January 23, 2008

I Am Legend

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Finished on 1/13/08
Rating: 2/5 (Below Average)
The Sci-Fi Experience 2008 #1

Book Description:

Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth...but he is not alone. Every other man, woman, and child on Earth has become a vampire, and they are all hungry for Neville's blood.

By day, he is the hunter, stalking the sleeping undead through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for the dawn.

How long can one man survive in a world of vampires?

After recently watching I Am Legend, starring Will Smith, I decided to read the novel for Carl's Sci-Fi Experience. I'm not sure what I was thinking. This isn't really science fiction. At least I wouldn't think so. It seems to fall more into the category of horror. Yes, it's a post-apocalyptic novel, yet the emphasis is more on the vampires than the disaster. However, since it was written in 1954 and set in 1976, I suppose it can be viewed as a work of science fiction.

This is one of those rare instances in which the movie is better than the book. I did not care for the novel at all. It felt dated, particularly the dialogue (yes, in addition to his internal thoughts, Neville -- in spite of having no one to speak to -- speaks out loud). It reminded me a bit of Earth Abides, with the continuous internal ruminations.

In addition to the title story, there are ten short stories included in the edition I read: "Buried Talents," "The Near Departed," "Prey," "Witch War," "Dance of the Dead," "Dress of White Silk," "Mad House," "The Funeral," "From Shadowed Places," and "Person to Person." Go here for a brief synopsis of each story (listed in the right-hand sidebar of the site).

I didn't particularly care for any of these stories (I've never been a big fan of short stories), although I suspect several will stick in my memory for a long, long time. A few are quite creepy (in an Outer Limits/Twilight Zone manner) and some have a darkly humorous feel.

I sure wish I felt the same as these folks:

One of the most important writers of the twentieth century - Ray Bradbury

The most clever and riveting vampire novel since Dracula - Dean Koontz

I think the author who influenced me the most as a writer was Richard Matheson. Books like I Am Legend were an inspiration to me. - Stephen King

About the Author (from Amazon.com):

In addition to novels in the mystery, science fiction, horror, fantasy, and western genres, Matheson has been a prolific writer of film and television scripts. He wrote the script for some of the most memorable episodes of The Twilight Zone, including "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (you remember -- William Shatner sees a gremlin on the wing of the plane...), "The Invaders," and "Little Girl Lost." He also wrote episodes of Have Gun, Will Travel, Night Gallery, and Star Trek (among them "The Enemy Within," in which Kirk is split into good and evil halves).

Several of Matheson's novels and stories have been made into films, including The Shrinking Man (filmed as "The Incredible Shrinking Man" in 1957), I Am Legend (filmed twice, once as "The Last Man on Earth" starring Vincent Price in 1964, and again as "The Omega Man" starring Charlton Heston in 1971), and Bid Time Return (filmed as "Somewhere in Time" starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour in 1980). Matheson also wrote the scripts for Stephen Spielberg's first feature film, Duel; the TV-movie The Night Stalker, which drew a record 75 million viewers on its first broadcast; and several of Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe films, including House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), and The Raven (1963).

Over a career spanning five decades, Matheson has won numerable prestigious awards, including the World Fantasy Convention's Life Achievement Award, the Bram Stoker Award for Life Achievement, the Hugo Award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, the Golden Spur Award, and the Writer's Guild Award. Born in New Jersey in 1926, Matheson has lived and worked in California since 1951.

I eagerly await the dvd release of this film. I loved watching it on the big screen, but it will be great fun to watch the bonus material. This goes high on my list of favorite movies. Don't miss it! The book, on the other hand, didn't impress me nearly as much.


  1. You are brave! My husband and son went to see this film, and they both came home saying how much I'd hate it (for the scary parts). I am interested in the book, though, because that seems easier to manage than the screem for me.

    I just loved Hugo Cabret. It's one of the best children's books I've picked up in a long time. Like I wrote for my Book a Week group, it's so nice to find an author for children who isn't trying to jump on the magic/wizard/Potter bandwagon. This book was so refreshing, and kept me intrigued until the end. I also loved how the pictures told so much of the story. Like a film? :)

  2. Ouch! And I was thinking of giving this book a try. I think I'll just watch the movie now!

  3. Will definitely check out the movie, but the book might stay at the bottom of the wishlist for a bit. lol

  4. I've never been able to finish I Am Legend. I read Stir of Echoes because I liked the movie, and it feels the same as you describe I Am Legend -- dated.

  5. Bellezza - Oh, I don't think it was terribly scary. OK, maybe just a little, but you can close your eyes for those parts. ;)

    I'm glad you loved Hugo Cabret. Wouldn't it me wonderful if Selznick did another "picture" book? I know I'd read it!

    Heather - I'm sending the book to Andi. Maybe when she's finished, she can pass it on to you. That is, unless she winds up lovin' it and doesn't want to part with it.

    Andi - The book's in the mail (well, on Monday)! Enjoy!

    Katya - Oh, good. I'm glad I'm not the only one who struggled with the book. I think I'll pass on Stir of Echoes.

  6. Darn, I was hoping you'd like it. I'm pretty sure I've got a copy in the stacks. I really enjoyed Matheson's short stories.

  7. Nancy - I actually liked the short stories better than I Am Legend. Some were really creepy!

  8. Anonymous5:33 AM

    I liked this book, and hmm, I thought it aged pretty well. Only the record player stuck out in my mind as being obsolete. While the ending seems a bit too twilight zone era for me, I appreciated this book because it left alot of imagining to the reader.

  9. Kat - I'm surprised it didn't feel more dated. My husband doesn't agree, but I didn't notice it nearly as much as with other books written in the fifties. Ah, the record player... my daughter (born in '83) had a long discussion with my husband about record albums one Christmas while shopping in Target when she was about five. She had no idea what a record was, nor did she know what a record player looked like. Poor, deprived child!! ;)

  10. I actually really liked the story and would consider it science fiction, even with the vampire element. The movie was good, especially considering they didn't give it a typical Hollywood ending, but I would have to say that I felt similar to the other authors in the way I enjoyed the story when I read it. It may help having read it years and years before the film came out. I saw the old Vincent Price version, The Last Man on Earth, and then read the book and I found the book very interesting. I have the same version as the one you have pictured here but have never bothered to read the other stories in the book. Legend was what I was after at the time.

  11. Carl - I wonder what my reaction to the book would've been had I not seen the movie (or read the book so soon after viewing the movie). Looking back, I'm certainly not sorry I read I Am Legend (or some of the short stories in the book). I still find myself thinking about various scenes, so that says something about the quality of writing.

    I'll have to rent The Last Man on Earth and see how it compares to the Will Smith version.

  12. I don't know that I'd have liked the book as well if I'd seen the movie first, but coming to it fresh, I enjoyed it. Vampire-lore always interests me from Coleridge and Le Fanu to Stoker and beyond.

    I read one short story and skimmed some of the others, but didn't like them much.


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