Review: I Am Legend

I Am Legend - Richard Matheson

I had to crawl out from under a rock to read this book.  I actually didn’t know the first thing about it beyond that it was supposed to be some sort of classic science fiction story.  If I had known what it was about, I might have saved it for another time.  I’m now realizing that the cover I shelved makes the content really obvious, but I rarely pay attention to the covers when I shelve a book.  I just shelve the first edition I find when I search for a title; I don’t like to waste time finding the precise edition I own.  I do start from the cover when I read my e-books, but the cover in my actual e-book edition is different and doesn’t give any clues.


Even without the cover cluing me in, it was pretty obvious to me within the first page, if not the first paragraph, that this would be a vampire story.  Actually, I thought it had more of a zombie feel to it, based on how most of the vampires behaved.  I have a limited tolerance for those types of stories, and I’d already read a zombie book earlier this year.  This book is only 160 pages though, so it’s a very quick read, and it held my interest.  The middle third of the book dragged a little for me, but I enjoyed the rest of it and became particularly interested in it toward the end. 


The story centers around one man, Robert Neville, who believes he’s the last normal human alive.  I thought Robert was a rather inconsistent character, sometimes making really dumb decisions and sometimes appearing pretty intelligent.  He’s an alcoholic, and he definitely has psychological issues.  This may all be pretty realistic considering the trauma he’s been through and the horrors he’s seen, but he’s the kind of character who tends to get on my nerves.  He reacts emotionally to everything, and usually in such a way that just makes things worse.


Despite the vampires, I do think this is more science fiction than fantasy.  The author tried to create scientific explanations for the condition of vampirism and our main character spends some time researching related topics to try to understand what happened.   I don’t know if those explanations would sound the slightest bit plausible to anybody with a medical background, but my own ignorance generated a reaction that was mostly along the lines of “Ok, sure, whatever.”


The book was written in 1954, but it really didn’t feel dated to me.  Actually, there were a few times when fictional events from the early to mid-1970’s were referenced and I did a double take, because I’d forgotten that the 1970’s were the future from the perspective of the author.  Other than that, there’s nothing much about the story that makes it feel dated.


The ending was interesting, but not terribly surprising for me because it was similar to the ending of another more recently-written book that I’ve read.  I don’t want to name that book for fear of spoiling the ending of either book for somebody who has read one but not the other, but I imagine people who have read both might know what I’m talking about.


Over all I enjoyed the story and, like I said, it’s a really fast read.  The main reason I’m not rating it higher is because it got pretty tedious in the middle and because the main character got on my nerves quite a bit.