Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Damnation Alley

I always get excited when I start Damnation Alley. It opens when Hell Tanner (which is a great name) hits a passing gull with a flicked cigar butt. I love that image, because it instantly paints a picture of the kind of guy Hell is. It starts off good, and while it never becomes bad exactly, it seems like it's front loaded with the good stuff.  I think Damnation Alley unique among Zelazny's works in that it could have been written by someone else.

I'm surprised that this was the only film adaptation of Zelazny's work. Come on! Roadmarks would be awesome! You could even have special features like the Memento DVD did that lets you watch the scenes in the proper order!

It's a post-apocalyptic adventure story with giant mutant monsters. It has some really cool vehicles, and Chris, if you're reading this, I will never again question the importance of automobiles in Zelazny's work after rereading this particular bit of car porn:

There were no windows in the vehicle, only screens which reflected views in every direction, including straight up and the ground beneath the car. Tanner sat within an illuminated box which shielded him against radiation. The "car" that he drove had eight heavily treaded tires and was thirty-two feet in length. It mounted eight fifty-caliber automatic guns and four grenade-throwers. It carried thirty armor-piercing rockets which could be discharged straight ahead or at any elevation up to forty degrees from the plane. Each of the four sides, as well as the roof of the vehicle, housed a flamethrower. Razor-sharp "wings" of tempered steel, eighteen inches wide at their bases and tapering to points, an inch and a quarter thick where they ridged, could be moved through a complete hundred-eighty-degree arc along the sides of the car and parallel to the ground, at a height of two feet and eight inches. When standing at a right angle to the body of the vehicle, eight feet to the rear of the front bumper, they extended out to a distance of six feet on either side of the car. They could be couched like lances for a charge. They could be held but slightly out from the sides for purposes of slashing whatever was sideswiped. The car was bulletproof, air-conditioned, and had its own food locker and sanitation facilities. A long-barreled .357 Magnum was held by a clip on the door near the driver's left hand. A 30.06, a .45-caliber automatic, and six hand grenades occupied the rack immediately above the front seat.

It has a lot of stuff I like, but the stuff I like doesn't fit in with the broader tone of the work.  I like the staccato account of his capture. It reminds me of Corwin's description of a similar event. I like lines like "The man with the pistol turned and stared through bifocals that made his eyes look like hourglasses filled with green sand as he lowered his head." because, hey, green eyes, take a drink.

I like the dressing down from Denton, the Secretary of Traffic for the nation of California. (I thought it was especially well performed on the audio book)

"Shut up! You don't care about them, and you know it! I just want to tell you that I think you are the lowest, most reprehensible human being I have ever encountered. You have killed men and raped women. You once gouged out a man's eyes, just for fun. You've been indicted twice for pushing dope, and three times as a pimp. you're a drunk and a degenerate, and I don't think you've had a bath since the day you were born. You and your hoodlums terrorized decent people when they were trying to pull their lives together after the war. You stole from them and you assaulted them, and you extorted money and the necessaries of life with the threat of physical violence. I wish you had died in the Big Raid that night, like all the rest of them. You are not a human being, except from a biological standpoint. You have a big dead spot somewhere inside you where other people have something that lets them live together in society and be neighbors. The only virtue that you possess, if you want to call it that, is that your reflexes may be a little faster, your muscles a little stronger, your eye a bit more wary than the rest of us, so that you can sit behind a wheel and drive through anything that has a way through it. It is for this that the nation of California is willing to pardon your inhumanity if you will use that one virtue to help rather than hurt. I don't approve. I don't want to depend on you, because you're not the type. I'd like to see you die in this thing, and while I hope that somebody makes it through, I hope that it will be somebody else. I hate your bloody guts. You've got your pardon now. The car's ready. Let's go."

And I guess that's it for the stuff I like. As for the stuff I don't, well...

Part of the problem is the tone.

We're told that Hell is a murderer, a rapist, a slaver, a pusher and a pimp, someone who would gouge another man's eyes out just for fun.

We're shown Hell as a this happy-go-lucky goof who loves his brother and mouths off to authority figures, a lug who is lazy in his casual cruelty.  When I imagine Hell the image that sticks with me is "...he drove with one hand and ate a corned-beef sandwich."

