|The cover of the edition that I read as a kid|
I know that Zelazny is famous for high concept sci-fi. This book is pure popcorn. Hell Tanner races across the country as mutant animals and mutant weather threaten to pound him to dust. He rides in a souped up car armed with machine guns and flame throwers. I can see why Car Wars listed this book as inspiration. If you are interesting in post-apocalyptic books or car combat, I would recommend this book.
Damnation Alley as Gaming Material
The plot of this book is ready to be lifted for a role-playing campaign. Heck, it can even be used as a scenario for miniature games or wargames. Can you get the package to the other side of the map/table while fighting off mutants, gangs, and environmental hazards? In fact, the environmental hazards are one of the most interesting aspects of the book that can be used in a scenario or campaign. While the book is science fiction, I think that you can apply the framework of the story to many genres. Here are some ideas for running a Damnation Alley style rpg adventure for other genres.
Fantasy - The party has to transport a magical potion across the Chaos Desert. This is a desert that was created by a magical war between the Wizard-Gods years ago. The desert is full of whirlwinds, glass storms, strange creatures, and marauders.
Space Opera - The party has to deliver a load of cargo across a sector of space that is full of anomalies. The sector has black holes, radiation storms, gravity tsunamis, and is the perfect place for pirates to hide.
Steampunk/Pulp - Tesla has created a weather machine that has gone haywire. The area around the machine is a death zone where lightning strikes at random and storms tear up the ground. A rival faction is also headed there to capture the machine. Can the heroes get there first?
How I would run this game:
The parts of the story that resonate with me are the delivery of the McGuffin through the danger zone and the use of nature and the elements as an adversary. I like the post-apocalyptic setting of the book and the car combat, so I would choose a game system that has both of those traits built in.
I would us Palladium's After the Bomb rpg along with the Road Hogs supplement. After the Bomb is a post-apocalyptic game full of mutant animals, and Road Hogs adds rules for cars with guns strapped to them. The Empire of Humanity has released a virus tailored to kill mutant animals. The party will have to deliver the cure by driving across the US, while avoiding radiation zones, super-storms, and outlaw gangs. It would basically follow the plot of the book except it would take place in the After the Bomb setting. That is how I would run it.