Book Review: Richard Matheson’s I am Legend

Posted June 27, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

Book Review: Richard Matheson’s I am LegendI am Legend by Richard Matheson
is a Apocalyptic, Horror, Science Fiction
This edition was published by Gollancz on 2007 in paperback and has 161 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon..

An anthology of eleven apocalyptic and the weird in horrific science fiction. The actual story of the title, I am Legend, takes up half of the book — yes, the one upon which the movie is based. The rest are truly short stories.

In 2008, I am Legend won the Tähtivaeltaja Award.

The Stories

I am Legend is mostly similar to the movie with a few exceptions — the vampire plague being a notable difference. I think the movie was better. Reading this story had me questioning Matheson’s writing quality. It just seemed more amateurish, unrounded if you will, than the movie itself. It could well be that the differences the written story has from the movie were throwing me off, but I don’t think so. I wasn’t too impressed with this Robert Neville’s intelligence. His “research” into what makes vampires sick was a strange combination of duh-what and impressive. Unlike the movie’s Robert, this one was no scientist — we never do find out what he does/did. The first bit of major drama was incredibly stupid on his part. Taken individually, the separate bits made sense, but when put together in a string, it read more like Matheson hadn’t bothered to think the action sequence through. The whole sex obsession didn’t make sense either. Oh, yeah, I can thoroughly understand that not gettin’ any could make a person obsessive, but the way in which Matheson wrote it was more of a “well, ya gotta have sex in a story” kind of way. Matheson just didn’t DO anything with it. In any sense.

I did enjoy the excursions Robert made as well as his immersion into the research. Once he finally got off his duff! The suicidal urges made perfect sense while the way in which Matheson drew out telling us what happened in the early days was quite enticing.

The best reason to read this story is as a comparison against the movie. And, as an avid reader, I rarely say this, but the movie really was much better.

Buried Talents” is a lovely bit of “revenge” on those rigged games at fairgrounds and carnivals.

Near Departed” is a sweet story about a man’s planning the funeral for his beloved. It’s a bit creepy, too, with his fixation on how young and beautiful and loved she is. A creepiness that only increases with the twist at the end. It certainly left me with a lot of questions.

Prey” was just plain irritating. I did love the payback at the end, but Amelia was such a dip! I mean, hullo, would you stick around for this kind of hunt?

Witch War” is beautifully done! Matheson is creepily deceptive in his set up and his emphasis on “seven pretty little girls sitting in a row”. Part of me felt like I was about to descend into a fairy tale and another part of me was waiting for the other shoe to drop. And, boy, did it DROP. Does make you wonder why anyone would want to do battle against such opponents. These seven pretty girls seem so normal. So high school. Chewing gum and all.

Dance of the Dead” is another creepy story about our future with its 1950-ish atmosphere. I swear, I thought this was a college dating story from the 1920s or ’50s. This impression was reinforced by the dating rules to which Peggy tries to adhere and the energy imparted by Bud, Len, and Barbara. Especially with the convertible and the songs the three of them are singing along to as they drive to a nightclub. And Matheson leaves you hanging at the end. Wondering.

Dress of White Silk” starts off so sweetly — I particularly enjoyed Matheson’s writing from the child’s perspective with all its misspellings and improper grammar. It’s a sad tale of a little girl missing her momma with her granma raising her daughter’s child, trying to keep her daughter’s room intact, shrine-like. And Matheson does what he does so well in keeping us in suspense at the end.

Mad House” truly is mad. It’s a day in the life of Professor Chris Neal. One in which we watch the disintegration of his life. His wife, Sally, can’t take anymore of his anger. We observe his interactions with his house and its contents. His frustration about the lack of progress in his writing career. His anger with students, friends, colleagues. And it’s enough to make you think. Really hard about how you interact with inert objects and the people in your own life.

Funeral” is actually rather funny, even with its somewhat horrifying ending for Morton Silkline. I’m still wondering if he’ll cope or go nuts! It seems that Mister Asper always wanted to have a lovely funeral service.

From Shadowed Places” is a tale of hexes, curses, and belief. Dr. Jennings’ little girl is desperate for his help. Her husband, a “great white hunter”, is dying of no known causes and it seems that only an anthropologist can help him. One trained in the art of juju.

It would be interesting to see if Matheson had developed this further. I rather liked Dr. Jennings’ attraction to Dr. Lurice Howell. His “rational” scientific mind is warring with his experience and he is attracted to her own scientific mind and experiences.

Person to Person” is another bit of horror. This one of the mind. I still don’t understand it. It starts off so, hmmm, innocently is the only word I can imagine for Millman’s suspected tinnitus, but, the ringing simply continues and continues no matter what Millman tries. Part of the horror is being in pain and not being able to figure out why or what’s causing it. Then the destruction begins with the voices, the changing characters, Dr. Palmer’s skepticism, all the treatments which Millman tries. None of which seems to help. Then it rather falls apart towards the end. Part of me gets it, the other part is still thinking “huh, what??”.

The Cover and Title

The cover is yellows and browns with Will Smith as Robert Neville walking out of the city.

The title reflects the terror in which the vampires hold Robert Neville. A new superstition for this new world. I am Legend. The Dracula for this new age.


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