He's supposed to be this savage brutal thug, (who looks at the world through crap-colored glasses, another great line), but he seems too deliberate, too civilized. I've always thought that Zelazny's writing melds the poetic and the precise, and Hell is supposed to be neither of these.

(Apropos of nothing, I always imagine Hell and Ganelon as the same guy.)

When morning came, many hours later, he took a pill to keep himself alert and listened to the screaming of the wind. The sun rose up like molten silver to his right, and a third of the sky grew amber and was laced with fine lines like cobwebs. The desert was topaz beneath it, and the brown curtain of dust that hung continuously at his back, pierced only by the eight shafts of the other cars' lights, took on a pinkish tone as the sun grew a bright red corona and the shadows fled into the west. He dimmed his lights as he passed an orange cactus shaped like a toadstool and perhaps fifty feet in diameter.

Consider that passage for a moment. The story isn't first person like many of Zelazny's story, but Hell is unquestionably the protagonist and the narrative follows him. Descriptions like those, juxtaposed against the barbarian Hell is supposed to be, (or have been, depending on how charitably you want to interpret his statements) just draw attention to the difference between Hell as written and Hell as described.

Another thing is Hell's use of the word "Screw," as a profanity. I happen to like this, as it makes him distinctive. I imagine it was some kind of compromise, because he probably couldn't say "fuck", and while it lacks the visceral impact of the f-word, I'm fine with it.  However, that leads into another oddity about the story, the line: "To the squares, this was Damnation Alley. To Hell Tanner, this was still the parking lot."

I thought that was a cool sentiment, but the use of "squares" simultaneously dates the story and neuters Hell. If the last Hell's Angel is using slang out of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, then your story has taken a wrong turn somewhere.


  1. Hey jiggly josh, or whatever you call yourself -- you're missing the point. Why does Zelazny have his characters describe one version of Hell Tanner, while Zelazny then shows us a different person? Because (1) the Hell Tanner we're TOLD about never actually existed -- we're told about a creature of legend, a monster as Denton describes him, appropriately exaggerated for badness. Denton (and others) of course believed everything he accused Tanner of being, every atrocity he'd heard -- but that doesn't make it true. (Hell Tanner, of course, wouldn't bother to try to set the record straight; if anything, he'd do his best to stoke the legends, make himself seem even more monstrously inhuman and badass.) And (2) as the story starts, even the real Hell Tanner, bad as he'd been, isn't what he used to be; he's a man in transition. "All that was dead and gone" -- says so right up front.

    In any case, the Hell Tanner we're TOLD about was not, I believe, a character that would have sustained Zelazny's interest for long, if that's what he'd actually been like. And do you really think you would have liked the character (and the book) better if Zelazny had gone in that direction? Really? Say Hell gouged Sam Potter's eyes out, raped his wife, and murdered his sons. Would you really have been cheering for him then?

    By the way, when the original novella was published in Galaxy magazine, "crap-colored glasses" was softened to "crud-colored glasses." And it's unfortunate that "square" put you in mind of Dobie Gillis -- luckily I've never seen that show, and just thought of Burroughs and Kerouac and that crowd. Adjust your presets next time you read the story and you might like it a lot more.

    --Chris DeVito
    (And not that it's important but just in case you're interested in who I am, I'm the Chris DeVito who writes books about John Coltrane [THE JOHN COLTRANE REFERENCE (Routledge, 2008) and COLTRANE ON COLTRANE: THE JOHN COLTRANE INTERVIEWS (Chicago Review Press, 2010)]. I am NOT the Chris DeVito who has a political blog, or the singer-songwriter who posts his own videos on YouTube, or the Chris DeVito on Facebook [I'm not on any of the social bullshit sites] . . . too many people out there with my name, it's weird. But as it happens, I'm a long-time Zelazny fan who happens to be going through a Zelazny renaissance after a long period of not reading any fiction of any kind. I had some gaps in my Zelazny shelf but thanks to the holiday season and my kindly and understanding wife, those are now filled and I'm going through the whole thing again, along with a lot of Zelazny's writings that I missed first time around [who knew that a book narrated by Jack the Ripper's dog could be not only brilliant, but so goddamn much FUN?].)

