DAMNATION ALLEY BY ROGER ZELAZNY

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Copyright 1969.

Hell Tanner is a convicted criminal in the Nation of California in this post-apocalypse future. A former Hell’s Angel he is offered a pardon. To earn it he must agree to deliver needed plague serum to Boston the only other pocket of civilization on the continent. In a high tech armored car armed with missiles, machine guns and flame throwers with two other cars he sets out to cross the desolate wasteland. A land filled with mutant giant snakes, gila monsters, bats, tornados and radioactive storms. He runs into various survivors. Some crazy and others biker gangs. Will he make it in time to save Boston.

I was familiar with this from the movie with George Peppard and Jan-Michael Vincent. It was based on this book and I have to say that it was loosely based but surprisingly similar in tone to the movie. Most of it was a leisurely travel log of a badass armored vehicle as it cruises across the post-nuke country. The main protagonist Hell Tanner was an anti-hero in the vein of Snake Plissken. Described in the beginning as a murder and rapist. Someone who gouged the eyes out of someone just for the fun of it. Yet in the book he is clearly anti-social but demonstrates noble attributes. When he finds his brother has joined this expedition for money so he can get married, he tells him of a hidden stash of money. Then proceeds to break his ribs so he can’t go on the expedition. In fact half way through the guy who wanted to take off at the first chance he got decides to finish this trip. He actually has to fight with his partner who wants to turn around. Then he runs into the biker gangs around New York and rescues a woman who he quickly falls in love with. She dies and it was a sad little moment.

Naturally he makes it in time just as the sky turns back to normal just like in the film. Only at the end in true anti-social behavior he vandalizes the statue erected in tribute to him, steals a car and heads out into the wastelands. The movie seemed like something that just sort of ran out of money half way through. The beginning had giant scorpions, tornados and hordes of cockroaches. Then the second half devolved into endless montages of the vehicle driving and George Peppard shaving. The book actually seemed to pick up the action at the end. Still for all it’s faults I like both the film and book.

So here is the trailer for the movie.

6 thoughts on “DAMNATION ALLEY BY ROGER ZELAZNY

  1. There’s a charming innocence to 1960s sci-fi paperbacks, not being hamstrung by hard science. I don’t remember the title, but when I was a kid my uncle lent me a paperback copy of a book with a similar plot, involving a futuristic Tank that survived a nuclear war, I’m sure it was likely inspired by Damnation Alley. Paperback racks were full of pulpish sci-fi yarns like that back then, I rather miss those days.

  2. rdfranciswriter

    Is Ghostof82 referring to David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers? That was HUGE book for sci-fi guys back in the day. I always felt DA influenced Carpenter at some level . . . and Skaith is right: the book is far superior.

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