The Impossible Fortress
Author: Jason Rekulak
Release Date: February 7, 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Format: paperback ARC
Source: Simon & Schuster Canada
A dazzling debut novel—at once a charming romance and a moving coming-of-age story—about what happens when a fourteen-year old boy pretends to seduce a girl to steal a copy of Playboy but then discovers she is his computer-loving soulmate.
Billy Marvin’s first love was a computer. Then he met Mary Zelinsky.
Do you remember your first love?
The Impossible Fortress begins with a magazine…The year is 1987 and Playboy has just published scandalous photographs of Vanna White, from the popular TV game show Wheel of Fortune. For three teenage boys—Billy, Alf, and Clark—who are desperately uneducated in the ways of women, the magazine is somewhat of a Holy Grail: priceless beyond measure and impossible to attain. So, they hatch a plan to steal it.
The heist will be fraught with peril: a locked building, intrepid police officers, rusty fire escapes, leaps across rooftops, electronic alarm systems, and a hyperactive Shih Tzu named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Failed attempt after failed attempt leads them to a genius master plan—they’ll swipe the security code to Zelinsky’s convenience store by seducing the owner’s daughter, Mary Zelinsky. It becomes Billy’s mission to befriend her and get the information by any means necessary. But Mary isn’t your average teenage girl. She’s a computer loving, expert coder, already strides ahead of Billy in ability, with a wry sense of humor and a hidden, big heart. But what starts as a game to win Mary’s affection leaves Billy with a gut-wrenching choice: deceive the girl who may well be his first love or break a promise to his best friends.
At its heart, The Impossible Fortress is a tender exploration of young love, true friends, and the confusing realities of male adolescence—with a dash of old school computer programming.
Bonus content: Play the “The Impossible Fortress” video game at http://www.jasonrekulak.com/game/
I listed the commands and studied her code, a long block of ideas I’d never considered and strategies I’d never tried, an entirely different approach to programming. I felt like I was finger painting next to Pablo Picasso. (ARC, pg. 88)
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion.*
Disclaimer: I’m a ’90s baby. By the time I was allowed anywhere near a computer, Windows was already a thing. That being said, the first memories I have of computers, gaming, and technology in general were very rudimentary machines compared to what I’m used to working on today; aka The Impossible Fortress still made me nostalgic af!
I loved Mary. I loved that she knocked Billy’s socks off with her coding. I’m used to seeing boys being the programmers, gamers, computer geeks, etc. but Mary rocked it. She showed me that girls can do what-the-heck-ever they want to regardless of what people think they should be good at. I also loved Billy and how he is with Mary. He’s in awe of her skill, creativity, and knowledge and works with her even though he knows he’ll catch hell from his buddies. I also liked that he was still true to what young boys are like while still revering Mary. He hid things, played it off around his friends, skewed things so they weren’t too hard on him. Both characters felt super real to me.
The “break in and steal Playboy copies” parts made me pretty uncomfortable but that’s because I’ve always been a goody-two-shoes so I get squeamish when people break rules…As a general part of the plot though it was thrilling. The planning stages had me worrying it would turn into a disaster and I had this ominous feeling and then the execution had the thrill of rule-breaking (which again…conflicting to me because I’m Hermione incarnate and strongly believe in rules).
As mentioned, the nostalgia was also A+. Now I obviously can’t vouch for the authenticity but it definitely had me looking back on all the old games I would play on various systems. My earliest memory? A computer that took probably 15 minutes to start up that I’d have to be dragged away from because I was addicted to playing Lemmings. I felt so intensely nostalgic while reading that I put the book down on numerous occasions to try to find simulators of old games I loved. (There’s a Lemmings for PS3…my brother has a PS3…I’m thinking up a Billy & the Gang type scheme to make this happen!)
I really loved this book. It was fun, full of antics, had a kicka$$ female lead, lots of tech geekery, and definitely set me off on a trip down memory lane. I highly recommend it for so many different types of readers. It has something to appeal to almost everyone!
1. What is your favourite vintage computer game? (I was always partial to Lemmings and, funny enough, a Wheel of Fortune type game!)
It’s too hard to pick just one! I was always partial to the Infocom text adventures – Zork, Deadline, Wishbringer, and so on. Instead of graphics, these games had narrative descriptions, a bit like the text in Choose Your Own Adventure novels, and players could type commands like GET SWORD or OPEN THE WOODEN CHEST. I would play these games and feel like a character in one of my favorite fantasy novels.
Of course, I loved Lemmings, too!
2. What was the original idea or moment of inspiration for The Impossible Fortress?
A few years ago I started going home to visit my parents on a weekly basis, because my father was sick. I was spending a lot of time walking through the town where I grew up, and I was spending a lot of time in hospital waiting rooms, and I guess I was looking for an excuse to cheer myself up. So I bought a notebook from the hospital gift shop and started taking notes on goofy things that I remembered from my teenage years. Looking back now, it seems pretty obvious that I was feeling nostalgic for better times! That really is how this whole book started.
3. Which of the boys do you feel is most like your younger self?
Definitely Billy. It was so easy to write his character. I had all of his ambition…and all of his insecurities! There’s so much about his character that I borrowed from my own biography. For example, my friends and I would walk around the town collecting aluminum cans to raise money, for example. We would often play on or near railroad tracks. And, like Billy, I spent a horrible summer working in a cosmetics factory, screwing brush-caps onto mascara tubes!
4. How comfortable do you feel with new gaming/computer technology vs. older models like the C64, Atari, etc.?
I do my best to keep up with the latest in computers, but with every passing year I feel a little more clueless. Staying up-to-date with new technology requires an extraordinary amount of spare time—something I had in abundance when I was a kid—but writing a novel has a way of obliterating all of your spare time!