Friday, March 26, 2010

Book 18: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Robert Neville is the last man on Earth. At least, that's his assumption. A plague has infected the world's population and turned everyone into vampires. Even the dead have returned to life and seek blood. As the last man, Neville is stalked every night by the undead. He has turned his home into a fortress, keeping himself safe behind boarded up windows and rings of garlic. By day, he leaves his home to hunt and kill the infected.

He follows this routine of hunting and hiding, day after day, for several years, until he questions his reasons for wanting to stay alive in a world full of the undead. Finally, he gives himself a purpose for living. He decides to figure out exactly what caused the vampiric infection and how to cure it. Along the way, he meets a woman, Ruth, who appears to also be alive like him. He brings her back to his house and as they talk about their lives before the plague and discuss his theories on the plague, he grows suspicious and begins to wonder if she is infected and simply hasn't changed yet. So he tests her blood and gets his answer, but it is not the one he wanted, and he never could have imagined what she has in store for him.

I've seen "The Omega Man" and "I Am Legend," two of the four different movies based on this novel. While both movies draw from the story, they both contain significant changes to the details of the book, like what causes the changes and how things end. It was interesting to see the differences, but it seems to me that both adaptations ignored the main theme of the story. In Neville's mind, the infected are monsters, deadly creatures who must be destroyed. But to those who are infected but not fully changed, Neville himself is the monster, killing those who were both undead and those who were alive when infected without bothering to determine the difference. He is the monster, and as such must be destroyed, and his deeds will pass into legend (hence the title).

This is the first of Matheson's work that I've read. A lot of his works have been adapted into movies and tv shows: "What Dreams May Come," "Stir of Echoes," "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" from the Twilight Zone. I can see why his stuff's been optioned again and again - he has some fantastic ideas here. However, the fulfillment of said ideas sometimes falls a little flat. And there were interesting flashbacks that went nowhere - what happened to his daughter, Kathy? How close were he and Ben Cortman? What happened when his wife, Virginia, showed up at his door after he'd buried her? Overall, it's an enjoyable read, and a good addition to my apparently end-of-the-world/dystopian themed CR.

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