You've gotta love to hate the 1977 movie Damnation Alley
, a cheese-filled classic from sci-fi's cinematic canon. But there's at least one good thing you can say about this otherwise awful flick: it's prevented the movie's far superior source material from being forgotten. Roger Zelazny's post-apocalypse novel predates the George Peppard-Jan-Michael Vincent vehicle by about a decade and represents the fine storytelling talents of one of science fiction and fantasy's most daring writers (likely best remembered for his imaginative Amber series
Speaking of vehicles: the coolest part of the movie--and likely, thankfully, the only part most people remember--turns out to be even cooler in the book: the flame-spewing, .50-caliber-bullet-belching, grenade-throwing, gigantic all-terrain vehicle that's responsible for getting a crucial antiserum shipment from Los Angeles to Boston to stop a deadly plague. The driver, a despicable lowlife named Hell Tanner, has been given a not-so-difficult choice. He can either get the drugs to the East Coast intact, save humanity, and receive a full pardon for his crimes, or he can refuse and spend the rest of his life in a "zebra suit." So what's the catch? Thanks to World War III, Middle America is now an electrical-storm-torn, heavily irradiated playground for dino-sized Gila monsters, "freak spiders," humongous bats "that eat off the mutie fruit trees down Mexico way," and 120-foot-long snakes as big around as garbage cans. And the native humans still scrambling around the wasteland aren't much less dangerous.
Damnation Alley might not be Zelazny's best, but for reading on, say, a road trip, you can't do much better. Throw in some '60s-style, freak-out closing riffs, and a trip down the Alley becomes pretty hard to pass up. --Paul Hughes
--This text refers to the
About the Author
Zelazny wrote many novels, short stories, and novellas, including Nebula and Hugo Award winners 24 VIEWS OF MOUNT FUJI, BY HOKUSAI, PERMAFROST and HOME IS THE HANGMAN.