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|Print List Price:||£14.95|
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Damnation Alley Kindle Edition
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So this is the one in which our hero has to take a cargo of anti-plague serum from the West Coast to Boston, with all the territory in the middle being a dangerous wasteland of giant mutant beasties, radioactive fallout, geological instability and really, really, bad weather. Judge Dredd fans can be forgiven for thinking this sounds familiar, because "The Cursed Earth" borrows so much from Damnation Alley that Zelazny could have put Pat Mills on his tax return as a dependent.
The trouble is, "The Cursed Earth" is a much better story, because the biggest flaws with Damnation Alley are (a) it's virtually plotless - spoiler alert, but the title of this review says it all - and (b) there's no sense of peril. Although Tanner encounters the beasties, radiation and so forth, you never for an instant feel any sense that he's not going to make it. It does get a bit more exciting as he nears Boston, to encounter the hostile biker gang noted above, but for the most part it's just One Damned Thing After Another without suspense or excitement. Foot down. Gun fired. Job done.
It's still a fun read. It's admirably economic, a very short novel told in concise, taut prose, and for the most part free of the verbosity which frequently bedevilled Zelazny's 1960s novels. He does have a couple of pseudo-poetic diversions, but he keeps them brief, and they add a touch of gravity to an otherwise insubstantial novel. They suggest that, like a lot of people in the States in the late sixties, Zelazny considered the Angels a more honest alternative to the stifling nature of mainstream, conformist USA, and that the novel is an attempt at social commentary, carefully embedded and coded to ensure it sold to the cautious, self-censoring SF magazine market of the time. Incidental scenes satirising the politics and social values of the West Coast and Boston communities reinforce this impression.
But that's speculation. What we're left with is an enjoyable, brisk, and readable adventure story with a hint of depth, but which doesn't quite contain enough adventure to be as satisfying as you'd hope for. It's fun (and probably best encountered for the first time in your early teens, as experienced by several reviewers, including this one), and you're unlikely to regret reading it, but it's slightly disappointing. You'll remember it, though, and fondly, because Hell Tanner is such a brilliantly-conceived badass.
Let's hope The Dream Master, Lord of Light, and of course the Chronicles of Amber are not far behind.
If yu ever wanted to be a painted angel taking the "Hafikine" serum through the alley to save half the known world (Boston?) this is for you! If you did n't , maybe it's about time you did.
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