A while back when I watched the Will Smith movie version of I AM LEGEND and posted about it, several people recommended that I read Richard Matheson’s source novel, something that I’d been meaning to do. Well, now I have, and everybody was right: other than the fact that it’s also relentlessly depressing, it’s really different from the movie, and really good, too.
No need to go into the plot. Most of you already know it. Two things impressed me about the book. One is how well it works as both horror and well-thought-out science fiction. I’m sure there have been other novels that achieved such a mixture, but right off-hand, I can’t think of any that accomplished it as well. The other thing that stands out for me is the sheer readability of Matheson’s prose. I was sitting there reading along, and I suddenly realized that I’d read seventy or eighty pages in what seemed like no time at all. In these days when I have to slog through too many books where the writing just doesn’t compel me to go on, an experience like that is rare. I’m not enough of a technician to pinpoint exactly how a writer does that, either. A lot of hard work and a little magic, I suspect.
That's the original edition pictured above. I read the edition of the novel that was issued as a tie-in with the recent movie, and it’s a good deal because you get not only the novel but also ten of Matheson’s excellent short stories, ranging from the Fifties to the Eighties. Several of these I remember reading when they first came out, but I enjoyed reading them again. Among them is “Prey”, originally published in PLAYBOY, which was adapted into a TV-movie featuring Karen Black and a vicious little African doll with a knife. Like a lot of people who were around in the Seventies, I remember that movie very vividly, but I had forgotten that it was based on a Matheson story.
I suspect that most of you reading this have already read I AM LEGEND. If you haven’t, I highly recommend it. A grim but excellent book.
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