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I Am Legend

A 1954 horror anthology by Richard Matheson.

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A bleak little chiller. Terse and unnerving. NOT MUCH LIKE MOVIE!

  • Jan 29, 2008
Rating:
+4
Richard Matheson wrote this book in 1954, and imagined into a future that was 1976. It's a pretty amazing piece of writing for any time, but the very bleak nature of the entire book was pretty unusual for 1954. It obviously came out of that whole paranoia about us destroying ourselves in an hydrogen bomb holocaust that was so prevalent in the '50s and '60s (ON THE BEACH, DR. STRANGELOVE, FAILSAFE, etc.)

It tells the story, in about 150 pages, of a suburban man (Robert Neville), probably around age 35 or so, who is apparently the last man on earth after a horrible plague has infected the rest of humanity...leaving everyone dieing...and worst of all, the people who die come back as vampires. It's almost like a zombie story...and in fact, the details of just what the vampires can do are the least interesting parts of the story. What I really enjoyed were the very specific observations on Neville's emotions and actions during his time of extreme isolation and desolation. He's lost a daughter and a wife to his disease. He's now holed-up in his home...venturing out during sunny days for supplies, research books, and to shore up his home's defenses. At night, he drinks a lot and endures the howls from the vampires who assemble outside his house each sunset to sunup.

Neville is, after months alone, a man tormented by the past, by his own desires, and by sheer loneliness. He lives wrecklessly, but not wrecklessly enough to actually want to die. (Although there is one very exciting sequence when he's forgotten to wind his watch and he makes it back home a bit late. Talk about tense!) And occasionally he turns his attention to the idea of a "cure" for this plague, or at least an understanding of what it is.

If you've seen the movie...there are few similarities. A similar plague has swept mankind...but the Robert Neville that Will Smith plays is very different from the 1950's sensibilities of the suburban white man that populates the book. Smith did a fine job, and his character wins our sympathies too. But the Neville in the book is a man seemingly even more tormented and more alone. And he has no science to help him and no DVDs to divert him. He's alone with his whiskey, his murals and his depression.

Also, the endings of the two stories couldn't be more different. The reason for the title of the book is completely different from the movie. Again, this is a bleak book indeed. It grips you quite powerfully, and when the climax comes in the final few pages...you will be dismayed. The story doesn't leave you hanging...but it doesn't exactly take you where you might have hoped either.

Matheson's writing style is solid and no-nonsense. This guy wastes no words...I venture to guess that many lesser writers would have doubled the size of the book and accomplished half of the intensity. It is taut, terse, exciting and yes, it feels just a bit like it came from the 50s. But it is unfraid to examine its subject matter and its main character...and that's what makes it so great.

A true classic...yet to be filmed properly.

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More I Am Legend reviews
review by . May 29, 2010
What was your emotional reaction as you read? Why?   I made the classic mistake reading the book after seeing the movie so my imagination was tainted with preformed images and expectations. But it quickly became evident that the book was going to be different. The book is more chilling than the movie and it pulls you into a post  post apocalyptic-like world. The reader is taken on the same emotional roller coaster as the main character.        Who would you …
review by . July 06, 2010
As long as you haven't lived under a rock for the past few years, you have probably heard of I Am Legend. The basic story is that nuclear war created a virus that turned people into vampires. One by one, people were dying, until Robert is one of the only humans left. But, the best thing about I Am Legend is that it is full of horror stories written by Matheson, such as Mad House and Dance of the Dead.      Now if you are saying, "I have already seen the movie so I know …
review by . February 20, 2010
So much more then a vampire book
  Contrary to common belief, I Am Legend is not a vampire novel. What this book is in reality is a series a short horror stories written by Richard Matheson that range from the 160 page long story I Am Legend from which the book gets its name to a three page story called The Near Departed. Although I must admit that I Am Legend, the first and longest of the stories, is far and away the best, only talking about that one part does a disservice to the other ten incredible stories that are collected …
Quick Tip by . October 12, 2010
a good book and an entertaining movie. I found the book to be a little bit more suspenseful though.
Quick Tip by . July 05, 2010
Matheson's after a LAB ACCIDENT turns everyone ELSE into Zombie like creatures trying to kill him.
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
A really good book. The sci-fi and the end of the world is really interesting.
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2010
A must-read if you enjoyed the movie, although prepare for an entirely different story. Even better than the movie, in my opinion - a narrative of incredible strength.
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2010
Set the tempo for modern zombie horror stories.
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
great stuff
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
This collection of stories was my introduction to Matheson and I have been a fan ever since. The tales are gripping and well told. The movie is very loosely based on the story the collection is named for.
About the reviewer
I've got my own site, www.afilmcritic.com, on which I'm posting my reviews. I am 46 years old, married 25 years, two kids (23 & 18) and currently work in accounting/finance. I spent 15 years … more
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About this book

Wiki

Table Of Contents:

  I Am Legend - The Last Human On Earth
· Buried Talents - An odd man wins a carnival game.
· The Near Departed - Very short story of funeral arrangements
· Prey - A strange little doll comes to life
· Witch War - Seven pretty little girls win a military battle
· Dance Of The Dead - An innocent girl gets corrupted by wild friends who take her to a bar where the "Loopy's" dance
· Dress Of White Silk - Strange but flat tale of a young girl and her dead mother's white silk dress.
· Mad House - An angry man with a volcanic temper passes along his rage into the very fiber of his house
· The Funeral - A Vampire funeral starts a fad
· From Shadowed Places - An ancient African ritual must be performed to save a man's life
· Person To Person - A man receives phone calls inside his head, but who are they coming from?

All Stories written between 1952 and 1987
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Details

ISBN-10: 0765318741
ISBN-13: 9780765318749
Author: Richard Matheson
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction
Publisher: Tor Books, Walker & Company
Date Published: 1954
Format: Paperback
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