  2. CdV:Hey jiggly josh, or whatever you call yourself

    Hey, now, don't make fun of my ridiculous internet name!

    CdV: you're missing the point.

    That's very possible. I am in fact alarmingly obtuse.

    I think that the points you raise are totally valid. I'm inclined to lean towards the second option that you presented rather than the first, but I do think both are true to an extent.

    As you pointed out, part of the problem is the biases I bring with me. I didn't approach the story with the same assumptions about the group that Zelazny held in writing it and that informed my enjoyment of the work. When the story was written, the Hell's Angels were still part of mainstream culture, perhaps at the edge of it, but still a part of it. As an undergrad, I did extensive criminal; justice coursework and one of my mentors really had it out for the Hell's Angels and that certainly influenced my understanding of the story. In the years since it was written, they have been recognized as an organized crime syndicate, and I find the concept of a decent Hell's Angel is as anachronistic as a punch card database. Either Hell Tanner is a murderous thug or he aspired to that ideal.

    CvV: Adjust your presets next time you read the story and you might like it a lot more.

    It's a good enough adventure yarn, and like a Rose For Ecclesiastes, the fault lies with me for not being able to accept it for what it is. It's probably an objectively good story, just not one I happen to to like. I'm happy that other people like it, but it is not one of Roger Zelazny's stories that has particular resonance for me,

  3. OK, Juggler Josh, no offense intended!

    I wouldn't argue that "Damnation Alley" is among Zelazny's best stories, and given your comments about the Hell's Angels I think I can see why the story didn't work for you. One thing that might have been interesting is if Zelazny had given us at least one detailed, no-punches-pulled account of one of the uglier incidents from Hell's past -- especially if he'd juxtaposed this flashback with the scenes of the Potter family selflessly helping Hell. Without any comment, just showed the one against the other. Moot point of course.

    I see certain similarities between Hell Tanner and Conrad Nomikos -- both are tough survivors in a violent post-apocalyptic world (the same world?!?), both have violent pasts, both are on life-or-death journeys (of one sort or another). But when Conrad killed innocent people it was for political reasons, so he's a hero (to some at least). And Hell ends as a hero too, though he wanted it even less than Conrad. I think Zelazny had fun with irony.

    --Chris DeVito

  4. I'm inclined to agree with you. Hell seems to have mellowed out from the man he used to be.

    When talking with Greg he says of the altercation with his old boss: "...I was mad, though, and I used to get mad a lot faster than I do now. I think I'm smarter these days than I was before."

  5. And then there's Hell groping toward the concept of enlightened self-interest:

    "Those folks in Boston," Tanner said. "Maybe it is worth it. I don't know. They never did anything for me. But hell, I like action, and I'd hate to see the whole world get dead. [...] It's just that I don't like the idea of everything being like the alley here -- all burned out and screwed up and full of crap." (from p. 65 of the Putnam hardcover)

    --Chris DeVito

  6. By the way, I just came across the passage that I think makes it pretty clear that Damnation Alley and This Immortal/Call Me Conrad are the same timeline:

    . . . "Maybe only the islands made it: the Caribbean, Hawaii, Japan, the Greek isles. [...] We know there are some [people still alive] in the Caribbean. [...] I wonder if the people on Mars are still alive? Or Titan? Will they ever come back?" (From p. 139 of the Putnam hardcover; not in the original novella)

    I don't see how else that can be read: Damnation Alley and Immortal/Conrad are the same world, Alley a few decades after the nuclear war, Conrad a few centuries later. Is this generally acknowledged?

    --Chris DeVito

  7. That's a good catch and not a connection I'd made myself. I've certainly never seen it elsewhere.

    I think the biggest argument against it is the absence of the winds, which is why they had to make the trip via the alley in the first place: "No airplane could make it. Not since the war. None could venture above a couple hundred feet, the place where the winds began. The winds: the mighty winds that circled the globe, tearing off the tops of mountains and sequoia trees, wrecked buildings, gathering up birds, bats, insects, and anything else that moved, up into the dead belt; the winds that swirled about the world, lacing the skies with dark lines of
    debris, occasionally meeting, merging, clashing, dropping tons of rubbish wherever they came together and formed too great a mass. Air transportation was definitely out, to anywhere in the world. For these winds circled, and they never ceased. Not in all the twenty-five years of Tanner's memory had they let up."

