I'm a bit of a Stephen King nerd. He said this about the author and book:
I think the author who influenced me the most as a writer was Richard Matheson. Books like I Am Legend were an inspiration to me.
That praise was enough. Throw in Dean Koontz's claim that the book is "unputdownable" and you have a winner. I was very excited to read I Am Legend
Matheson didn't disappoint. I loved his scientific and psychological explanations for vampirism. And I suspect plenty of other authors like them too. Specifically, Mira Grant's scientific explanations for zombism in her excellent Newsflesh Trilogy
are more than a little reminiscent of Matheson's work.
For me, it's this imaginative, genre-transforming take on vampirism that explains the book's primary weakness. Near the midway point of I Am Legend
, several pages of scientific explanation--an extended, dry (but necessary?) infodump--interrupts the story's flow. Could Matheson have found a different, more flow-friendly way to share the information? Did he give too much scientific detail? I think so. (An example: "The thin walls of the blood capillaries permitted blood plasma to escape into the tissue spaces along with the red and colorless cells." That sentence alone's enough to bring a story to a screeching halt!) Granted, these explanations allow Masterson to take readers to interesting places toward the story's end. Still, I found the interruption to the narrative distracting.
This perceived weakness aside, there's so much to love about I Am Legend
. You've gotta love the complexity of main protagonist (and Byronic hero?) Robert Neville. His violent sexual urges, anger, and deep longing for meaningful relationships make him fascinating. His desperate reaching out to a wounded dog touched the hell out of me. I felt his ache for his dead wife and daughter, his crisis of meaning as a survivor. On the whole, I found myself liking Robert and wishing for his happiness.
Then there's Matheson's propensity for asking interesting questions. Would the symbol of a Cross have the same effect on Muslim and Christian vampires? What ethics are involved in human/vampire relations? What does trust mean in a plague-ridden world? Matheson provides plenty of opportunities for theological and philosophical speculation.
To avoid spoilers, I won't explain the why behind the closing lines of I Am Legend
. Let's just say it's both chilling and satisfying:
Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend.
Doubly awesome stuff. Really, what's not to love about an imaginative story that waits till the very end to explain its title? A worthy read, to say the least.