As ever, when bad or sad things happen I turn to books for comfort.

Thanks to the popularity of the new Mad Max movie, it's the one which ends:

"The following spring, on the day of its unveiling in Boston Common, when it was discovered that someone had scrawled obscene words on the statue of Hell Tanner, no one thought to 'ask the logical candidate why he had done it, and the next day it was too late, because he had cut out without leaving a forwarding address. Several cars were reported stolen that day, and one was never seen again in Boston.

So they re-veiled his statue, bigger than life, astride a great bronze Harley, and they cleaned him up for hoped for posterity. But coming upon the Common, the winds still break about him, and the heavens still throw garbage."

The novella called Damnation Alley came out in the late 1960's, after Roger Zelazny had read Hunter S. Thompson's book about the Hell's Angels, and he was in the mood to write something short and violent. It tells the story of Hell Tanner, who lost his place in the world when his biker gang was wiped out in the Three Days of nuclear madness which destroyed the world, really, and left America as two coastal strips separated by a wilderness of radiation and mutants, wild winds and rains of boulders and fish, and who gained a bit of it back by riding Damnation Alley from coast to coast, from LA to Boston, carrying a cargo of plague medicine between the last two bastions of civilisation in the Americas.

It was a fast, nasty ride, full of shotgun pellets and stilletos knives, and Hell made it all the way, when better men died,  because his reflexes were just that little bit faster, his muscles that little bit more ready to deal death. And as ever, your reward for doing a dirty job is to do it again. The first time, in a novel expanded from the novella. Zelazny preferred the shorter work, but then again, as he says, no one has to stay up all night and read the damn thing, and if it hadn't been written there probably wouldn't have been the movie version, which sent Tanner through the Alley yet again (or a version of that Hell's Angel, who'd been worked over in Hollywood's back rooms, and came out as Jan Michelle Vincent).

And if the movie hadn't happend, Judge Dredd wouldn't have been sent into a very similar car to carry medicine across the Cursed Earth, and, IMHO, Max Rockatansky might well have stayed at home.

It's a lovely story, sudden violence shot through with poetry, partly because Uncle Roger couldn't write any other way, and partly because he knew how to sell a book. Do yourself a favour, ignore the movie and get a hold of either the novel or the novella. Because after all:

"Something big and batlike swooped through the tunnel of his lights and was gone. He ignored its passage. Five minutes later it made a second pass, this time much closer, and he fired a magnesium flare. A black shape, perhaps forty feet across, was illuminated, and he gave it two five-second bursts from the fifty-calibers, and it fell to the ground and did not return again.

To the squares, this was Damnation Alley. To Hell Tanner, this was still the parking lot. He'd been this way thirty-two times, and so far as he was concerned, the Alley started in the place that had once been called Colorado."

He deserves your company...

Every now and again I put up a bit of writing by Roger Zelazny, usually because it has something to say to me about my life at that moment. This is the opening of his novel, "Isle of the Dead". I've always loved it, and it seems pretty apposite right now. 
Tomorrow morning I'm leaving Prague and heading back home. 

Life's like that. 

Read more... )

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