Dark Book Review – Damnation Alley By Roger Zelazny
Review By Casey Douglass
|Image © Copyright iBooks|
First published in the late 1960s, Roger Zelazny's Damnation Alley is a turbo-charged jaunt across the post-apocalyptic wasteland of America on a mission to deliver plague antiserum to Boston via the catchily titled Damnation Alley, a route deemed as impassable to all but the best or most foolhardy drivers. Hell Tanner (yes, his first name is Hell) is pushed into the role of reluctant hero as he is forced to take the wheel of the heavily armoured “car” that will make the journey. He's been a naughty boy and it's either this or prison you see. He just happens to be the best driver around and so is given the “choice” of whether to go or not. He goes for it reluctantly and soon finds himself contending with the pleasures of life on the open, mega-storm blasted roads.
I like Hell Tanner. He's a bit of an arse-hole but as is later alluded to by a conversation between him and a person he meets on the road, he is what he is and has never tried to lie and blend into the masses. He loves his Harley, the open road and tinkering with engines. He is also tough, grizzled and content to be breathing a lot of the time. His companions fall by the wayside throughout his journey, each succumbing to the mischief of Damnation Alley, but this doesn't stop him feeling some emotion when it happens, particularly to the ones he comes to like.
The route itself is pretty spectacular, massive storms pelting the car, strange mutated creatures roaming the land and of course, the biggest danger of all: other people. Thankfully, he is driving a special car, one with armour, radiation shielding, flame throwers, missiles and machine guns. He also has a small arsenal inside the cabin around him, next to the fridge and the coffee maker. A real home from home. That doesn't mean he can plough through just anything though. He's an intelligent guy, even if he comes across as a savage. He never bothers the massive snakes that slither across the road, the ones as thick as a trash-can and that take minutes to pass. He also doesn't brave the storms longer than necessary, finding some place to shelter the vehicle until the worst is over.
The book is set out in an interesting way, mostly following Tanner's progress but odd sections detail the plight of the various people in Boston waiting for the cure he is carrying. These vary in their level of interest, a love-lost young couple realising they have the plague is one good scene, a more boring one is a religious nut shouting out his gospel which was particularly boring and dull. Speaking of dull, Robert Zelazny occasionally uses the literary device of having massive unending paragraphs that flow on and on, much like Cormac McCarthy in The Road. I can't remember the name for this style of writing but I find it really annoying, like the efforts of an 8 year old to write something and not knowing what a full stop is for (albeit they get other punctuation spot on). I never like it in any book I encounter that uses it and I don't see that changing anytime soon.
Damnation Alley is a good read, interesting and visceral in the Mad Max feelings it produces, where the revving of the armoured car is implied with every manoeuvre, and the crushing atmosphere of the always oncoming storms fraught with pent up tension. Besides the slight issues I've mentioned above, there wasn't much I didn't like about it. With this in mind, I give it 4/5.