Well, guess what kiddies? Someone did! Want to hear something even neater? It was published more than FIFTY YEARS AGO, and it's unquestionably the definitive tome on scientific vampirism (Strieber's The Hunger even gets a hand-print on its ass). It's also probably the best Vampire novel since Dracula and is actually more of a Vampire novel than Stoker's most famous book was, as it deals with so many possibilities, answers so many questions and avoids the mysticism that forces one to accept a mythos over facts.
Many of you know Author Richard Matheson's masterpiece I Am Legend only as the basis for the Heston film The Omega Man and the Price film The Last Man on Earth (or maybe for that White Zombie tune from La Sexorcisto), but let me tell you, I Am Legend is much more unique and awe-inspiring than any related project, and leaves both competitors and adaptations in the dust. It also answers more questions than Jeeves whether you've thought of them or not. For fans of the Vampire Genre, I can't describe this book any better than by using the word Indispensable! It's a must read!
This uber-fascinating tale centers around the life of the last remaining human being on an Earth populated by Vampires. Robert Neville could be any of us! He's a normal family man whose world literally changes over night as he finds himself alone in an impossible situation where the only voice besides his own are the frantic calls from those who would make a meal out of him! This last bastion of humanity walks by day and holes up by night in a suburban Los Angeles house protected by Garlic, Crosses, Mirrors and Prayer! His life is a constant struggle for survival and his vigilance is the only thing that could potentially keep him alive!
But he succeeds! As the book Chronicles a full three years of his life (not counting the detailed flashbacks adding depth to Matheson's tapestry), Neville begins to question the reality around him and ask all those questions that any old Midnight-Movie watcher might ask about our plasma-sipping legends. And therein lies the brilliance of this novel. What could have been a proto-Romero action shocker becomes the Thinking Person's Vampire Story! Neville's a smart guy, and goes to great lengths to try and understand what defenses work, why they work and what (physically or psychologically) causes Vampirism in the first place. Could his study lead to a "Cure?" Fingers crossed for Bob!
I Am Legend is smart! So smart that even when Matheson gives us the Action and Horror that mark this sub-genre of thriller, we never feel that it's a cheap gratuity meant to stay true to form. Instead Matheson imagines what a world like this might be like and what struggles and needs a man in this world might experience. It's especially surprising that in the time it was written it wasn't censored until sanitized! Matheson also puts real emotion and reality into this work, surprising for its subject matter. Neville's pain is tangible to the reader! His loneliness, fear and even sexual starvation are all tastefully but thoroughly handled.
Without resorting to the Epistles of Dracula Matheson truly pulls you into the mind of the main (and arguably only) character and makes him as real as you are. As the novel progresses the reader is shocked and awed as the title becomes fully evident and appreciable to the horror of the sensibilities! It's a rare sight to see and read, and it's definitely the defining Vampire moment of this past century!
As timeless as this novel really is (though set in the "Future" of the mid to late seventies, it could just as well be today, tomorrow next week or next year) there are a couple of anomalies that keep I Am Legend from that elusive fifth star! For example, like a number of great works of the age, this novel suffers from a Cold War Paranoia that pre-supposes the temporal proximity of a nuclear exchange. It doesn't hurt the book at all, however it might not translate well into this different world we're in! Matheson doesn't seem to really write women particularly realistically here. Sure this is primarily a One Man Show, but in flashback etceteras you'll see the discrepancy. There's also at least one assumption made by our hero that just doesn't stack up as intelligently as so many of the rest do. Although an odd nit to pick here, there is a sudden lack of explanation on a couple of points toward the end. We only know what Bob knows, and what he doesn't know we're frustrated as he is about. This is truly intentional and effective, but hard to endure nonetheless. On the whole though, this is a classic that has to be read to be believed. There is no nitpicking his Vampire Mythos, as Matheson's is probably the most complete and explained (and entertaining) of the bunch. Any nits you pick on this book will be silly and forgivable, and the worst crime this novel has is that it's not long enough... you just keep wanting more!
Matheson's not exactly a household name right now, but with such fans as King, Koontz, Bradbury, Mašek, Lumley and Bloch he should be. It's crazy not to want more and more of what Matheson writes and he's almost instantly addictive. Not a Horror Fan? Chances are he's still for you! Ever hear of a movie called Stir of Echoes? That's based on a Matheson Novel! The movie Duel that made Spielberg a star was written by Matheson and based on one of his stories! How about that Tear-Jerker, What Dreams May Come? That's his too! The Incredible Shrinking Woman? Yep loosely based on Richard Matheson's The Shrinking Man, Kemosabe! Chances are his list of fans will be including your name sooner or later.
Four and One Half Stars out of Five for I Am Legend! I loved it more than I thought I would. You're not likely to find such an inclusive and explanatory Vampire Novel anywhere, nor are you likely to find one so thoroughly enjoyable aside from its enriched and meticulous details. At a mere 170 pages it might take you all of one night to read. But that one night isn't ever likely to be forgotten. I Am Legend lives up to its name, and you'll find that this title is by no means a superlative!
When the Dead Walk the Earth and the Living are the Mythical Ones...
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