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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I Am Legend

I Am Legend
by Richard Matheson
(5/5 stars)

This is one of those classic books I've been meaning to get around to.  When it was finally on sale for less than a buck on the Kindle, I decided to take the plunge and I was not disappointed.

I've only read one of Matheson's other books (his latest one at the time of this review) but I'm a big fan of his work on the original "Twilight Zone" and "I Am Legend" certainly has much of the same vibe as many TZ episodes.

Many "Twilight Zone" episodes (including the pilot) dealt with a lone or small group of survivors after the apocalypse.  Only in this case instead of nuclear war it's a plague that gradually turns everyone into "vampires."  It's important to note that in many ways Matheson's vampires are more akin to the zombies of "Night of the Living Dead" and such than the vampires in "Dracula" or especially "Twilight."  These vampires cannot go out in the light and they drink blood, but they aren't super strong or super fast and they can't change into other shapes.  The way they shamble around, seemingly unable to even open a door, definitely makes them closer to zombies than vampires.

Robert Neville is seemingly the last man on Earth, or at least the last man in his neck of the woods in California.  After about five months he's built his old house into an impenetrable fortress that's stocked with food and has a generator for electricity.  He even has a hothouse to grow garlic that helps keep the vampires at bay.  Every night the vampires gather around his house, hoping he'll come out.  One of his former neighbors yells at him constantly to come out while the undead women strike lurid poses in the hope of coaxing Neville from his fortress.

Most of the story then deals with Neville's survival.  In particular in how he has to deal with the crushing loneliness and isolation of being the only real human left.  To help combat that, Neville begins trying to understand the disease that wiped out humanity and possibly to find a cure for it.

Along the way we learn a little more about Neville's life before the plague, in particular what happened with his wife and daughter.  Though still by the end the details are a little skimpy, especially where the daughter is concerned.  One bit of confusion for me was that it took a while for Matheson to really establish whether Kathy was the wife or daughter and the same for Virginia.

Still, I found this a riveting, suspenseful read.  Modern readers who yearn for buckets of blood and gore aren't going to find that so much in here, but it is a fascinating tale of survival in the face of great horror and adversity.

Another note is that if you saw the Will Smith film from a few years ago you should disregard that as except for the title and basic premise they don't have much in common.

That is all.

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