I AM LEGEND by RIchard Matheson

Richard Matheson is a tremendous horror writer. The book I Am Legend not only includes his novel I Am Legend -- one of the best, possibly the final vampire story ever -- but ten other short stories, all excellent.

While I Am Legend suffered the Will Smith action movie fate in the cinemas, the original story is one of science and psychology. In the "future" of 1976, Robert Neville may be the last human remaining on the planet. Every day he prepares, and every night his home is surrounded by vampires trying to get to him and kill or transform him. (One of them, Ben Cortman, continually shouts "Come out, Neville!")

The story of Robert Neville is far more than a simple us-versus-them conflict. We get inside the mind of this lone survivor, from his painful memories (losing a wife and child) to almost existential dread in a universe with no companionship and no hope. There's also the frustrated lust, the self-anger and survivor guilt, and the exploration into the cause, and possible cause, of vampirism. I Am Legend takes a thoroughly scientific view of the vampire, from how it spread so quickly to why garlic and sunlight are anathema to the creatures. I Am Legend is surprising, very moving (especially the ending), and a very new take on an old horror.

The short stories in I Am Legend are less detailed but very entertaining. There's a neurotic woman facing a killer Zulu doll. ("This is He Who Kills. He is a deadly hunter.") A strange carnival visitor has an unusual and frustrating talent. Some people of questionable mental stability do some monstrous things. Two stories even take on the funeral with a comic and disturbing flair. These stories, plus the title story, make I Am Legend a worthy read for any fan of horror.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

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