Before vampires were brooding, sparkly and sexy, Bram Stoker and Richard Matheson made them scary. They were creatures of the night, meant to be feare...moreBefore vampires were brooding, sparkly and sexy, Bram Stoker and Richard Matheson made them scary. They were creatures of the night, meant to be feared and avoided at all costs.
If it was Stoker that introduced us to the world of the undead blood suckers, it was Matheson who took the genre the next step forward, exploring how the tropes of vampire mythology could be true based on scientific principles of the time.
But to categorize "I Am Legend" as just as vampire story is a huge mistake. As with all of the best Matheson stories, the supernatural element is the gateway to exploring something deeper about human beings. In this case, it's an exploration of loneliness and the depths it can drive a person to.
Robert Neville is the last survivor of the vampire apocalypse, started when China and Russia unleashed germ warfare as part of a border war. The germ proved too effective, quickly spreading across the globe and wiping out large chunks of humanity. Neville is immune to the disease thanks to a vampire bat bite he got while serving in Central America years before. Neville faces not only the horror of being tormented each night by a hoard of vampires led by his old friend, Ben Cortman, but he also has to live with the guilt that he had to kill his wife and daughter when they were resurrected as vampires by the virus.
As the story begins, Neville is eking out a day to day existence in which his only concerns are ensuring his house is safe from the vampire hoards each night and trying to deal with the oppressive loneliness he feels every waking minute of the day. It's been a long time since Neville had any company of any kind and the hope of female companionship is just one of the lures the vampires try to use each evening to draw Neville out in a moment of weakness.
Neville's essential isolation is underlined by his attempts to connect to anything that could possibly be a link to a normal life. Neville feels hopes when he sees an uninfected dog roaming the neighborhood and spends weeks trying to get the animal to trust him. Later he sees what appears to be an unaffected woman and he chases her down like a madman, trying to keep her from fleeing. Of course, what Neville doesn't realize is that the vampires are evolving and creating their own society. And that to them, he's become the monster and stuff of nightmares--an unchanged human with no regard to the fact that there are two different types of vampires now--some who are mindless killing machines and others who are evolving into something more.
Neville is typical Matheson hero--the everyman facing extraordinary circumstances and trying not only to come to grips with them but to survive. Unlike many of the movie adaptations (when will Hollywood get this story right?!?), Neville doesn't start out as scientist but becomes one over the course of the story. Circumstances force him to begin a process of learning and studying to see if a cure is possible and why certain elements of the vampire lore might be true. Matheson's idea may or may not be scientifically credible in the real world, but they work within the confines of the story and make the entire novella that much richer for it.
One of the good things about "I Am Legend" is that the vampires in it are scary monsters, something to be feared and protected against. But Matheson also shows not only the evolution of Neville, but the evolution of the vampires as well. Early on, the vampires try to tempt Neville with the women pulling up their dresses and Cortland telling him to surrender and leave his safehouse. But as the novel goes along, the vampires become less aggressive in their attack, setting up a devious trap that eventually leads to Neville's downfall. It's a fascinating arc to consider and one has to wonder what the vampire society being created might be like once the final page of the story is turned.
"I Am Legend" is a great portal to exploring the literary world of Mattheson. Most editions of "Legend" will include a few short stories to give you a bit more of a taste of how good Matheson can be. In many ways, he's one of the most prolific and influential writers that most people haven't heard of. Stephen King often cites him as one of his biggest influences and the more you read of both, the more you'll see the connection.
"I Am Legend" is a classic of multiple genres and worthy of a read or even a re-read. I've read it several times now and enjoyed it each time. If you've not read it, put it on the to be read list. If you have read it, maybe it's time to visit it again and sit back in wonder of how good Matheson can be.
And Hollywood--it's about damn time you got the movie version of this book right.
When it comes to fantasy, I often wonder if writers these days are paid by the pound. Glancing over the spines of the novels in the sci-fi and fantasy...moreWhen it comes to fantasy, I often wonder if writers these days are paid by the pound. Glancing over the spines of the novels in the sci-fi and fantasy section at the bookstore or library, it certainly seems that way. I often wonder if the word "epic" should be translated "book so big you can hurt someone if you dropped it on them from the top of a flight of stairs."
There are a lot of writers who fall into the category of epic being little more than an excuse to have a huge page count and to give readers a severe case of cramps holding the book. Terry Goodkind is the most obvious culprit to me, though I've heard Robert Jordan can be the same (I've not read any Jordan and have no plans to in the near future). But then you've got an author like George R.R. Martin who embraces the term and delivers book that are, for lack of a better term, truly epic, packed with character and world building and a narrative thrust that keeps moving forward and rarely devolves into extended navel gazing.
