I grew up saturated in 80s pop culture, so I was initially very excited when I saw a copy of THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS available for request on Netgalley. The cover and premise sounded like READY PLAYER ONE, which is one of my favorite books of all time. However, THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS isn't about a dystopian future with a fully immersible MMORPG - it's about teen game coders and a heist involving pornographic magazines.
Billy Marvin is failing school because he spends all his time programming things for his Commodore 64. His only friends are "losers" like him - Clark, who has syndactyl, and Alf, who's weird for a reason I forgot. Maybe he's just weird. Anyway, the three of them come up with the *brilliant* idea to steal the issues of Playboy featuring nude Vanna White from the local drug store. The problem is, the rooftop entrance is difficult to get into and the front entrance is alarmed.
Well, that's easy, they think - all they have to do is seduce the shopkeeper's fat daughter, because obviously she's lonely and desperate for attention! Billy's already interested in her anyway because he finds out that she's a coder like him, so he volunteers for the mission as an excuse to talk to the only other teen he knows who likes coding just as much as him. You can see how this might be a problem...
I almost, almost, was able to enjoy THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS in spite of all the fat shaming - and there is a ton of fat shaming, from so many people, it's awful - because I told myself, "Fat shaming and bullying were common in the 80s because people didn't realize how harmful bullying was back then psychologically. Maybe the author is making a point here." And I liked how the girl, Mary, was so clever and smart and how Billy began to see her for the person she was, and appreciate her both romantically and intellectually. I even began rooting for them to get together.
But then Mary turns him down. And Billy does something unforgivable. I was so upset, because it seemed to go against his character. The narrative had been building him up as a better person, and then suddenly - that. There's this section of the book where everything gets very unpleasant around 80% in, and then we learn something about Mary that felt like it was an attempt to put some of the blame on her. Like, oh, what Billy did was bad, but Mary is bad too, so everyone's a bad person here!
Then the book ends on a happy note, totally glossing over all the consequences.
It's a shame, because as a nerd, I want to support authentic nerdy books in the YA and NA cannon. That's one of the reasons I loved READY PLAYER ONE so much - it embraces all the things I grew up loving. I did programming in high school, so I really thought it was cool to see the vintage 80s code at the beginning of each chapter, and compare it to the more complex codes of today, like watching a language evolve. The Vanna White Playboy heist just seemed like such an unnecessary secondary plot, detracting from the coding aspects, and I didn't understand why Billy and Mary had to do such horrible things to each other and to other people. Can't we just be geeks in love?
1.5 out of 5 stars.