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I am Legend - Book Review
There's something about the idea of the undead that captivates us as people. Zombie apocolpyse, vampires, ghouls, ghosts, all the like. Why do you think many people dedicate one day a year to it? There's halloween, Dia de Los Muertos, and probably a lot of other customs in other cultures. But, what if the entire planet were replaced with a horde of undead warriors? What if you were the only "regular" person left?
This is exactly what Richard Matheson accomplished in his novel from 1954. Most of us are probably aware of the 2007 Will Smith movie based loosely off of this book. But when I was picking up books to read the other day, I realized this is one I needed to read. My initial reaction to this book was one of shock. By the end of the book, I couldn't believe how engrossed in the characters I had become.
We are introduced to Robert Neville, who has survived a series of events that has turned every bloke on the planet into a "vampire". Robert initially is only concerned with survival. He prepares garlic cloves and barred all access to his house. This doesn't stop a horde of vampires from coming to his house every night after the sun goes down to try to entice him to come out, to get a taste of his delicious blood. Everything, from the agony of listening to their whales, to the insanity that celibacy has driven him to. Yes, the female vampires are enticing to him...
Through a series of flashbacks, we find out events that has led up to not only the calamity, but why Robert is in the position he's in. I can't really give a good plot summary without ruining some of the best bits of the book. Suffice it to say, if you're the type that gets involved in characters, Robert with feel like a poor sap who has had to experience far more than any of us ever will. *Spoiler* Who of us will ever have to kill our spouses? *Spoiler*
There are a lot of things that this book really has going for it. For starters, Mr. Matheson has done a superb job making this character come alive. I'm sure one of the reasons why this is so is because there's only one character in the book. He didn't have to worry about developing supporting characters, and the antagonist is actually one big entity, rather than a single person or persons. I found myself nearly in tears reading what it's like to be so lonely, to have experienced so many things, only to find at every turn that life is just out to get you.
The pace of the book is also very well balanced. Usually we are introduced to a flashback that explains one particular aspect of what Robert is going through. Then there is an event that builds on the foundation created by the flashback. This book is so masterfully woven together that you can only imagine the hours Mr. Matheson must have spent agonizing over his typewriter, editing every last bit together. It shows.
However, even with the amazing flow of the book, there are a few plot holes. One of the most noticeable ones is how all of a sudden, Robert transforms from basic survivalist to near genius scientist. From my recollection, there isn't much of an explanation. I know he had some very demanding career earlier in his life, but nothing that was related to his experience. You can't learn how to be a chemist from books. If you can, well shoot I've gotten into the wrong business.
The way the disease is presented is interesting as well. I'll go ahead and throw another *spoilers* alert here. The disease resembles vampirism in pretty much the only format it "could" be possible. There is a germ that causes the disease. The germ is actually able to animate dead tissue. Something that I never did understand was the difference between the "dead" dead and the "living" dead. The former seems to be the group that goes on a rampage every night, the latter is actually an intelligent group, almost a society.
The germ also gives the vampires somewhat, superhuman powers. It acts as a glue which allows their parts to stay together. The reason why wood stakes was effective at killing them is very interesting. It wasn't even the wood stake itself. What happens is that the glue from the germs keeps the decaying process from happening. You know how flesh eventually decays? Well, the insides of the zombies are all decayed, it's just because the decay hasn't had oxygen to be able to completely decompose. Once the stake penetrates their skin, they almost disappear before your very eyes. Cutting of their hand works the same.
The rest of the symptoms were easily explained. Garlic is like an antibiotic to the germ. They can't go out in the day because their skin has lost all of their pigment. And the power of the cross was as simple as their past religious beliefs. The cross worked on some but not on others. This was because if a person was Christian before being a vampire, their subconcious told them that they were being punished by god in a hell. *End of spoilers*
This book also starts strong but doesn't end in the same manner as it
began. The way the book ends leaves no room for a sequel. You could
write about the new society that starts, but the world as we know it
ends. I was a little disappointed, but the book left me satisfied after I
finished reading it.
One of the problems with this book, is it's not really a post-apocolyptic, horror survivor story. At least that part of it wasn't the strongest part of the book. The bits involving the zombie attacks were sufficient to keep in pace with the story. But this book would have been better marketed as a story about isolation. I'm echoing a lot of the reviews I've read, however I must say that it's true. Robert experiences the ensuing loneliness, how he felt about losing his loved ones, and seeing people he knew as a regular human disappear in front of his eyes. You will sympathize with Robert not only as a character in a book, but someone you could imagine as a real person.
All in all, this book is good. I love books, and it takes a lot for something to top my list of likes. But this book is probably definitely in my top 20 list of books. If you can pick up a copy, I'd definitely say give it a read.