Damnation Alley

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Damnation Alley
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author Roger Zelazny
Cover artist Jack Gaughan
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction novel
Publisher G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages 157 pp

Damnation Alley is a 1967 science fiction novella by Roger Zelazny, which he expanded into a novel in 1969. A film adaptation of the novel was released in 1977.

Plot introduction[edit]

The story opens in a post-apocalyptic Southern California, in a hellish world shattered by nuclear war decades before. Several police states have emerged in place of the former United States. Hurricane-force winds above five hundred feet prevent any sort of air travel from one state to the next, and sudden, violent, and unpredictable storms make day-to-day life a mini-hell. Hell Tanner, an imprisoned killer, is offered a full pardon in exchange for taking on a suicide mission—a drive through "Damnation Alley" across a ruined America from Los Angeles to Boston—as one of three vehicles attempting to deliver an urgently needed plague vaccine.


Barry Malzberg found the book "an interesting novella converted to an unfortunate novel," faulting it as "a mechanical, simply transposed action-adventure story written, in my view, at the bottom of the man's talent."[1]

Film adaptation[edit]

In 1977, a film loosely based on the novel was directed by Jack Smight. Roger Zelazny had liked the original script by Lukas Heller and expected that to be the filmed version; he did not realize until he saw it in the theater that the shooting script (by Alan Sharp) was quite different. He never liked the movie and was embarrassed by it. However, assertions that he requested to have his name removed from the film (and that the studio refused) are completely unfounded. The movie was released before he ever discovered he did not like it.[2]

Related works[edit]

The novel Hardwired by Walter Jon Williams is an homage to Damnation Alley. The two authors (Zelazny and Williams) later became good friends.

The 2000 AD comic had a long running Judge Dredd story arc that was an adaptation of the story (with the journey in the reverse direction), in which Dredd and Spikes Harvey Rotten (the greatest Punk alive) journeyed across the Cursed Earth between Megacity 1 (on the U.S. East Coast) to Megacity 2 (on the West coast) to deliver a vaccine to the 2T(Fru)T virus.

The Hawkwind album Quark, Strangeness and Charm contains a song inspired by the story.

The setting and premise of the 2011 Lonesome Road add-on for the post-apocalyptic computer game Fallout: New Vegas was inspired by Damnation Alley, according to lead designer Chris Avellone.[3] The film adaptation of Zelazny's novel was also one of several sources of inspiration for the original Fallout, according to designer R. Scott Campbell.[4]

See also[edit]

