Book review in one tweet
Last man on Earth fights monsters. Becomes monster. Makes long, boring explanations about monsters. #NotTheWillSmithMovie
He had such a terrible yearning to love something again, and the dog was such a beautifully ugly dog.
My copy of I Am Legend has a giant red sticker on it that tells me the book is "NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING WILL SMITH." It should probably say something like "NOW LENDING ITS NAME TO A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING WILL SMITH."
Actually, it should probably say something not in all-caps. My point is, these two stories are very different, and whatever your experience of the movie, you'll probably have a totally different experience reading the book.
The basic premise is the same; most of the people in the world have either been killed by a deadly infection or transformed into some form of bloodsucking humanity. One guy, Robert Neville, is left alone, trying not to get eaten and carrying the torch for non-bloodsucking humanity. In the movie, the bloodsuckers are called "Darkseekers," which is basically just a way for the movie to have scary half-humans that are kind of like vampires and kind of like zombies and definitely avoid the long mythology behind both of those creepy creatures that might complicate our experience of watching Will Smith hunt deer.
The bloodsuckers in Matheson's book are straight up vampires - garlic-hating, mirror-hating, religious-symbol-hating vampires. Matheson doesn't shy away from the mythology at all. In fact, he spends most of the book trying to find scientific explanations for the mythology. Vampirism is caused by a facultative saprophyte (a bacteria basically), garlic is an allergen causing anaphylaxis, fear of crosses is "psychological."
Essentially the book tries to make everything deep and interesting about vampires as boring and technical as possible. I found myself losing interest, wanting to hear more about Robert's former family or the dog than his experiments with vampire bloodletting in an artificial vacuum. Horror and fantasy are supposed to places where we explore what we don't understand about our lives. They use a deep (caution: English-major word approaching) symbology to explore our non-rational side. All that power is lost the moment you start talking about facultative saprophytes.
4 wizard staffs (out of 10)
The most intriguing part of this book is the way it plays with ideas of monstrosity and normalcy. Basically it asks whether "monster" is a relative term. If everyone in the world is a monster, does that make the monsters "normal" and the "normal" hero a monster? It's an interesting question, but not something I couldn't get from multiple Twilight Zone episodes.
4 cold, frosty beers (out of 10)
The book is better than the movie, but neither of them are that great. And the book doesn't have Will Smith hunting deer.
Jordan Jeffers always wants a beer after writing these reviews. Feel free to give him electronic encouragement via the little Facebook and Twitter buttons below. Peace.