    Assuming that they do let up a couple decades after Alley is set, I'm inclined to read this as a sly meta-reference to This Immortal, much like how in Lord Demon, Kai Wren makes a reference to having read Nine Princes: "Something like this had happened to a fellow in a novel I read once. His enemies stashed him in a private sanitorium and authorized its staff to dope him to the gills. He, however, turned out to have superhuman strength and recuperative powers, and had busted his way out."

    On the other hand, it does have an undeniable appeal for a Zelazny fan, because in "To Die in Italbar" Miles makes a reference to the S-S treatments, which sound an awful lot like The Sprung-Samser life extension treatments in This Immortal. It would please me beyond words to have these three stories connected in some sort of Grand Unified Theory of Zelazny, but I think that's just the fan in me talking.

  8. The winds dying down: Zelazny hints at this at least three times.

    (1) Jerry Potter and Hell are speaking:

    “That’s good, because I still want to fly, even though you told me I can’t. Maybe the winds’ll change someday.”

    Tanner put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and squeezed it. “That’d be nice,” he said. [p. 109; not in the original novella]

    (2) Corny and Hell are speaking:

    “I don’t like the looks of this one.”

    “I don’t like the looks of any of them.”

    “It seems there’s been an awful lot this past week.”

    “Yeah. I’ve heard it said that maybe the winds are dying down--that the sky might be purging itself.”

    “That’d be nice,” said Tanner.

    “Then we might be able to see it the way it used to look--blue all the time, and with clouds. You know about clouds?”

    “I heard about them.” [p. 124; also in the original novella, with a few slight differences in wording and punctuation [Galaxy, Oct. 1967, p. 64]

    (3) Dr. Henry Soames is speaking:

    “If the sky ever purges itself, I wonder if there’ll be anyone left to know it? Maybe there will, on some island--or the West Coast. But I doubt it. If we make it, there’ll be even more freaks than there are now. Man may cease being man, for God’s sake!”

    So the winds eventually die down, the sky purges itself, and a couple of centuries later Conrad Nomikos does his thing. Neat, huh?

    --Chris DeVito

  9. You make a pretty good circumstantial case. I'll have to read Call me Conrad again. I'll certainly grant that it's possible. It's odd that Conrad never mentioned it, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and it's possible that the topic never came up. Also, it's a retcon in a revision of a later work to tie it to an earlier one, so I would be surprised if there were something in CmC that would tie it unambiguously to Damnation Alley.

    With any luck, Chris Kovacs will swing by. He occasionally comments here, and he was one of the people who put together the truly impressive Collected Works of Roger Zelazny. If anyone can answer this, he can.

  10. I definitely think it was an afterthought, tacked on while Zelazny was writing Damnation Alley -- and maybe not until he was doing the novel expansion (only the novel has the bit about Mars and Titan, which I think is the clincher). Maybe it occurred to Zelazny that if he was going to have two post-nuclear war novels, he might as well tie them together (who needs two different armageddons?), so tossed in a few lines to link them.

    I'm about halfway through rereading To Die in Italbar for the first time in over 30 years (I might as well be reading it for the first time since I don't remember much about it). I just got to the bit where it says Malacar Miles is the only person living on Earth, so I'm not sure how that would fit into the This Immortal/Damnation Alley universe.

    Chris Kovacs -- I have all six volumes of The Collected Stories, and yesterday the illustrated bibliography arrived at my front door, thanks to UPS (and NESFA Press). It actually occurred to me to contact Kovacs about this, as well as at least one other issue related to This Immortal, since they invite readers to send them new information; unfortunately, I can't find any contact info in any of the books, and the NESFA Press website borders on the opaque (it seems to be mostly a storefront for buying the books).

    So, anyway -- yes, I'd be very interested in hearing Chris Kovacs' thoughts on this! What do you say, doc?

    --Chris DeVito

  11. Yeah, the timeline for To Die is a bit of a mess. I liked it, but hear that not a lot of people do. If you get a chance, drop a line about what you think of it in the comment section of that review.

