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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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My first experience with I am Legend came from the luke warm Will Smith movie, despite being an avid reader I wasn't aware that it was even originally a novel until a friend pointed it out to me and thankfully it is much more enjoyable. The book revolves around a man named Robert Neville, he's no hero, soldier or scientist, just a regular guy, he's only special because he seems to be the last human being alive after a disease has turned everyone else into some kind of vampire. Robert survives by taking advantage of the day/night cycle a vampire lives by while boarding up and barricading his house using garlic to keep them out.

I have seen this book labled as Horror/Sci-fi but I would throw a good dose of psychology in there too. Robert's loneliness and Isolation having no companion or even anyone to talk to drive him to the brink at times. The despair, paranoia, anger and monotony of life cause him to sometimes give up, other times they seem to be what keep him going. This book isn't so much about vampires but being locked in Robert's house with him. Robert isn't necessarily a likeable protagonist, some of his thoughts get especially dark but he is a survivor and the book covers a few years as he struggles to keep his hummanity and his mind by attempting to research what the cause of the vampyrism is without really knowing what he is doing.

It works very well as Robert is the sole focus of the book it allows Matheson to really delve into his psyche as well as use flashbacks at times to build on how the world came to be quite how it is. The first half sets up how Robert survives, Matheson manages to make mundane things surprisingly interesting while the second half sees Robert having really accepted his fate, living almost emotionlessly in routine. I especially liked the ending, a rather clever final couple of chapters, a perspective shift if you will which ties things up rather nicely.

The film bears little resemblence to the excellent book, I highly recommend people to give this a try.

+ You can really feel Neville's isolation and loneliness.
+ Good build up of suspense.
+ Dark yet engrossing.
+ Neville is splendidly written.
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on 5 October 2002
I know it sounds like a bunch of cliches but this book gripped me so much I couldn't put it down and read it in just a few hours. A sometimes bleak study of the human condition it is also engrossing, thought-provoking and moving. It is also one of the few "horror" novels out of hundreds I have read that have genuinely scared me.
Basically it is the story of Robert Neville, the lone survivor of a plague that sends its victims into a coma, followed eventually by death and vampirism. By day Neville hunts sleeping plague victims and vampires and disposes of them in the traditional manner. By night he locks himself away while hordes of vampires attack his well-defended house. Eventually he seeks scientific explanations for the causes of vampirism and tries to find a cure. In that respect I think the story must have been an influence on the Blade comics and movies (just don't expect hi-tech weapons, martial arts and cool shades!!).
As Neville becomes more resigned to his situation, and gradually gets used to the nightly attacks of vampires on his well-defended house, so does the reader. The vampires become almost incidental and the writing focusses more on Neville's thoughts and preoccupations. Until, that is, Neville loses track of time and gets caught outside, miles from home at nightfall. It is a testament to Matheson's writing that at this point the thought of being in Neville's position and having to run the gauntlet of vampires waiting for him outside his only safe haven is truly terrifying!
The pseudo-scientific explanations for the characteristics of vampirism seem a little silly, especially the "body glue", but these are really incidental to the story, as is the futuristic 1970's setting, and you shouldn't let these put you off.
I would recommend this book to anyone.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 June 2016
This is a short yet excellent book - depicting an apocalypse. It appears that every human being on the planet has been infected by a contagion and died ... all but one. Robert Neville has survived. And now he's all alone on Earth. That is, aside from the hordes of vampires that come out at night, desperately seeking Neville's blood. This is the story of one man as he comes to terms with being the Last Man, after pandemic - causing vampirism - spread across the globe. Author Richard Matheson brought his 'horror' and 'sci-fi' talents to bear, creating a wonderfully original tale that stands as an equal to the very best in such genres. Matheson was a superb writer - providing us with such stories as 'Hell House' (1971) (filmed as 'The Legend of Hell House') and 'Bid Time Return' (1975) (filmed as 'Somewhere in Time'), as well as writing 16 episodes of 'The Twilight Zone. The novel 'I Am Legend' is amongst his best works - and it's been hugely popular ... so much so that it's been adapted to film at least three time: as 'The Last Man on Earth' (1964), 'The Omega Man' (1971), and 'I Am Legend' (2007).

