Even though I've heard of Matheson and recognize the influence he has had upon Hollywood and modern American literature, I haven't read much of his work. In fact, other than I AM LEGEND, the only work of Matheson's I have read is a collection of short stories entitled THE BOX that was released at the same time as a movie of the same name. When I recently saw a copy of REAL STEEL selling for around $5, I couldn't pass the book up; I know enough about Matheson to know that he's one of the best short story writers ever and a collection of his short stories for that price, which includes "Steel", is almost a steal. There are a total of 15 stories in REAL STEEL.
"Steel" – this story was adapted into an episode of the original TWILIGHT ZONE and is the basis for the movie, REAL STEEL. In the future boxing between people no longer happens and boxing takes places between lifelike androids. A trainer named Kelly dreams of the big leagues and almost hit the big time when his robot named Maxo KO'd a contender. But that was three years ago and Maxo is a nobody and is an antique that's literally falling apart. Before the fight that will bring Kelly and Maxo back into the road to the big time, something unfortunate happens and Kelly makes a possible life-changing decision.
"To Fit the Crime" – a man at the end of his life loves the educated spoken word more than the people around him. He believes his mind is the only thing that separates himself from death and whatever horrors lie beyond. His whole life he verbally assaults and abuses his family with lofty spoken barbs.
"The Wedding" – a very superstitious man falls in love with an overweight woman. Despite his crazy beliefs, the woman agrees to marry him anyway and tragedy befalls them both.
"The Conqueror" – a 1st person narrative of the West. A grocer in a wild West American town meets a young man from the East who isn't exactly all he appears to be. The young man is determined to be the West's fastest gunslinger and has a plan how to do it. But, the West is wild, untamed, and unfair.
"Dear Diary" – two women from completely different periods of time write in their diaries.
"Descent" – three families who are friends spend their last supper together before leaving to live underground the next day before the bomb drops at sunset.
"The Doll That Does Everything" – a husband who is addicted to his poetry and his wife who is addicted to her pottery buy a growing doll as a companion for their one-year-old wayward son who is always getting into trouble and breaking things.
"The Traveller" – a college professor who isn't a Christian is given the opportunity to travel back in time and observe the crucifixion of Jesus.
"When Day Is Dun" – after an apparent nuclear Holocaust, a lone man attempts to write a poem that immortalizes mankind before he kills himself.
"The Splendid Source" – a wealthy young man with too much time on his hands sets out to discover to source of where dirty jokes come from. This story was the basis for the FAMILY GUY episode THE SPLENDID SOURCE.
"Lemmings" – people begin flocking into the ocean and disappearing as two friends sit and observe the phenomena.
"The Edge" – a man goes to his favorite drinking spot after a long day at work and is approached by another man who claims to know him, but he has no recollection of ever having met.
"A Visit to Santa Claus" – a man hires a stranger to kill his wife for him just before Christmas while he's at the mall with his son visiting Santa.
"Dr. Morton's Folly" – a dentist who can't see anyone in pain treats a strange man late one night.
"The Window of Time" – an eighty-two-year-old man climbs through a window of a room he is thinking of renting and travels back in time nearly seventy years into his past.
REAL STEEL is a mismatch of Matheson stories; there are some that feature some of Matheson's writing at his best while there are others that are kind dull and without merit. There are also several that end rather abruptly without any closure. Personally, my favorite stories in the book are "Steel", "The Conqueror", "The Traveller", and "The Splendid Source". My least favorite in the bunch is "Lemmings" because it's so short and feels more like a joke without a punchline rather than a short story.
Fans of Matheson probably own most of these stories. However, the inclusion of "Dr. Morton's Folly" and "The Window of Time" haven't been available before in anthologized or collected form, so completists will want the book for those stories. Beyond that, the book is a descent short story collection. It's not the best book to introduce readers to Matheson, but it makes a good 2nd or 3rd choice after reading one of his more influential works, such as I AM LEGEND.
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