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I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

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Book Information  
AuthorRichard Matheson
TitleI Am Legend
GenreScience Fiction
Book Reviews / Comments (submitted by readers)
Submitted by Archren 
(Jun 12, 2006)

Written in 1954, “I Am Legend” was one of the first books to address the possibility of scientific vampirism. Although more modern readers of horror might roll their eyes (especially as things obvious to the modern reader take our hero by surprise), it all seemed fresh to me simply because I don’t read or watch much horror. While it starts out much like any zombie tale, with the hero defending his property from the seeming undead, it develops in ways that, although possibly clichéd now, are intense.

The hero is not the stereotypical Competent Man hero of the 1940s and 50s. He has survived the plague of vampirism through something like dumb luck. He has been successful in fending off his past neighbors and defending his house, but he has become more or less insane in the process. This insanity makes the book almost unpleasant to read, since the main character becomes less and less sympathetic and even less human as time goes on. The descriptions of his inner torment being expressed in violent and self-destructive acts are vivid and intense.

The main strength of the book is that sense of teetering on the edge of insanity. There is also a mythic quality to the tale, having the force and the quality to later spawn so many imitative horror stories and movies. The twist at the end that completely redefines both the hero and the entire story in an instant is particularly brilliant, something lacking from many of the works that follow after. Again, it is particularly forceful because it was something completely new at the time. If you enjoy many horror stories, read this one as the progenitor of a form. If, like me, you generally avoid the genre, read this so that you can say that having read some of the best, you don’t have to read too many more. This is a brief tale that undisputedly deserves the “Classic” label.

Submitted by Joseph 
(Apr 15, 2006)

Matheson's novel follows a simple conceit. What if, rather than a single horrific force (such as Dracula) was killing all normal people, the opposite was true; the last man left on earth is killing all the "new" normals, who just happen to be vampires. Matheson, who is often cited as being a seminal influence on writers such as Stephen King, among others, writes with the clear and concise view of a documentarian. Because in a way he is. Since the novel has but one protaganist, Matheson is allowed the freedom to write things as he or rather Robert Neville sees them. This is the novels great strength. You never once forgot the new world that has birthed by Matheson's imagination.

The ending is one of the greatest in all sf literature and one of its most appropo.

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