It's unfortunate that none of the film version adequately express the vampire-apocalyptic storyline. In the novel, Neville - who suffers from loneliness, depression and alcoholism - decides to understand what is the cause of the affliction, and after much research he discovers a strain of bacteria that result in vampirism. Furthermore, he finds out why these creatures are affected by garlic, mirrors, and crosses ... And it's this process of discovery that's most interesting.

Neville's spends his days slaughtering the sleeping vampires. He systematically travels around the city destroying the undead - as they in a catatonic state during daylight hours. As the years pass, Neville becomes something to be feared ... he's the Man who stalks the day, who relentlessly kills those who sleep. From the perspective of the vampires, it's Neville who's a monster. And, as a new vampire society emerges from the ruins of the old, Neville is entirely out of place. And so, from his own standpoint, he realises what he has become: a legend.

It's excellently written, with a fast - too fast! - pace. While the vampirism is fascinating to read about (especially the way Neville discovers what's going on), it's the apocalyptic aspects - of the Last Man - that are most engaging. Neville is losing his mind ... almost driven to suicide by loneliness. Overall, it's a brilliantly executed story. I highly recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon 30 July 2002
It is hard to think or a darker book - Richard Neville is the last man alive the rest of the population turned into vampires by a mysterious bug. By day he scavanges the deserted city and seeks out sleeping vampires to kill, while at night he sits in his fortified house listening to the vampires howl for his blood.
But this isn't just a excuse for horror, it a novel about the nature of man which will make you think as well as scaring you.
Written in 1954 this is a timeless classic - I wonder if Matheson now regrets the then so futuristic 1970s setting - it is the only thing that dates the book. An influence on so many others, Steven King and George Romero for a start. This should be on any list of great novels of the 20th century.
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on 27 September 2006
The Millenennium SF series is a bit of mixed bag of so called 'classic' and seminal sci-fi of the 20th century. 'I Am Legend' rightly deserves it's place in that list but not necessarily as a sci-fi novel. But it's a bit of a curate's egg. In fact it's not even a horror novel per se. There's a blend of sci-fi, post-apocalyptical musings ( more so in the movie based loosely on the book), some horror of course. But this novella is more a psychological examination of what it's like to be the last man alive. Matheson is an expert at leading us into the mind of a man without the companionship of his fellows. I won't spoil the plot as there are some brilliant and unexpected twists but the chapters concerned with Neville's discovery of a dog, company he has craved for for three years, is stunning and I defy anyone not to be moved to tears. I love the film, which is why I bought the book initially, but after reading it I'm afraid Heston et al missed out on a better adaptation. Near perfect.
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on 19 May 2009
I hadn't heard of Richard Matheson's post-apocalyptic novella until the film adaptation came out. After seeing that somewhat messy movie, I was inspired to seek out the source novel. Now, I think it's always better to watch a film version of a novel first, as it's usually less frustrating; the book is dark, eerie and ultimately harrowing, and I was gripped by Matheson's prose and couldn't put it down until I'd finished it. I would definitely recommend this novella to Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans and to those who simply like to read quality fiction. This edition is a reasonable price on here too.
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on 22 October 2006
I bought this because it was number two in the masterworks series, which has been a goldmine of excellent science fiction: Gateway, Forever War etc.

I was a little dubious about reading a vampire book. I went through a bit of a phase as a teenager, and it had all been a bit cheesy and romanticised, more about the costumes than horror. I also read Dracula many years ago and was decidedly underwhelmed. This, was however, unexpectedly excellent.

Reading this novel is a little like being locked inside the main characters small shuttered house, with occasional forays into the sunlit world outside. This is because at first the only knowledge of the world you have is through his fear, and his hatred of the vampires; but gradually this is added to by his recollections of the past, of his realisations about the world he is now living in. This mirroring between the reader's knowledge and the main character's world is an excellent method of creating empathy with a character with whom you are not always meant to agree, but are at least expected to comprehend his choices.

