What a great book to start a new year of reading!
I Am Legend is a novella originally published in 1954 as a piece of science fiction (since the story takes place in the not-so-distant 1976). Today it is hailed as a major contribution to the horror genre. Indeed, the whole time I was reading this, I was reminded of the thrill you get when you are completely immersed in a good Stephen King or Clive Barker story!
The story itself focuses on Robert Neville, the last man on earth. A worldwide holocaust has transformed all surviving humans into vampires -- all, that is, except for Neville ... and the story follows him as he nightly seals himself into a house and fights off the vampires that walk on the roof, pound on the doors, and bellow his name! When he ventures outside during the daytime, he seeks their comatose bodies to burn, and one of the most gripping scenes in the book begins when Neville realizes -- a bit too late -- that his wristwatch has stopped!
But more than merely a page-turner, I Am Legend is also a fascinating take on the traditional vampire story in terms of offering a scientific explanation for vampirism (even going so far as to suggest that the Black Plague of the Middle Ages may have been connected to it) and a speculation on why certain aspects of the legend exist in the first place (e.g., if a Jewish person becomes a vampire, would a cross have the same punishing effect on it?).
To be honest, I don't remember much about Omega Man, the 1971 film that was based on the Matheson story, nor have I seen the newly released Will Smith film. But as a piece of fiction, I Am Legend is a thrilling read!
* This paperback edition includes ten additional short stories by Richard Matheson.