Thursday, February 17, 2011

Now THAT'S a cool car!!!

It’s too bad Damnation Alley—an excellent 1967 novella by Roger Zelazny—was made into such a crappy movie. There’s no reason it couldn’t be a good movie. But poor plot structure (which took little more than the general idea from the original story)--and a change in the main character pretty much guaranteed to make him uninteresting--doomed the movie from the start. Now most people who recognize the title are going to equate it with the film.

But the novella is more fun than a barrel of radioactive vampire bats. (Zelazny later expanded it into a novel, but the shorter version is a tighter and better story.) It’s set in a post-nuclear war America. The war happened a generation or so ago and the survivors (an enclave in California and another in Boston) are getting along the best they can. The earth’s axis shifted during the war and frequent giant tornadoes now pull up tons of debris into the atmosphere. Consequently, it often rains rocks, fish, garbage or other random things from the sky. It’s no longer possible to fly an airplane. Middle America is a wasteland full of mutated creatures and other dangers.


The only reasonably safe way to travel from California to Boston is by ship around Cape Horn. But when a dying man drives in from Boston with news of a plague, it becomes necessary to send an expedition overland to deliver a serum.

Hell Tanner is a convicted killer—the last survivor of a vicious motorcycle gang. But he’s also the best driver around, so he’s recruited to help drive one of the vehicles with the promise of a pardon. The gist of the story is Tanner—soon the last survivor of the expedition—desperately trying to finish the quest.

The story is a cracking good adventure, with lots of bizarre dangers as Tanner fights to survive and grows (if only barely) something resembling a moral sensibility.

But I’d like to concentrate on the vehicle Tanner is driving, ‘cause it’s just plain cool. It’s a 32-foot-long, two-man vehicle, armored and radiation shielded. Instead of windows, it has cameras pointing in all four directions, plus up and down. It mounts machine guns, grenade launchers and a rocket launcher. There’s a flame thrower mounted on each side and on the roof. Razor-sharp metal “wings” can be extended from the sides. Inside, there’s a supply of small arms and grenades. (To be fair, the movie had a pretty cool vehicle, though not as cool as this.)

It’s magnificent. I want one. Of course, it’d be hard to find a parking space for something that big when popping into Quick Stop for a soda. Then again, the thing has flame throwers and grenade launchers. Maybe it wouldn’t be that hard to find a parking space after all.

Oh, well. It probably gets lousy gas mileage anyways. But if I ever need to take a trip across a radioactive wasteland populated by giant gila monsters and carnivorous bats, this is what I’d want to be driving.


  1. You have me really interested in finding Zelazny's novella. I haven't read it nor have I seen the movie; however, I admit to being a fan of a kid's show inspired by it: ARK II. Ever see that show? Had some interesting biblical themes in addition to the title (e.g., the characters were named Jonah, Samuel, Ruth and Adam).

    I found it interesting that you liked the shorter, tighter novella version of DAMNATION ALLEY. In an earlier post you praised Louis L'Amour's novel HONDO and I'm curious if you have read and compared the original short story to the later, expanded novel version, and iof so, which is better. --Gary in Omaha

  2. I think I remember ARK II. It ran on Saturday mornings, didn't it? The vehicle in it was indeed reminiscent of the Damnation Alley movie vehicle.

    I haven't read the short story version of Hondo, but now I'm curious to do so.


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