I am not generally a Science Fiction or Horror reader, but I have been trying to expand my horizons a bit lately and read more widely than my usual British mystery. A few weeks ago, I heard an obituary for Science Fiction author Richard Matheson on NPR, and the fact that Matheson wrote The Incredible Shrinking Man (and the screenplay, which was a favorite at our house when I was a kid) and a dozen or so classic Twilight Zone episodes like "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and "Little Girl Lost" piqued my interest.
After hearing how his early novel I am Legend has been made into a movie three different times, I decided to give it a try. I chose the audiobook edition, (also available to download) narrated sonorously by Robertson Dean, and I have to say: It. Is. Awesome.
Robert Neville is the last man alive – at least the last man for as far as he can travel and still make it back home by sunset. By day, Neville gathers supplies, makes repairs, and, oh yes, kills vampires as they lay slumbering in their daytime coma. At night, his house, now his fortress, is buffeted by dust storms and the calls of the vampires who gather outside, taunting him and calling for him to come outside. The contrast between the mundane details of his daily life in the aftermath of the plague that took his wife and daughter along with the rest of civilization and the tension and horror of Neville’s encounters with the blood-thirsty vampires – some of them his former friends and neighbors – is chilling and exhilarating at the same time. Neville is a well-drawn character, who is fighting for his own survival, but is still able to feel some compassion for the vampires who clearly don’t return the favor.
Next up, I plan on watching all three movies: The Last Man on Earth stars Vincent Price, The Omega Man with Charlton Heston, and the more recent I Am Legend, starring Will Smith. I think my time would be better spent reading the book again or reading more Matheson classics, but I like the idea of seeing how this 1950’s novel was interpreted in the 1960’s, 1970’s, and then again in 2008.