (semi-)self-published addition to the Cross-Time Engineer series to see if he’s still got the magic.
- Not actually an excerpt[↩]