I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

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I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Dave Martin
Reviewed by Dave Martin
Summary: Part of the Millennium SF Masterworks series, I Am Legend is the inspiration for many subsequent books and films. It's a groundbreaking novel and a must read for any fans of the genre, despite some superficial characterisation among the minor cast.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: January 1999
Publisher: Gollancz
ISBN: 1857988094

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Robert Neville can hear them outside once again. Night after night, they torment and tease him. "Come out Robert we have something to show you", the women say. "Scared", mocks his old friend Ben Cortman. Both he knows and they know he is probably the last human alive. Isolated and alone in a world of vampires he continues his nightly routine of Beethoven and alcohol until daylight comes when he can search the town in safety and purge it of a just a few of his tormentors.

"I am Legend" by Richard Matheson is an accomplished post-apocalyptic novel made all the more impressive by the fact it was first published back in 1954. Matheson is an author who has inspired horror writers as King, Koontz and Herbert. From this novel, it is easy to see why. Indeed readers of such authors will see King's "The Stand", Koontz's "Phantoms" and Herbert's "48" clearly stem from this particular novel. This is part of the science fiction masterworks series and it is easy to see why as it is a truly marvellous example of its genre.

This novel has a real claustrophobic feel about it as we come to know and empathise with the isolation of the stories protagonist Robert Neville. It has a real "Night of the Living Dead" feel that may even have inspired the film. Of course, Matheson tells the tale from Neville's perspective but refreshingly, he does not paint a picture of the All-American hero. Neville is flawed, his isolation has made him lacking in emotion and Matheson skilfully questions humanity's own morality by Neville's often seemingly callous actions.

This would all be formulaic even for its time but Matheson advances the genre in one groundbreaking moment by allowing Neville to question the mythology and science of vampirism. In suggesting that vampires may well be a human creation, Matheson provides a new and deeper realm of exploration in a novel that could have relied on action set pieces. This does at times make for heavy reading as bacteria and the chemical components of garlic are explored but it does however make it seem all so much more real. As such, the fear factor increases rapidly as the supernatural becomes the scientifically possible.

This novel is no one trick pony either. Matheson creates some real extremes of emotion as we pity and loathe Neville in equal measure. By instilling some essence of humanity into the vampires, Matheson leaves us with some doubt as to where our loyalties lie and this makes it an even more satisfying read. Do we side with the tormented or the tormentors? The answer may seem simple but trust me; it's not.

If there were anything to criticise of this novel it would be that the lesser characters are never really fully realised. We learn little of friend turned vampire Ben Cortman's past and motives for tormenting Neville and even less about other characters. However, this is but a minor trifle in what is an otherwise exemplary novel. Fans of the horror genre should read it and so should those with any interest whatsoever in tight plot, challenging themes and history.

At 176 pages I was amazed at how much detail there was to this book yet it leaves you crying out for more, which for me is the mark of a great novel. What I am saying is buy it people! I read it on recommendation by a member of this very site and I am urging you to take my recommendation. Two movies, "The Last Man on Earth" and "The Omega Man", have used this book as a base, it is that good. However, we all know the book is always better than the film. Read it, you will not be disappointed.

Booklists.jpg I Am Legend by Richard Matheson is in the Bookbag's Science Fiction Picks.
Booklists.jpg I Am Legend by Richard Matheson is in the Top Ten Books About Vampires.
Buy I Am Legend by Richard Matheson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy I Am Legend by Richard Matheson at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy I Am Legend by Richard Matheson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy I Am Legend by Richard Matheson at Amazon.com.


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DemonicaS8N said:

Totally agree with this review. As a fan of the vampire/zombie genre I love 'I am Legend' for it's brave themes and challenges on usual cliches.

Good work, thanks.