Published: February 7th, 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Genre(s): Young Adult, Fiction, Coming-of-age
Length: 7 hrs and 23 mins
The Impossible Fortress hits the exact right notes of eighties nostalgia without turning into a catalog of bygone pop culture. It definitely opened a flood of memories for me. I wasn’t a teenager in 1987, but I did spend my childhood teaching myself BASIC on my Apple IIGS and keying in machine language programs printed in the backs of my dad’s computer magazines.
Billy, Alf and Clark just want to see Vanna White in the May 1987 issue of Playboy, and they’ll try just about any harebrained scheme to get it. When they go into a local typewriter repair store and try to convince the owner that they look like serious businessmen who are definitely old enough to buy it, Billy meets Mary, an overweight social outcast who not only shares his love of computer programming but also his interest in making games, not to mention the fact that she has talent to spare.
Mary tells Billy about a contest judged by their personal game design hero, and it isn’t long before they’re heads-down, working feverishly to finish the titular game – an unfinished, unpolished concept created by Billy in his free time – all while Alf and Clark think he’s working a scam to get the Playboy.
The characters are so sharply drawn that they leap off the page. Rekaluk makes them both relatable and unique with only a few key details as well as a strong sense of the time and place. I fell in love with these characters, rooting for them to figure things out and make something out of themselves.
That’s why I was especially invested when the book took a turn for the dramatic and the stakes became much higher. Suddenly The Impossible Fortress wasn’t just a teenage sex comedy filled to the brim with programming nostalgia; it was also a story about how one wrong choice can ruin your life and how easy it is to watch your dreams slip through your hands. When things started going south for Billy, my stomach dropped, and I didn’t want to stop reading.
In fact, I listened to most of this book in one long sitting while I cleaned and packed for my holiday travel. I rarely get the chance to listen for such a long, uninterrupted period, so it’s especially nice to find a book compelling enough to warrant the attention. I highly recommend The Impossible Fortress, and can’t wait to read Jason Rekaluk’s follow-up, whatever it might be.