  12. This is an interesting discussion and thanks, Josh, for pointing me to it from your recent post about Kalifriki.

    About Hell Tanner -- yes, at the start he WAS supposed to be as bad or evil as the other people say he was. In interviews Zelazny said that he'd intended to write about the most despicable anti-hero he could imagine and have him get reluctantly redeemed by the end of it. So what those characters are saying about Hell Tanner is true. But his despicable actions are mostly in the past, even his assault on his brother (beating him unconscious) has an altruistic purpose, so we see his new actions in the novel as being not so bad after all. Plus Zelazny intended that Hell Tanner was not introspective at all, so we couldn't be seeing Hell's first person thoughts about how his perceptions changed. Instead we see only his actions and a few of his dreams/hallucinations, and as mentioned, his actions in the book aren't in keeping with what people say about him at the start. Consequently, he comes across as not being such an evil character after all. It's the old problem of show don't tell: in this case, Zelazny SHOWED him as being not so bad as we were TOLD the historical Hell Tanner was, and the showing outweighs the telling. And as noted above, he was already in transition at the start of the novel anyway.

    About Damnation Alley and This Immortal/...And Call Me Conrad sharing the same universe/time-line -- I hadn't thought of that before, but now that it's been suggested, it's certainly possible. A very interesting suggestion. There's enough vagueness about what happened to create the post-nuclear-holcaust world of each novel that it's conceivable they could be one and the same, just centuries apart. In all my reading of Zelazny's correspondence I never saw him asked this in an interview or letter nor did he suggest it on his own. So whether it's deliberate or not, it's possible that Damnation Alley precedes the time of This Immortal. But since post-nuclear-holocause scenarios were common in sf at the time, and Zelazny wrote more than these, it's not necessary for those two tales to share the same time line. Deus Irae is another and it doesn't have to fit in either, although it might be possible to make it fit.

    About To Die in Italbar -- Zelazny made a mess of it. The novel was written hastily, then later revised with the addition of Francis Sandow from Isle of the Dead, and it was pointed out later that his description of Earth was conflicting between Isle of the Dead and To Die in Italbar. I can't precisely recall his fix-up explanation for that discrepancy, but I think it was that Italbar is supposed to take place first, allowing Earth to have been repopulated before Isle of the Dead takes place. I don't think there are enough elements to make a strong claim that To Die in Italbar fits the time-line of Damnation Alley and This Immortal.

    About contacting me -- some have done so via the NESFA Press email and it gets forwarded to me, and others have emailed me directly by finding my email address on the various Zelazny newsgroups or on the web. It's ckovacs and the suffix is mun dot ca. The first two volumes have already been revised and reprinted (fixing of typos and revisions of Notes as per suggestions and other things I discovered), and the other four will be revised before they are reprinted too. Suggestions for revision are welcomed.

  13. I forgot to sign that with my name but it should be apparent that it's me!

    Chris Kovacs

  14. The other Chris here.

    Hey, Chris Kovacs: Thanks for your response. And a different kind of thanks, and extreme gratitude, for the Collected Stories; they're what sparked my renewed interest in Zelazny over the last year. I spent the better part of a decade researching and writing (with collaborators) a pair of comprehensive books about John Coltrane, and I know what a monumental undertaking this sort of labor of love is.

    Damnation Alley: Given what you say about Zelazny's intent regarding Hell Tanner, I have to reluctantly agree with JJ -- it's a serious flaw that Zelazny never showed us Hell's "pre-enlightenment" character, just told us about it. He could easily have done so, in flashbacks or otherwise (Zelazny was certainly inventive enough to work something like that into the story); I have to wonder why he didn't. On the other hand, maybe we should make allowance for historical context -- science fiction was a lot more restrictive back then, even with the whole New Wave thing going on, and maybe Zelazny felt he could only get away with so much violence before the story would become unpublishable. So he pulled his punches there.

    About the connection between Damnation Alley and This Immortal -- I definitely think it's worth mentioning in the notes for Damnation Alley (the novel), citing the evidence I've outlined. I think Dr. Soames' mention of the Mars and Titan colonies -- and especially his wondering "Will they ever come back?" -- is too obvious a reference to This Immortal to be a coincidence. I'm not arguing that it's of any great significance -- Zelazny probably tossed it in just for fun, and may not himself have thought any more about it -- but I do think it's worth a mention.

