As the author himself tells us, it is the setting, more than anything else in the entire world, that demands regard. The two coasts of the United States were largely spared the wrath of the nuclear war that destroyed global civilization, but the great plains were reduced to irradiated wasteland, known as Damnation Alley. The world’s ecology was also irreparably damaged, with all kinds of critters being massively mutated, and a massive global windstorm tearing across the globe, picking up detritus and raining it down again.
While the setting is the star, Hell Tanner is interesting. A former Hell’s Angel boss, Tanner is turned loose and strong-armed into a desperate mission of mercy. He must drive across Damnation Alley to deliver a vaccine from LA to Boston, where a plague is devastating the population. No noble anti-hero, his attitude provokes some interesting reactions throughout the book.
The plot itself is functional, a plausible excuse to start the journey and carry it through. There are some really evocative scenes, but generally the world feels drab and flat, in a way that is appropriate to the setting. The car is probably the second most important character, and is suitably badass and suited to the world, although the question of how they put it together with such short resources is unanswered.
I have read a few short stories by Roger Zelazny since reading Damnation Alley, and for large portions of the story, it doesn’t feel much like Zelazny’s writings, at least in the other works I’ve read. That’s not an indictment, just a notice of difference. There are portions where that Zelazny style peeks through in portions that are not written from Hell Tanner’s viewpoint. Additionally, the battle cars vibe definitely feels Zelazny-ish. But all in all, while the writing style contributes to the drab feeling of the world and is smartly done, it is still drab and common for much of the novel.
The split perspectives are functional, but nothing particularly great. The meat of the story is the world, the challenges Tanner encounters, and how he and his car overcome them.
Obligatory Kindle Note: I read this on a Kindle.
Cover Art Review: We have a masterpiece here. Make sure to pay attention to the small details: the broken road and scattered bones; the cockroach in the foreground; the giant armored insects in the background; the ruins looming in the fog; the muted palette; stylish slashing font of the book’s name…