Somewhere in between those two extremes of Goodkind and Martin is "Acacia," a story that advertises itself as an epic fantasy and certainly has the page count to back-up it up. David Anthony Durham has previously written some historical novels. The attention to detail and creating an authentic sense of time and place is both an asset and a detriment to "Acacia." Durham's attention to detail and world-building is admirable, when its being done right, but there are times when it brings the entire story to a halt and gets a bit tedious. A lot of these are in the first 200 or so pages as Durham has to laboriously put pieces into place so he can give us the payoff in the next two thirds of the book. It makes the novel difficult to wade into.
Durham's world is an intriguing enough one with various political factions vying for power. Several factions have controlled the world of "Acacia" at various times, each one working to build alliance and overthrow the other for as long as time can recall. It's an old struggle and it's not one that is going to end any time soon. One interesting aspect is the idea that each ruler comes into power with lofty dreams of changing the system of rule only to find the system is far too entrenched to make such radical changes without destroying their grasp on power and the world as it is.
In the universe of "Acacia," the ruling family rules with the help of a hired naval fleet and an interesting pact. Each year, the party in power provides a quota of slaves in return for the continued co-existence with another faction of might and a drug that keeps the rest of the populace sedated and in line. This deal with the devil as it were keeps the status quo and allows the in-fighting amongst factions as each one goes into and out of power. There are different names and personalities to things, but each ruler realizes that this is the system and it's going to take more than political capital and intestinal fortitude to change things they have or are willing to sacrifice.
Durham is clearly trying to follow the example of Martin with a sprawling cast of characters, many of whom you'll like and then dislike and then like again as the story goes along. He's also willing to make sure that no one is safe in the story, giving the story a bit more gravity than other fantasy offerings where you know that certain characters won't die or change too much in the course of the novel or series.
But at close to 800 pages, this is only the opening round of the story. The cover proclaims this is to be a trilogy and while I liked the world here, I'm still not sure I'm anxious to jump into the next book. "Acacia" doesn't resolve everything and is the opening act for a larger tapestry. Whether or not I'll continue the journey remains to be seen. (less)
One of the things about being a book geek is that, sometimes, you enjoy getting together with other book geeks and, well, geeking out about books. Par...moreOne of the things about being a book geek is that, sometimes, you enjoy getting together with other book geeks and, well, geeking out about books. Part of this is that you it makes you feel better to know others enjoy reading a particular type of novel or genre as much as you do and that while most of your friends and family find your zealousness for said books frightening, there are others out there who understand. And another big part is that you get recommendations for new books you might not normally read.
Last night, I ventured out to my first meeting of the science-fiction/fantasy discussion group at the Linebaugh library in downtown Murfreesboro. I've known about the existance of the group for a while now, but hadn't been able to make a meeting. I'd read a few of the books they'd selected but somehow life always seemed to interfere with my good intentions of actually getting there.
This month's selection was the Robert A. Heinlein novel, Farnham's Freehold. Let me preface this by saying that as a science-fiction reader, I find Heinlein vastly overrated. He may have been great in his day, but I've found the large majority of his work to be vastly inferior to other contemporaries of his day such as Issac Asimov or Arthur C. Clark. I've read a fair number of his bigger works such as Stranger in a Strange Land, just becuase it seems you can't be a sci-fi geek without having plowed through the book. But apart from Starship Troopers and The Puppet Masters, there's not been a lot of Heinlein I've come away really enjoying or thinking I'd actually want to re-read it again someday.
Alas, Farnham's Freehold feel in the category of how I feel about the majority of Heinlein's work--vastly overrated.
The front cover states this is "science-fiction's most controversial novel." Maybe in 1964, it was but the story is really showing signs of age. The story centers on Hugh Farnham and his family. Hugh has built a nuclear bunker under his house, which comes in handy when the U.S. in nuked by the Russians. Hugh, his family, a friend and their servant all hide out in the bunker, emerging to find that the bombs have somehow shifted them forward in time. The book then becomes a survivalist type of story about forging their way in a new world, until it takes an abrupt left turn about 150 pages into the book. The group is discovered by the new rulers of this world, all of whom are African-American. In a role-reversal of the time it was written, all the white people are treated as slaves, with the men nuetered.
Now, all of this may have seemed edgy, contemporary and brilliant social satire in the mid-60s, but today it all seems dated. The story lacks focus and abruptly shifts in tone and focus too much as the story unfolds. Even though the book barely hits the 300 page mark, it feels too padded and long, with Heinlein spendng a lot of time on the initial days in the new world and only hinting at the better novel that could have been in the last two pages. This is a novel that could have been a better novella.
But the biggest thing is that in a story about the survival of humanity, there should be at least one person you want to survive. That's not the case here. It's hard to identify with any of them or really care if they make it or not.
That said, as much as I didn't enjoy the book, it was interesting to be part of a discussion with people who had different views. One person shared my view on the lack of enjoyment in the book but others did like it and were able to share why. It didn't change my overall feeling on the book, but it was interesting to think about.(less)