By Richard Matheson
ORB A Tom Doherty Associates Book, 317 pp, 1995
I finished this book about a week ago and
waited until now to write the review. Today being Halloween, I thought
that would be the perfect day to post this classic horror novel, but well,
to be honest, I've been putting it off.
Though procrastination played a major role
(my motto: why do it now when you can do it tomorrow?), I also wasn't sure
what I thought of it. That is very odd - I usually form an opinion of a
book soon after I start reading it (I'm really going to like this, or this
may be good, or what a piece of junk - you get the idea), and while that
did happen, my opinion changed after I finished it. Let me try to explain.
The book's premise and first hundred pages
or so are great. Poor Robert Neville is, as far as he knows, the last
living man alive. Everyone else are vampires. Some are true undead
creatures, while others are still living humans infected with the vampire
disease, which makes them act like vampires. By day, Neville slays all the
vampires he can find within a day or so travel of his home. By night, he
barricades himself in his house and endures the taunts and break-in
attempts of vampires.
So far, so good. Neville's feelings toward
the vampires, his ruminations about his past life with his wife and
daughter, all flesh out the story while Neville goes about his life. His
emotions range from hopelessly suicidal to grimly determined to survive,
and even find a cure for the vampire disease. He researches at the local
university library, brining home books about blood, biology, viruses, and
so on. I should note that this book was originally written in 1954, so
it's a bit dated, but not obviously so.
It sounds like the novel might be slow, but
Matheson keeps it moving with flashbacks to before the vampire plague and
Neville's adventures (for example, one day he loses track of time and is
outside when the sun sets, which may be the best scene in the book).
Neville also befriends a dog who has managed to avoid the vampire plague,
though it eventually succumbs and dies.
The novel really begins when a woman shows
up, claiming to be another survivor. I can't say too much without
revealing the ending, but she isn't quite what she appears, and Neville
realizes the world isn't quite what he thought he was, and he finds out
the hard way.
That's all I can say about the end. I will
say that I didn't like the ending, and leave it at that, though it is
consistent with the storyline. And I have no idea why Matheson named the
novel I Am Legend. If someone know, please
enlighten me. That's why I wasn't sure about the book. I really liked
it at first, but the end really soured me on it.
I think my main beef is that Matheson
reduces the aura and mystique of vampires to a matter of science,
stripping away any supernatural elements to vampirism. I've never liked
this device. Vampires are scary because they shouldn't exist, they are
enemies of man and nature, indeed they exist outside nature. That's what
makes them monsters. Take that away, and what do you have but a plain old
germ? That's not scary - it's a medical text (yawn).
But I love the premise. In fact, there's a
collection of short stories called Under
the Fang, in which every story deals with a world that has been
conquered by vampires. I highly recommend that if you like that sort of
thing (which I do).
I was not ambiguous about the rest of the
book, which is made up of several of Matheson's short stories. The novel
itself takes up about half the book. The short stories are very good. Buried
Talents should frighten any crooked game operator at the county fair. Prey
is a magnificent story of suspense and survival in which a young woman
battles a sinister doll inhabited with an evil spirit, and if you're
thinking that's a rip-off of Chucky from Child's Play, think again.
Matheson wrote the story in 1969.
There are several other stories, and
they're all good, but this review is already too long.