The vampires of this world are not a mythical, and mysterious creation, but a scientific fact and undeniable truth in John Neville's world. This makes them both more frightening and more sympathetic, because regardless of their present situation and their needs they were once people. The question the book ultimately poses is what is it that makes us human?
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Robert Neville is the only human left in his neighbourhood and possibly in the world. It's some months since a devastating plague swept through humanity, killing many and turning the rest into vampires. For some reason, Neville alone seemed to be immune. Now he spends each night barricaded into his house, surrounded by all the traditional anti-vampire weapons – garlic, crosses, mirrors – while a growing horde of vampires gathers outside howling for his blood. By day, the vampires go into a coma-like sleep and Neville uses this time to fight back the only way he can – by killing as many of them as he can find.

Put away your anti-vampire fiction prejudices for a moment. The book is sci-fi in the sense that it's set in a near-future and involves a plague, Neville's world is about as dystopian as you can get and there are passages of great horror writing. But Matheson combines all these genres to produce something that is fundamentally about humanity – about loneliness, prejudice and the overwhelming will to survive.

The story is told from Neville’s perspective, though in the third person, and begins by showing his day-to-day existence – checking his house is still secure, making good any damage the vampires have done the night before, collecting any supplies he might need from the abandoned grocery stores. Then if there’s enough daylight left, he takes his stock of wooden stakes and hunts for vampires. The horrors of the plague are never far from his mind, though, and it’s through his memories that the reader learns what happened at that time. And Neville hasn’t given up all hope yet, either that there might be other people who escaped with their humanity intact, or that by studying the medical books in the abandoned libraries he might be able to fathom out the cause of the plague and develop a cure.

The quality of the writing is very high, not always a given in sci-fi. Where a modern day writer would doubtless waffle on for a stultifying 500 pages and throw in a love triangle, (yes, I am bitter…), Matheson cuts to the chase and packs a huge amount into a relatively small space. The search for a cure is done interestingly, with Neville taking the usual vampire story tropes one by one and testing them out to see which ones are true, then speculating on possible scientific causes for why they should work. Why garlic? Why do they only go outside when its dark? Why wooden stakes?

But when evening comes and the shouting and howling begins, then we see the utter loneliness and despair that haunt his nights, with memories of his happy, normal life before the plague constantly reminding him of all he has lost. It’s at these times that he questions what it is that makes him go on day after day, why he is driven to continue with the futile task of killing vampires when he knows that he’ll never be able to make even a tiny dent in their overwhelming numbers. Would it not be easier to give up, go outside and join them? But he is disgusted by them, a visceral, instinctive disgust at their very nature, a disgust that comes as much from hatred of difference as from fear.

The descriptive writing is spare but very effective in building an atmosphere of fear and tension, with occasional gleams of hope serving only to deepen the pervading darkness of despair. Neville isn't a super-hero – he's just a normal guy, meaning that the reader empathises with him. But what pushes this book beyond good and towards great is unfortunately the thing that cannot be discussed in a review without major spoilers. Suffice it to say that, when you have finished reading, you will probably find that you feel very differently than you expected to, and might well be left pondering the very nature of what it means to be human. Intrigued? Then read it...
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 January 2016
It's a short book (story) this one, but a great read, from the 1950s. It tells the tale of (seemingly) the last "human" alive on earth, Richard Neville, surrounded by zombie hordes. The book is as much a psychological study of the effects of extreme loneliness, loss and grief, as it is fighting off the undead. There are no gory descriptions of decapitation or mass battles, but the tension is real.
I really liked the fact that the zombies could "talk", (taunting him at times), and that, living in his old (fortified) house, he recognised his former neighbours as they shuffled about in the dark, or tried to kill him. That made it feel very personal and the isolation real.
Neville, over time, has learned to be self sufficient, resourceful and resilient. The arrival of a stray dog triggers a series of (emotional) events which lead to........well, I won't spoil the book.
Great little read.
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on 7 June 2016
This book was recommended to me by a friend when I was looking for something new to read. My usual genre is along the fantasy lines so not to far out with that.
The storyline is engaging, drawing you in from the start, the writing is fantastic. The author really shows the characters feelings and allows the reader to feel them to. The descriptions of the settings are in depth enough to allow the reader to see them without becoming too detailed and boring. It is an easy book to get lost in. I read it within a few hours as got completely into the story and couldn't put it down.
Would recommend for anyone who is looking for something in between fantasy and horror genre.
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