    An unrelated question about This Immortal: In the Collected Stories (Vol. 1, p. 520), you mention that a Book Club edition published "over 20 years" after the original publication contains some material that had been omitted from all previous publications of Call me Conrad/This Immortal. Can you specify which edition this is?

    I have the 1988 SF Book Club edition (#12033, I.40.l in the Pictorial Bibliog), and it definitely doesn't have any new material -- I proofed it against the original Ace paperback line by line (I used to be a proofreader, many years ago, but please don't hold that against me). In fact, a few lines of text are omitted in the Book Club edition, not to mention there are lots of typos and a real mess on pp. 112-113 where several blocks of text are set out of order -- so this is hardly a definitive edition.

    I also have the Easton Press leatherbound edition (I.40.k). I didn't do a line-by-line proof, but reread it shortly after I did the proof of the Book Club edition against the original edition, and I'm pretty sure there's no new material.

    Can you shed any light on this? Or am I just missing something?

    --Chris DeVito

  15. Thanks for the feedback, it is very much appreciated! It was definitely a labor of love, and for people who roll their eyes and don't believe it, I can also point out that NESFA Press is a not-for-profit fan-run organization and its editors are not paid for the work. It's strictly volunteer.

    About Damnation Alley - Zelazny wrote that he was half-drunk when he started the novella and tried to maintain that throughout the writing of it in order to see how that inebriated state would affect his writing. If he was truthful and not joking, I think the alcohol may have affected his attention to the problem of showing Hell Tanner to be the despicable character he was supposed to be.

    About This Immortal and the book club edition - there's a puzzle there that I have additional information about since the Collected Stories books were published. Zelazny said in a 1995 interview that someone had pointed out material that had been cut for the magazine version and not restored to the book, and that he had done these restorations for an unspecified book club edition in the mid 1980s (around 20 years after 1966). As to which edition, I do not know, but there was a UK edition (Goodchild, 1984) as well as the US Book Club (1988) and the Easton Press (1986). I haven't done a line-by-line comparison of these and can't see any obvious differences. Did he mean a foreign language edition? Or was he recalling that he'd planned to restore some cuts and then decided not to?

    But I went on to look at his correspondence, interviews, and manuscripts a bit further. I was able to get copies of two different manuscript versions, including the final version with editor's written deletions, and noted a few things that Zelazny had described in interviews. One of the obvious ones is quite small but significant, it's Conrad's remark upon seeing Cassandra alive again. In the manuscript and the magazine version, the shocked Conrad stays in character by saying "Uh -- hi, Cassandra. How've you been?" In all book versions he simply says "Cassandra!" Zelazny had complained about this edit in interviews and said that the editor didn't understand the character and why he would react that way.

    The problem is that I don't see that edit restored in any of the book versions. So did he decide not to restore it after all? Or was he overruled again?

    The other edits include a turn of phrase or a line or two here and there, but not big deletions of text. I haven't looked for those specifically in any of the book club editions, but I will when I have time.

    Lastly, the biggest omission was the block of text added to the magazine version -- to give backstory at the magazine editor's insistence -- which has never been included in the book versions. This leads me to wonder if Zelazny was mistaken. When he said in an interview that cuts hadn't been restored to the book and that this had been done for a book club edition, I wonder if he'd forgotten that the biggest block of text was ADDED to the magazine version and was not originally cut from the novel? And did he then decide not to add this to the book club edition after all because it wasn't part of the novel in the first place?

    It remains an incompletely solved puzzle because Zelazny never specified which book club edition was supposed to have the definitive text.

    But with the original manuscripts in hand, it is possible to someday have a definitive edition if a publisher chooses to produce it. The only question would be whether or not to include the backstory that was added to the magazine version.

    Chris Kovacs

  16. By the way, Chris DeVito, you're the first person I know of to have mentioned using the Pictorial Bibliography (The Ides of Octember)! It's very good to see someone making use of it.

    Chris Kovacs

  17. OK, one more observation about the Damnation Alley/This Immortal connection before I stop obsessing about it (I hope): In This Immortal, the nuclear war is referred to as the Three Days. In "Damnation Alley" (the novella), the nuclear war is referred to as the Big Raid. In the novel expansion this is retained, except when Dr. Soames refers to it as the Three Days -- in the same speech where he talks about the Mars and Titan colonies.

