Leo Frankowski, an engineer with quite a number of patents and former president of Sterling Engineering in Sterling Heights, Michigan, has been entertaining readers with the stories of Conrad Schwartz, a Polish engineer who gets stuck in a time capsule and is accidentally sent from Communist era Poland back to the country as Frankowski imagined it to be in the 13th Century, a few years before the Mongol invasion.
The eight books in the series as he has written them so far, comprises the story of how Conrad Schwartz — who renames himself Stargard in the first few pages of the first book, Cross-Time Engineer (Poles didn’t like Germans, even then) — introduces an industrial revolution in Poland to prevent the Mongols from overrunning his country. These books are exercises in the branch of science fiction generally known as alternative history – the same kind of story that deals with such conjectures as the South winning the Civil War, for example.
Because Stargard introduces an industrial revolution in Poland, and gets his fellow Poles a couple of centuries ahead of the Mongols technologically, using largely 17th and 19th Century technology to defeat the huge Mongol hordes which advanced across Europe in the mid 1200s, he creates what amounts to an alternate universe.
Conrad Schwartz/Stargard is very likely what Frankowki wished he was as a younger man. Conrad is tall, blond and able to satisfy several women a night. On his first day in the 13th Century, he confesses to a Father Ignacy that he is from the far future (he doesn’t realize that he is in the 13th Century yet when he confesses), a fact that Ignacy prohibits him from telling others so he does not get burned for witchcraft. What Ignacy hears from Conrad convinces him that he must be a knight. Why a knight? Well, Conrad is very tall, and had been a commander of about 100 soldiers in the 20th Century Polish Army, an officer in its ranks. According to Frankowski, one of the basic functions of knights was to command large numbers of soldiers (and sire children).
It turns out that Father Ignacy sees a side of Conrad that even Conrad doesn’t see yet – knights are heroes. And Conrad in his actions turns out to be extremely heroic, and when given the opportunity in the fifth book of the series to return to his engineer’s desk in 20th Century Poland, turns it down flat. By this time, Conrad, who is a by now a Duke, realizes that he has been a hero, and going back to his desk at his old engineering firm would negate all the development his character had made in a decade. What fun is pushing a pencil when compared to creating a new civilization?
Frankowski is a little cute with the names, having a Francis of Assisi (not the St. Francis of Assisi) teach his Polish kids the 3R’s in Polish. He has a student of the monk Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine order, as Stargard’s confessor, as well as having earlier versions of Copernicus and Marie Curie making appearances. In addition, Frankowski, who evidently watched the satirical Rocky and Bullwinkle as a kid, even has a Boris and Natasha in his book.
Naturally an American makes an appearance in the series (did you think a Midwesterner would leave the Americans out?) and the problems that Conrad causes this American is part of the fun of the series. After milking the same plotline of defeating the Mongols with advanced technology for seven books, the last book, called Conrad’s Time Machine, deals with the back-story, and begins to introduce the reader to how it was that Conrad comes across a time capsule in the first place.
From the way the last book was written, it appears that there is another one in Frankowski’s imagination (or on his hard drive) that is yet forthcoming. The snake does not yet bite his own tail, so to speak.
Cross-Time Engineer is not fit for small children who have no knowledge of sex, but any teenager with a reasonable understanding of American culture, not to mention lots of adults, can appreciate this series of books. There is lots of sex and violence in the whole series but there is nothing pornographic or gory in any of the books; Frankowski is a writer who knows how to sanitize both sex and violence and make it all come out smelling almost like a rose.
I strongly recommend this series, even though the fifth book is a bit uneven, and the last book is not properly named. Frankowski is an engaging storyteller, and even when the story flags, you learn a great deal about how the creative mind works, along with all the things it takes to make glass, gunpowder, cannon, and even a T-shirt.
In short, they’re worth opening your wallet and laying out the shekels for the hard copies.