I Am Legend
By Richard Matheson
Kindle ASIN: B00514HDNW
Genre: Science Fiction
Robert Neville has witnessed the end of the world. The entire population has been obliterated by a vampire virus. Somehow, Neville survived. He must now struggle to make sense of everything that has happened and learn to protect himself against the vampires who hunt him constantly. He must, because perhaps there is nothing else human left.
*I have shortened this synopsis as it is unnecessarily lengthy, and I feel it reveals a key element better left to discovery.
I Am Legend has been on my list for years. I am not sure why I let it go for as long as I have. I enjoyed both films greatly, although I hold a particular fondness for Omega Man (1971) with Heston. I feel it holds a bit truer to the actual book, but there are a few more adaptations in existence (so I am told).
I Am Legend follows protagonist Robert Neville after a plague has swept through, claiming the entirety of mankind and leaving nothing but vampiric beings in its wake. It is the end of times. Yet somehow, Neville remains. Alone and outnumbered, he must fight for survival and try to establish a life of solitude.
I want to note that for a brief portion of this story I actually listened to the audio book narrated by Robertson Dean. I can safely recommend it, as I found the narrator’s tone to be reminiscent of the actual film, Omega Man. It was nostalgic. So If you are in search a shorter audio book, this might be an ideal option. You could certainly knock this one off of your TBR in a matter of hours.
Where to start? This is a brilliant read! Cleverly disguised as your run-of-the-mill science fiction, I Am Legend delivers a reading experience that goes well beyond the expected. This is not just a mere story of a virus and mankind’s end. This is a keen observation of humanity through the eyes of one desperate and desolate human being.
“He stood there for a moment looking around the silent room, shaking his head slowly. All these books, he thought, the residue of a planet’s intellect, the scrapings of futile minds, the leftovers, the potpourri of artifacts that had no power to save men from perishing.”
Our main character is everything you would come to expect him to be. He is angry. He is despairing. And he is forever seeking answers and solutions. It is through Neville that we exposed to the horrors of what it is to be the last surviving human. The psychological ramifications are endless, and I feel that the 3rd person narration seen through Neville’s eyes conveys this appropriately with well-timed emotional responses and outburst. The sense of desperation is forever present in his relentless studies and efforts to find a cure, a solution. The loneliness is experienced through his need to reside within his own memories of his wife and a life that was. The added element of his alcoholism and sporadic actions expose his weakness and ineffective coping, reminding us once again that this is more than a science fiction story.
The writing is very impressive when you take into account that I Am Legend was originally published in 1954 and set with a futuristic Los Angeles during 1976. While the pace is somewhat slow, it is consistent and aids well in setting the atmosphere. I feel that it was a brazen decision on the author’s part to create a single character and leave him to his own devices while providing the reader with limited insight through the chosen narration. It is easy to see why this book has influenced multiple films. By the time you have completed Neville’s journey, I Am Legend will evoke a different type of fear that is very human and very real.
“Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend.”
This is an ideal read for fans of the films, post apocalyptic settings and titles that take an abstract approach to exploring humanity. I found this to be a very solid first encounter with Matheson’s work, and it will certainly not be the end of the line in this new relationship. I walked away from I Am Legend with a real sense of why he is such a prolific name in science fiction.