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BOOK REVIEW - RICHARD MATHESON -  I AM LEGEND 1954 – Orion SF Masterworks Series. 

 

A classic near perfect mixture of Science Fiction and Horror, in which a plague of vampirism decimates the world, leaving only one man, Robert Neville alive.  The plague has natural explanations as opposed to supernatural ones. Every aspect of the vampiric curse is given a testable theory. The condition is seen as a medical complaint rather than a variation on demonic possession. The hero, a lonely, half crazed figure, struggles through his lonely existence. By day he seeks out the vampires and destroys them, mostly by fire. As he has already killed those close to home, he has to travel further afield with each night, which makes it difficult for him to reach his well-barricaded fortress of safety before nightfall.  After dark, the vampires attack him, and heir assaults become increasingly ingenious. This aspect of the story is handled well, with non-intrusive flashbacks showing the hero’s memories of the world before and during the plague. His own survival is owed ingeniously to him having been bitten by a vampire bat, in his youth, and thus being immunized to the ravages of the plague. His wife is less fortunate, succumbing like so many others.  With the increasingly desperate authorities demanding that all victims be burned in vast fire pits, Neville finds himself unable to comply. He buries his wife, and later hears her knock on his door in a truly terrifying sequence. Later, Neville takes time from serving as a one-man extermination squad to seek answers to why the vampires came. His study leads him to find a cure. It is at this time that he also stumbles on another survivor, a woman who befriends him, but something seems wrong in the way she approaches him. Neville discovers too late that she is in fact a vampire herself.  She has been experimenting with short forays into daylight to immunize her against the burning effects the Sun has on her kind. Now she uses this evolved, adapted skill to trap Neville and lure him to his death. His cure rejected, Neville realizes that his ability to kill the vampires has given them a certain reverence and awe to him, but that their weight of numbers makes it now inevitable that the world has become their own. He accepts his death, and his status in their mythology. He is killed with a large spike, as he reflects on how they will remember him. I am Legend is his last words. An intelligent book, filmed three times, but only once with its original title. The Vincent Price version, The Last Man On Earth was a faithful adaptation, while the Charlton Heston led The Omega Man proves less so, but the book has a power and imagination that is as legendary as its own hero. The Will Smith version (retaining the title) changes the ending considerably.  http://www.sfsite.com/02b/iam98.htm

 

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