Friday, December 04, 2015

Review: I Am Legend

WARNING: Spoilers Below. The very short review: this is a great book that's absolutely worth reading. Now go, read it (or listen to it, as I did) then come back and give me your comments.

Saying I Am Legend by Richard Matheson is good book is like saying Hamlet is a good play. Duh. If the book itself weren't good enough, it apparently launched a new genre of horror fiction, and many of the modern zombie and horror classics can be traced back to it. Here's a few parts of the book that struck me as impressive:

1. The scientification of Vampires. This key theme of the book, that Vampire behavior isn't just supernatural but can be explained using "science" definitely helped make it a page turner. How can the author explain the fear or garlic or dislike of crosses in physiological terms? It gets more impressive when you consider this was one of the first books to do this, even though the practice is now common (if not expected).

2. Some questions get answer, some don't. As mentioned, the book tries to explain why vampires behave the way they do. It also touches on bigger questions like why should the last man on Earth keep living? This question never fully gets answered, which to me seems totally appropriate. Finding that balance of what to provide closure on, and what to leave open, is just so key.

3. It's all about the loneliness. One of the main themes of the book is how one deals with the immense loneliness of being the last man on Earth. This part of the book gets awfully messy, which is sort of the point. I kept wanting to tell the main character to pull it together and make a plan, but that's easy for me to say. The book reminded me of the recent reality show Alone. It's a reality show, so take this with a grain of salt. But the original thought was that the show would be about outdoor skills and which contestant can best execute them. Instead, it turned into a cry fest as the primary challenge became dealing with the massive loneliness that the underlying scenario brought about. Hence the name Alone. The 30 56 days or so folks spent in the woods alone maps surprisingly neatly to the years the main character endures.

4. The book ages surprisingly well. The book is set in the 1970's and reads as quite plausible for the time period. There's talk about air conditioners and germ theory and other concepts that seem appropriately modern. I would have believed you if you told me the book was written in the 70's or last year. In fact, it was published in 1954. I find that remarkable, and wonder how the author managed to give just enough tech references to keep the book relevant, but not step into any traps. The fact that this is one individual living alone does explain why older tech like record players and movie projectors make sense over more modern items like stereos and TVs. Without a society to send out content on radio waves, there would be nothing to receive. Still, it's well done. And of course it shows that the themes of survival and loneliness are universal. It all reminded me of 1984, another novel that ages just as gracefully.

5. What a well played ending. Yes, I managed to figure out the plot twist before the last few pages. But still, so well done. I love a book that messes with your perspective on the world so entirely.

If you still haven't read the book, go do so.

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