Monday, January 07, 2008

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

(book review)

Another book that corresponds to a recently released Hollywood movie. And like "The Golden Compass", the timing is not entirely a coincidence.
It happened like this: I was sitting around with a bunch of guys discussing recent movies, and the talk turned to "I Am Legend". Several people (myself included) thought the previews looked pretty cool and wanted to see it. A couple other people had already made a trip down to Fukuoka cinemas to check it out.

There was, as there always is in these conversations, someone who was complaining about how the book was so much better than the movie. "I loved the book," he said, "but the movie was a huge disappointment. The book had a great shocking ending, but the movie didn't have the nerve to go with the original ending."

It was of course tempting to dismiss this as the usual holier-than-thou "I've read the book and you haven't" type dialogue. But I decided that in my 29 years of life I have watched way too many movies, and read way too few books. So the next time I was in Fukuoka I resisted the temptation to go to the cinemas, and spent my money on the book instead.

First observation: the actual "I Am Legend" story is incredibly short. At only 160 pages, it walks the line between short story and novella.
The paperback I bought (the movie tie-in edition with Will Smith on the cover) fills out the rest of the book with various short stories by Richard Matheson. But, in a slightly dishonest marketing campaign, they don't acknowledge this anywhere on the book cover. It's not sold as "I Am Legend and other stories" but "I Am Legend". It wasn't until I got the book home that I discovered that only half of the book was actually "I Am Legend".

The "I Am Legend" story itself is a remarkably good read. And just about the right length as well. Long enough to get involved in the story and characters, short enough to be able to finish in a couple days.
It's a vampire story, although several of the vampires in the book seem to share more characteristics with the Zombies. The are two stories in the book: one is Robert Neville's struggle to survive, the other story is how the world got covered with Vampires in the first place (told in flashback). Both stories are delightfully eerie and told with just the right combination of the ordinary and the macabre. The book almost reads like a Stephen King book, even though it was published in 1954. (And in fact Stephen King has acknowledged Richard Matheson as one of his major influences).

And what an ending! The last two chapters put the whole rest of the book in a completely different light.

As I read this book I was reminded at times of an old Charleton Heston movie I saw a few years ago called "The Omega Man". And it's no wonder, because it turns out (according to wikipedia) "The Omega Man" is based off of "I Am Legend".

The rest of the book is padded out with various short stories; some of better quality than others.
I'm reminded of what Whisky Prajer wrote on his blog a few weeks back: Nobody wants to read short stories. And I'd certainly include myself in this group. I've never been a short story fan. You just start getting into it, and then it's over already, and you have to go through the work of getting involved in the plot of the next story.

Still, I found myself enjoying a few of them. And the book was still worth purchasing because of the original: "I Am Legend" story.

Link of the Day
United States among Worst Surveillance Societies

1 comment:

inertbat said...

"I am Legend" is on my must-see list, and The Prestige is another one that I've been meaning to see for a while. I didn't know anything about I Am Legend, but the title sounds cool. So I guess it's about vampires, eh? Good stuff.