I Am Legend

written by Richard Matherson

There is no doubt that I was drawn to this book only because I had watched Will Smith's portrayal of Robert Neville in a post-apocalyptic world. A recent quote shared in GoodReads had further pushed me to seek this book. The book was the original masterpiece, which of course Hollywood had modified to provide an action oriented cinematic experience with Will Smith at the helm. Although most readers preferred the book's original narrative, I enjoyed the portrayal in both the book and the movie, with a higher bias towards the latter due to the dog.

One-liner intro: One of the earliest attempt to infuse science into a paranormal horror story.

Best part: Scientific thoughts in a paranormal (vampire) story, a slightly unexpected ending

Not-so-best part: Not as exciting; supposedly horror element is not as horrific; the dog which I loved from the movie is not as important

Synopsis: Vampire rules the world

Robert Neville could be the last man left alive that was not afflicted by the cause that turned everyone into a vampire. At least that was true in his area, since he was still staying in his house, barricading it from the bloodthirsty forces looking for ways to suck him dry every night. He had survived so far through resilience and resourcefulness, but his sanity was starting to wane, along with his will to live. To survive, he had to find a way to occupy his mind from diving into madness, and what better way to spend his time than to research with vampires? No, really, he really experimented on the vampires, making you wonder who was the true horror. More on this later.

Plot and style: Infusing science Resident Evil way

Please bear in mind that I watched the 2007 film and am biased towards the movie as the "original". Also bear in mind that the novel (more of a novella) was written in 1954, so the plot and style was suited to that era. The book did not end up being one of my favorite due to this reasons, so to the fans of the novel, please don't suck my blood dry for an unfavorable review...

Neville was not a scientist in this book (whereas Will Smith's portrayal was), so the scientific explanation was narrated as his attempt to read up and experiment on the vampires to occupy his deranging mind. While the scientific part was short, it was quite fun to understand how the modern day vampire still exhibited the same traits as the mythical version. As food for thought to the readers: the vampires would shun the cross just like how they react in the myth, but would a Jewish or Muslim vampire do the same?

A few burst of excitement punctuated the story, including a near death experience due to a mistake on Neville's part. These events served to let the reader empathize with what went on in a surviving man's mind, but does not serve to drive the story much further. In essence, the story would not swerve from its path even if these events did not happen.

My review is obviously biased after watching Will Smith's movie (image taken from IMDB).

The world was a post-apocalyptic one, the story occurring just months after the world started to descent into its current setting. Neville's past was told in bits and pieces of flashbacks that explained the lost of his wive and daughter amidst a world that had diverged from our known world into an already dying one. The flashbacks though did not reveal everything, leaving gaps for the reader to fill in with his imagination. This could leave one with frustration or with imaginative delight. Revealing everything can sometimes be boring.

Character: No dog

I will repeat again that I had seek out this novel only after watching the film. The dog's importance in Hollywood's portrayal cannot be undermined, and a few key crucial moments and aftermath were due to Neville's love for its companion, which had kept him sane despite him being the last survivor. The dog did play a small part in the novel, but it was brief and not very important, just a footnote in the protagonist's story.

Nevertheless, Neville is clearly the protagonist, and it was him that the story revolved around. It was also clear that Neville was a Robertson Crusoe surrounded by the sea of vampires. The comparison was inevitable as he had to be resourceful to survive while fending off the bloodsuckers. He did not have his Friday with him, and had to make do with researching on vampires to keep himself from giving up his life.

Side characters were relatively scarce, which I see as a plus point. This makes the story a highly focused one that is not bogged down with multitudes of characters that the reader struggled to remember. His wife and daughter were told in flashbacks and still influenced his actions within the story. There was also a vampire that always seek him out, injecting a little mystery into his life story.

Verdict: Not my favorite but still influential

Matherson was allegedly one of the first horror writers who tried to infuse science into paranormal, creating modern sci-fi horror story genre that included the likes of Resident Evil. It was by no means an exciting read, but I respected the fact that the era had been different.

His attempt to create something different had indeed spawned the current paranormal post-apocalyptic world building. Although his world was populated by vampires, it was clearly the blueprint of modern zombie apocalyptic stories, especially those which tried to include scientific rationale (*cough* Resident Evil *cough*).

While I was not thrilled by the book, I managed to gain an important satisfaction from reading the book. If you were wondering why the title was "I Am Legend" then our minds are alike. It was revealed at the end that the true horror was Neville, and while normally vampires were the legend feared by the mass, his experimentation with the vampires had led to the reverse, with him being branded as the feared legend among the vampires.

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