Richard Matheson is considered the father of modern-day zombie literature, as he published I Am Legend in the 1950s. With the recent rise in zombie-pocalypse culture as well as the god-forsaken Twilight nonsense, I Am Legend was adapted in to a movie a few years back, starring Will Smith as Robert Neville.
First: the book is very, very different than the movie. Surprisingly, the book focuses very little on horror, gore and bloodshed, and rather on the psychology of a man as he comes to grips with the fact that he is the last of his species on earth. Robert Neville lives in a fortress of a house in suburban LA, scavenging from his environment and killing hibernating vampires during the day and alone with his thoughts as he hears the undead around his house at night. The first 100 or so pages move rather slowly, as you learn about Neville and his world through his own reflection and introspection.
It is rather short, checking in at around 160-170 pages in total. Additionally, the edition I bought from Barnes and Noble also had six or seven of Matheson’s more well-known short stories. These vary in quality, and are much more in the classic horror genre than I Am Legend.
Neville is a complicated character, much more developed than his movie counterpart. Heavily scarred by the catastrophe that took mankind, he tries to keep his humanity in a completely inhuman world. A distinct difference between the movie and book is that the zombies are not mindless killing machines, but rather somewhat intelligent beings. Neville is especially affected by the taunts of the female zombies, that flash him lewdly in an attempt to get him to leave the safety of his house. It is definitely an idea: his loneliness, his fear, his crushing depression, that is more developed in the book.
If you enjoy books that question what is human, a la Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, you will love this book. I won’t ruin the ending, but the final 10 pages is a fury of action and enlightenment that will leave you breathless. It doesn’t have the sensuality or suspense that Stoker’s Dracula had, or the sense of adventure of Shelley’s Frankenstein, but Matheson’s I Am Legend is a calculated look at what makes a human, what makes a vampire and will you wondering which is which.