Friday, December 18, 2009

I Am Legend

I Am Legend was a brilliant story conceived by a serial science fiction writer. I really enjoyed reading it. I think Matheson, like so many other sci-fi writers (including a household favorite, Dick), create and create and sometimes come away with a flash of supremely worthy material.

The story's novella length was perfect. The style was not embellished; Dick did not try to milk his story for more than it was worth. We read just enough about Robert Neville to sympathize and route for him. Whenever he twinked out his pad I cheered for him. And I got tense when he realized his watch no longer worked. Matheson treaded the line between short story (of which he has numerous) and full novel really well. I think he correctly identified that character development was crucial for this story, where as his other stories can rely more on bursts of cleverness and captivating twists.

That said, I think this novel was exceptionally clever - I think Matheson stumbled upon a story that captures the eternal "us and them" struggle that has contributed much to humanity's history. After reading his other stories - which seemed content to not allude to the human narrative - I wonder if Neville's grey struggle to make a place for himself and to create a new personal identity was planned or accidental.

And this leads me to why I appreciated the book so much. Neville became the terror that "we" associate with vampires! All cultures are fraught with lore of supernatural creatures of horror an threat. Europe has long been obsessed with vampires. Matheson drew deeply from that tradition, and brilliantly reversed it in the closing segment. All of the "new society" were terrified of Neville. While they hid from the sun Neville would creep upon them and coldy, methodically murder them. The reader spends the whole book hoping Neville can kill enough of them and keep others at Bay long enough for some salvation. The final scene most wholly offers a salvation, but not so much for Neville. And from then on Neville becomes the legend of the new society. You'd better tidy your room before bed or Robert Neville will come get you!