    And one more note about censorship in the Galaxy magazine version of the novella: In the novel, in answer to Greg's question about what Hell would have done with some girls he intended to "grab off," Hell says "Screw 'em and sell 'em, I guess." In the Galaxy version "Screw 'em and" is omitted -- it's just "Sell 'em, I guess."

    Thanks for all the interesting info, Dr. K. For what it's worth, if anyone publishes a definitive version of This Immortal (and I hope someone does), I'd omit the backstory that the editor (Ed Ferman?) required Zelazny to insert -- it's not very well written, and doesn't fit the book at all; it interrupts the flow. Maybe it could be included in an appendix or something, just to get it in there, for the record.

    And I'd vote for titling the definitive version ". . . And call me Conrad." !

    --Chris DeVito

  18. I always interpreted the Big Raid as the raid on the Angels by Law Enforcement authorities. I think there is some textual support for this, because the winds that prevent plane travel are mentioned of a product of the war, and "For these winds circled, and they never ceased. Not in all the twenty-five years of Tanner's memory had they let up."

    We know that Tanner was old enough to be incarcerated at the time of the Big Raid.

    Tanner shrugged again. "Used to," he said, "before the Big Raid."

    "How'd you manage to live through that? I thought they'd cleaned the whole place out?"

    "I was doing time," he said. "A.D.W."

    However, I've actually come around to your theory about the colonies indicating the same universe. It does seem like an awfully specific reference, and the novel version was published not that long after This Immortal.

    We do get some references to how much time has passed in This Immortal ("It had been over fifty years since the Madagascar Affair", we know that one of Conrad's alter egos was listed as being born two hundred thirty-four years ago, and we know that the colonies had endured almost a century of self-sufficiency.)

    I'll have to read the book again with this in mind to see how much the shared universe theory can be supported or is refuted by the information we're given.

  19. Oops, yes, you're right -- the Big Raid was the raid on the Hell's Angels, nothing to do with the war. To quote Emily Litella: ". . . never mind."

    Soames' reference to the Three Days is still, though, a direct reference to This Immortal.

    Here's an unrelated question: During Soames' speech, while he's talking about mankind's achievements before the war, he says, "We conquered space. We lost time."

    Anyone care to venture a guess as to what he meant by "We lost time"?

    --Chris DeVito

  20. I didn't have a hard copy of the novel until yesterday, and I finally picked one up. Yup. There it is in black and white. I'm convinced. Well spotted, sir.

  21. Mention of the "Three Days" in both novels is very convincing! I think you're right, that Zelazny decided to link up the two with Damnation Alley as the sort of prequel to the world of This Immortal/...And Call Me Conrad. Now I'm really curious to know if anyone picked up on this before and asked Zelazny about it.

    The section of Damnation Alley which refers to the "Three Days" was written specifically for the novel version, when he expanded the novella at his agent's suggestion. This was a year or more after he'd written the novella. So the idea to link up the novels may have come about after writing the novella.

    Just now I checked the galleys of Damnation Alley that bear Zelazny's final edits in pencil but the "Three Days" is already there in typescript. The pencilled-in changes include other things such as changing the weapon the guard carries at the beginning from a sawed-off shotgun to a pistol. I don't know why; maybe it just fit better in the back seat of the car and on his lap.

    I also checked Volume 3 of The Collected Stories, where the novella appears, and there's enough room on p 188 of the Notes section for me to be able to add mention of the connection between Damnation Alley and This Immortal when that volume has a second edition published, possibly later this year. And then if V2 gets a third edition, I'll add mention of it to the relevant notes for ...And Call Me Conrad. And squeeze the name Chris DeVito into the acknowledgments section somehow...

    Chris Kovacs

  22. Dr. K.: An easy way to cite your source, as it were, would be to list the URL for this page. That might help generate some more interest in JJ's Zelazny commentaries.

    And do you have any speculations or information about Soames' enigmatic statement, "We lost time"? I've been puzzling over that line.

    --Chris DeVito

  23. "We put people on the moon and Mars and Titan. We conquered space. We lost time. We had a United Nations. But what happened? Three lousy days, that's what, and everything went to hell..."

