Synopsis: 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 Am Legend was a major influence in horror and brought a whole new thematic concept to apocalyptic literature. Several humanistic and emotional themes in this book blend the horror genre with traditional fiction: we see Neville as an emotional person, and observe as he suffers bouts of depression, dips into alcoholism and picks up his strength again to fight the vampiric bacteria that has infected (and killed off) most of humankind. Neville soon meets a woman, Ruth, (after three years alone), who seems to be uninfected and a lone survivor. The two become close and he learns from Ruth that the infected have learned to fight the disease and can spend short amounts of time in the daylight, slowly rebuilding strength and society as it was.
Being the big fan of horror that I am, I am always searching for new authors of the genre to read. Some are bad, most are enjoyable. Occasionally I get the chance to go back and discover one of the classic authors -- one of the true pioneers. In this case, that author is Richard Matheson.
Matheson was a name I had heard tossed around for years. He was one of those authors I knew I was going to read someday, but I always had other things to read and it always escaped my mind. This Christmas I got a Kindle Fire and was shopping around on the Kindle Store, and lo and behold, I saw classic horror tale I Am Legend for a mere $4.99. Having heard this was supposed to be a horror classic -- heck, I'd heard it was one of the scariest novels ever written -- I grabbed it (and a few other Matheson titles which I will be reading in the coming weeks and months) up and started reading. Almost 72 hours later I am done with Matheson's short vampire novel, so what did I think of it?
I liked it. I really, really liked it. I wasn't terrified by it as some online reviewers claim to have been, but the whole enchilada did creep me out a good deal. The star of the show is Robert Neville, witness of the end of the world which came on via plague. The rest of the world's population (or, at least, Neville assumes the rest of the world) has turned into vampires -- creatures of the night -- and their society is quickly growing. Because of this, Robert Neville (who is immune to the plague because of a certain incident that happened to him before the outbreak) is becoming the loneliest man on earth whose only companions during the story are a dog he tries to take in and a woman who stays with him for a short while. He spends his days and nights barricading his home -- the home he once shared with his wife and daughter, now both dead -- and listening to the screams of vampires outside, beckoning him. Creepy, isn't it?
While I didn't think this novel was particularly frightening, it was rather melancholy. This novel goes at the vampire theme from a different angle than most other novels of this kind do. Typically there is a group of survivors working together to kill off the bloodsucking creatures, but Robert has to do it alone. He becomes interested in the scientific aspects of vampirism -- how do they live? what, exactly, causes vampirism? etc -- which is something not often seen in stories like this. I rather enjoyed that, and it was a good touch on Matheson's part. As well, the ending was much darker (and somehow pretty comical) than I was expecting, which I really appreciated. It made the phrase "I am legend" a bittersweet one.
All in all, I really liked this short novel. It was a quick, pleasurable read that had me constantly reading further to find out what happened next. While I was a little disappointed that it turned out to not be the fright-fest I had heard it touted as, I still thought it was a really strong story. This is necessary reading for any horror fan.