Although I’ve reviewed various (newer) books by Frankowski since I began this meme in 2004, I don’t believe I’ve ever re-read the entire Adventures of Conrad Stargard series. I needed some light reading, so this works out well.
The Cross-Time Engineer, the first book in the series, was what launched my interest in Frankowski. It was many years ago, and I was helping my father move his books into the basement, and happened to see his old first-edition paperback. It struck my interest, so I began reading, and was utterly fascinated.
Simply put, this book (and those after) it, tell the story of Conrad (Schwartz) Stargard, an machinist/engineer from 1980s Poland who is accidentally transported back to 14th-centry Poland. You can imagine the hijinks that ensue. Actually, it’s not a specious sort of Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, although it might give that impression during the first 50 pages. Frankowski’s spiritual successor is L. Sprague DeCamp, another engineer turned science fiction writer, whose book Lest Darkness Fall takes a similar but shorter approach to the declining Roman empire.
Conrad ends up in the good graces of a local count, and by dint of good luck and quick thinking, starts to become rich and respected. He also decides the he will build the infrastructure of medieval Poland up to the point that it can repel the upcoming Mongol invasion, 10 years hence. Exciting stuff, and what I like most about it is Frankowski’s focus on the mechanical detail of building, say, windmills. The man’s history may be a bit dubious, but he seems like a pretty damn good engineer.
A common complaint is that Frankowski is a chauvinist, and that’s a charge I can’t really deny. Though his recent books have devolved worse into phallocentric wish-fulfillment (the Conrad prequel, Conrad’s Time Machine, is perhaps the worst of this kind), this particular series (or at least it’s late 80s and early 90s volumes) aren’t too bad if you make exceptions for Frankowski’s decision to make all the pretty peasant girls nymphomaniacal. Historically accurate or no, the idea of 14-year-olds getting moist over the 30-something Conrad is a bit unsettling. C’est la vie: it’s still great reading.