    I've always interpreted "we lost time" to mean that progress was halted or reversed because of the Three Days, that the time of Damnation Alley is an interregnum in mankind's development. In other words, "we were doing so well, moving out into space, and now we've wasted years because of this stupid war and its consequences..."

    I don't know if that's right but it makes sense to me in context.

    About credits - I'll be crediting Josh for the green eyes motif that I'd not noticed before. Putting in a URL takes up more space than a person's name, especially when it's the rather lengthy URL of this blog! But if I can work it in somehow, I will.

    Chris Kovacs

  24. Josh, you've generated a hell of a discussion. Glad to see people are sitting up and taking notice. And nice redesign. As for Damnation Alley, it was never my favorite, and you've put your finger on why I always had trouble with it -- parts of it really do read as if someone else was aping Zelazny. And it definitely promises more than it delivers. Having said that, I like the economy of the shorter version, but there's some lovely writing in the novel.

    I'm following the "DA-->Conrad" discussion with great interest.

  25. Welcome back, and thanks! I'm glad that the blog is attracting so many excellent commenters, though I find it a little strange because everyone seems to know more about Zelazny than I do.

  26. I'm working on a few revisions for the second edition of THIS MORTAL MOUNTAIN: THE COLLECTED STORIES: VOLUME 3. At the end of the story notes for "Damnation Alley" I plan to add something like this:


    The guard with the shotgun has green eyes, a recurrent Zelazny motif. The novel adds Evelyn with blue-green eyes.

    Also in the expanded novel version, Zelazny added elements which suggest that DAMNATION ALLEY precedes ...AND CALL ME CONRAD / THIS IMMORTAL. In both novels, characters refer to the "Three Days" of nuclear war that laid waste to the Earth. In DAMNATION ALLEY, Dr. Soames describes how much of humanity fled to the Mars and Titan colonies and wonders if they will ever return; he also mentions that the big cities were destroyed and that only people in the islands (Greek, Caribbean, Japan, etc.) are likely to have survived. Three characters separately observe that the winds are dying down and wonder that the Earth may be purging itself. These descriptions are quite similar to the backstory of THIS IMMORTAL. Additional elements connect THIS IMMORTAL (Sprung-Samser longevity treatments) to TO DIE IN ITALBAR (S-S treatments which slow aging) and ISLE OF THE DEAD (treatments that add a couple of centuries to life expectancy). And so it appears that Zelazny created a future history which subtly connects DAMNATION ALLEY, THIS IMMORTAL, TO DIE IN ITALBAR, and ISLE OF THE DEAD.


    I think that will fit but if not I will have to trim it.

    Also adding a green eyes comment to "Angel, Dark Angel" and "The Steel General."

    And we'll squeeze Josh and DeVito onto the acknowledgments page.

    Chris Kovacs

  27. I should add that if there are any additional suggestions for revisions to the notes for the various stories/poems in THIS MORTAL MOUNTAIN, please let me know within a week. The second edition may be finalized by then and going to print soon after.

    Chris Kovacs

  28. I can't think of anything else. Thanks for including us. It's really great to make even a small contribution to a work I've really enjoyed.

  29. I posted a scan of Jack Gaughan's sketch of Hell Tanner (from Galaxy, Oct. 1967) on my Facefuck page. I suspect Zelazny liked it.

    --Chris DeVito

  30. I was listening to John Hodgman's THAT IS ALL and at one point he says to another character, "I see you have my Damnation Alley-style armored supercar." Huzzah! Zelazny shout out!

  31. Hi everyone,

    Sorry about this necromancy of reviving the old comment thread after so many years, but, re-reading Damnation Alley, I have an idea I can't get rid of, and perhaps someone could share their view on it, too…

    So, can't that pre-final scene, where Hell sees a pilgrim priest in his delirium dream, besides being a reference to the Japanese Noh theater (as Carl Yoke suggests here https://bit.ly/35Kcked), be also an allusion to A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr., a famous post-apocalyptic science fiction novel dedicated mostly to the Catholic church in the post-nuclear world (that is, having a lot of monks, priests and pilgrimage in it)? That came to my mind after I had read the both books within a year.