  • Arc Light, a World War III scenario set post-cold war, where a strategic nuclear exchange between the Russia and the US is followed by a conventional World War III in the midst of a major US economic crash and a constitutional crises.
  • Invasion, a 2000 novel by Eric L. Harry portraying a future Chinese invasion of the US after China becomes a global superpower.
  • The Third World War: The Untold Story by General Hackett, portrays a conventional Soviet invasion of Western Europe, including the behavior of the formally neutral Ireland and Sweden, and internal Soviet debates and thinking.
  • Team Yankee, a 1987 novel by Harold Coyle set in Hackett's scenario
  • Red Army, by Ralph Peters, showing a Soviet invasion of Western Europe from an entirely Soviet perspective.
  • Red Storm Rising, a similar World War III scenario covering a conventional Soviet invasion of Western Europe, by Tom Clancy
  • The Third World War by Humphrey Hawksley depicts a slow building crises that culminates in a nightmarish World War III involving nuclear and biological weapons.
  • Trinity's Child by William Prochnau, portrays a sudden nuclear attack by the USSR upon the United States, followed by an eruption of global warfare.
  • The Last Ship by William Brinkley. Portrays a sudden massive nuclear exchange between the superpowers, with further escalating exchanges over a four hour period leaving most of the northern hemisphere choked in radioactive fallout. The ship loses contact with the U.S. Navy, and then investigates various sites around Europe and Africa starting with Naval Station Rota in Spain, making contact with other stray ships, military and civilian. All the consequences of the exchange for the crew, and humanity as a whole, are explored.
  • Special Bulletin, a 1983 made-for-TV movie about nuclear terrorism, shot in the style of simulated news broadcasts
  • Countdown to Looking Glass, a TV movie made in the form of a news broadcast following a deterioration in NATO-Warsaw Pact relations that ends in nuclear warfare.
  • The Day After, a 1983 made-for-TV movie about a NATO-Russian nuclear war.
  • Deterrence, a 1999 French-American movie about a Walter Emerson, about a man who's just become US President in the same manner as Gerald Ford, without having been elected. Emerson is on a campaign tour, trapped by a storm in a small town diner, when he gets word Iraq has invaded Kuwait a second time, and is poised to do the same to Saudi Arabia. With US troops committed in a separate engagement on the Korean penensula, Emerson decides the only way to stop Iraq is to threaten to air-burst a 25 megaton nuclear weapon above Baghdad.
  • Fail Safe, a 1962 novel (with a 1964 film followed by a 2000 remake) about a computer malfunction at the NMCC in the 1960s giving false Emergency Action Messages to B-52 bombers to penetrate Soviet airspace and commence strategic nuclear strikes. The President, Joint Chiefs, US Strategic Air Command and national security council all try to stop the bombers by various means. They find it hard to get through to the bombers who have been trained to ignore recall signals that are not properly encoded, and at the same time, the Russians are not sure if this is deception warfare or a real malfunction. This novel was also partial inspiration for Doctor Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick's 1964 parody on the subject.
  • Miracle Mile, a 1988 movie about an ordinary group of people, who learn, via a phone call from someone in an ICBM silo (who was trying to reach their father at the diner) that a nuclear exchange is about to take place, thus within the hour Soviet missiles will rain down on them. Some believe it and try to flee, others scramble around the city to find loved ones in a desperate attempt to join those already headed for the airport.
  • The Sum of All Fears, a 2002 movie with Ben Afleck and Morgan Freeman. Terrorists plant a nuclear weapon in a US city in an attempt to frame the Russians for the attack and prompt the two powers to wipe each other out.
  • Threads, a 1984 UK film about a major Soviet nuclear attack on the United Kingdom.
  • On The Beach, a 2000 film about the aftermath of a series of major nuclear exchanges between the US-Russia-China choking the northern hemisphere in fallout which is slowly spreading to humanity's last refuge in Australia.
  • Testament, a 1983 American film which tells the story of how one small suburban town near the San Francisco Bay Area slowly falls apart after a nuclear war destroys outside civilization.
  • When the Wind Blows, a 1986 animated British film that shows a nuclear attack on Britain by the Soviet Union from the viewpoint of a retired couple.
  • Able Archer 83, NATO command post exercise that resulted in the 1983 nuclear war scare and changed thinking about nuclear war in Britain.
  • Operation Square Leg a military analysis of the effects of a nuclear war on Britain.
  • Protect and Survive, the 1970s British government information films on nuclear war.


  1. ^ "Books," F&SF, May 1970, p.26-7
  2. ^ "...And Call Me Roger": The Literary Life of Roger Zelazny, Part 4, by Christopher S. Kovacs. In: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume 4: Last Exit to Babylon, NESFA Press, 2009.
  3. ^ http://fallout.bethsoft.com/eng/vault/diaries_diary15-9-20-11.php
  4. ^ http://www.nma-fallout.com/article.php?id=60788


  • Levack, Daniel J. H. (1983). Amber Dreams: A Roger Zelazny Bibliography. San Francisco: Underwood/Miller. pp. 26–29. ISBN 0-934438-39-0. 
  • Ackerman, Forrest J. (1994). Reel Future: The Stories that Inspired 16 Classic Science Fiction Movies. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. pp. 396–471. ISBN 1-56619-450-4.