“I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson

This is classed officially as one of our SF Masterworks, up there alongside 2001, A Clockwork Orange, The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, et al. I specifically choose these examples from the list as they have all been adapted into films. This is no different. Originally released as The Omega Man (with Charlton Heston) and then more recently in the Will Smith version, it is shocking – literally, heartbreaking – that the films have completely missed the point of the book.

However. First things first.

Its a vampire novel; the bloodsuckers are for the most part antagonists sieging the poor Robert Neville, who is, as far as he can tell, the last living human being. Most of the book takes place in and around the walls of his house. Its set sometime in the not-so-distant future. Robert Neville struggles against mundanity and frustration to stay alive.

The most notable thing is the stark brutality of his existence. The narrative is blunt and point-of-fact. Almost summing up the first few chapters in bullet points, as we are taken slowly through Neville’s daily schedule, all culminating in the appearance of the monsters at around 6:30pm every night. It is with skill and even-now-unseen narrative expertise that Matheson creates a sense of tension and frustration even within the reader. You truly do feel under siege.

The sexual frustration that is described without taboo into the story is surprising; and yet very important to the whole thing. It is a rather accepted staple of Vampire lore – but explored differently in, for example, Dracula, where the sexuality is more along the lines of suave and romantic, as opposed to blunt and animalistic.

The ending of the novel, (and the explanation of the title), is well known to most. It basically turns the whole thing on its head, presenting a far different future than you might well have expected. Its easy now, upon finishing the book, to see its the only acceptable ending. Anything else would have appeared glamourised, or, worse, confusing. It may take a few re-reads of one particular paragraph to grasp it, but once you do, it will stick with you for hours afterwards.

Truly a classic, yes. I didn’t love it, by far; i struggled through the middle of the book – but i liked it and i will openly recommend it as a classic piece of sci-fi literature.

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