Perhaps the biggest concern about long-time editor, first-time novelist Jason Rekulak’s book The Impossible Fortress is that it couldn’t possibly live up to its hype. Actually, let me rephrase this slightly. It couldn’t live up to the hype without seeming too much like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.
All the elements are in play: teenage protagonist, video games, the eighties, a virtual relationship. We’re not suggesting that one book is based on another or that one feels like an inferior version of the other, only that elements seem in play for the books to clash. In case you were wondering, Ready Player One is doing just fine, set for a movie adaptation by none other than Steven Spielberg.
So while the concerns of eerie similarities ran rampant (see also: Stranger Things), we are happy to report that The Impossible Fortress is very much playing its own game. The text is not so much about the love of early video games and eighties music (well, it is about music a little, but in a surprising direction that doesn’t seem to fetishize the bands in question). Moreover, the plot is concerned with a love of coding, bringing its protagonists Billy Marvin and Mary Zelinsky closer together. It’s described as being a “love letter to the eighties” yet it doesn’t feel as backward looking from a nostalgia perspective. Instead, it feels contemporary in the way in which its story is presented. The tension ratchets up to reveal a surprising ending (perhaps for someone like me, as careful readers could follow the clues).
The idea of The Hidden Fortress is that it’s both the video game that is being coded by the two leads in 1987, and a convoluted plot to steal a Playboy Magazine with Vanna White on the cover from Zelinky. It’s also a need to move away from expectations and play a game of our own creation, one that is playable on a Commodore 64 and in modernity as well.
The lines of code at the beginning of each chapter aren’t just a distraction, as they both describe the direction of each section and also lead to the Easter Egg of the book that sounds fun, but isn’t imperative to enjoying the book (the game is playable at the author’s website jasonrekulak.com).
I highly recommend you enter this Fortress.