Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How quickly one accepts the incredible if only one sees it enough!

I've wanted to check out the book I Am Legend by Richard Matheson for awhile now. Well at least since the movie came out and I heard not only what the original ending was but the typical refrains of "The book is soooo much better." I was happy then, to see that an ecopy of this book was on sale through Amazon. Plus it fits in nicely with the horror theme of the month, so there's another win.

The premise is what intrigued me to both see the movie and read the book. The main character, Robert Neville, is the seemingly last man on Earth. A pandemic has swept the nation turning all those that are infected into these vampire/zombie hybrid things and for whatever reason Neville is immune. His days are spent on survival: repairing any damage to his home/fortress, stocking up on supplies, making stakes, peeling garlic, killing the vampires and looking for any signs of uninfected life. He is tormented by the vampires each night as they surround his house, taunting him to come out. He's in a deep depression, pretty understandably so, and has no joy, not even in disposing of the infected bodies, both those that are completely taken over by the disease, and those who are somewhat still alive but will succumb eventually.
*This part is a bit spoiler-y. Though I knew it before hand and I don't think it ruined anything. But decide for yourself*
After years of this solitary vampire slayer life he learns that those who are infected but still alive have figured out a way to live with the disease and they view him as a threat because he keeps spending his days killing everyone. That's when he realizes that he's actually the anomaly and he is the legend of their nightmares (hence the story's title).  So really, the spoiler is kind of right there in the title.
*Spoilers contained*

 Here's the thing, I wish the book was written by someone else. I love the idea of the book, I think it's a great story. I just hated the execution of it. You don't get a lot of insight into the characters. I suppose it makes sense you don't get too much about the vampires, including Ben Corman, Neville's old friend. But it would have been nice if Neville was a fully rounded out character. And then there's all the pseudo-science thrown in that does nothing to explain anything going on. It mostly felt like Matheson had come across a medical encyclopedia and decided to thrown lots of terms at his story. I can accept a lot of "realities" from a story, including one where zombie/vampires take of the world. But when you try to throw some jargon at me and explain that Neville is immune because a vampire bat bite him when he was in Panama, I loudly yell "bullshit" and start laughing. I don't mind pseudo-science in my horror/sci-fi stories. I expect there to be some. I just don't expect it to be so obviously bad.

Also Neville is constantly drinking. I don't have a problem with this, nor does it seem unusual that a very depressed person who is the last living man on earth, would spend a good amount of his time drunk. Or actually, he ends up drinking very little because he spends most of the time spilling it onto the floor or pouring it into a glass, only to then throw the glass at a wall. Somewhere in this desolate world is an unending supply of whiskey and bar glasses. I think the drinking was a shortcut to try to show depth of the character but unfortunately it didn't work. It could have worked, maybe with a different author.

There is one scene that worked. Or at least worked better than the others. One day Neville sees a dog wandering about during the daylight and over the next few weeks he slowly gains the dog's trust. It's so simple but you can feel Neville's desperation to connect with any living thing.

So there you go: interesting premise that I wish I could have seen a different author take on.

Title quote from location 910

Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. RossettaBooks, 2011. Kindle copy. Originally published 1954.