Damnation Alley, by Roger Zelazny

Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny - coverThis is a unputtadownable book. But, luckily, it is also quick and easy to read in one sitting (I read it over the course of a long train journey on a single day).

The story is a fast-paced action adventure set in a dystopian future. The story follows the classic ‘journey’ format. The main protagonist is an anti-hero, who is asked to take part in an impossible mission in exchange for a pardon from life-long imprisonment. I won’t tell you much about the futuristic scenario, except to say it is set in the USA and involves how life has changed post nuclear-war. The dangers include the usual stuff – radiation and lawlessness – along with fiercesome storms where solid objects rain down with deadly consequences.

What I liked about it:

  • Written in 1968 there is a timelessness and a retro feel to the book. This may sound like a contradiction, but it seems to work. The main character is a Hell’s Angel and has nostalgic yearnings for a dead culture that seems both anachronistic and strangely futuristic.
  • The action is fast paced and relentless. The scenarios – mutated life forms, wild storms, lawlessness – are all you would expect in a dystopian future. And more than you would expect. I particularly liked the notion that objects had been sucked up into the atmosphere during the nuclear conflagration, continued to fly around in upper weather systems, only to be released in lethal ‘showers’ on suffering humanity below.

What I didn’t like about it:

  • The eventual romance seemed short and improbable.
  • The main character switches from anti-hero to real nice guy and, although this is hugely emotionally satisfying, it happens almost too suddenly, too quickly and without enough internal struggle or reflection.

This is definitely a book worth reading for those who like futuristic, postapocalyptic sci-fi. And for those who are old enough to remember Hell’s Angels.

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