Atmosphere: Riddled with holes
Chill factor: Tepid
I hate to dump on a novel so many sci-fi/horror readers respect. But I didn’t much care for this one.
To sum up the plot, a lone survivor of a plague and vampire infestation tries to…well, survive.
On the plus side, that is a somewhat intriguing plot. The character also does some investigative work on what makes vampires tick, and the resulting information is imaginative.
That’s about it for the plus side.
On the minus side: Well, where do I begin? First of all, the survivor just happens to be a white adult WASP male, Robert Neville. And he happens not to be incredibly likable, at least for this reader. This is unfortunate, since we are pretty much in his head for the entire journey. Neville is portrayed in two dimensions: he’s a prototypical male human and he’s intelligent. Oh, and he really hates the smell of garlic. But, does he develop empathy for the vampires he kills (some of whom happen to be acquaintances)? Sort of. Does his character improve with the isolation he endures? Naw. Does he find some sort of redemption in his suffering or that of the vampires? Apparently not.
Supposedly the “grim irony” of the novel is when a new breed of human — vampires who develop a resistance to the things that ordinarily kill vampires — decide that he’s the outsider and must be annihilated. Which would be a ironic and satsifying if the book had built up to that moment; in other words, if we would have seen Neville’s character change from fright to a sort of empathy that is a saving grace of humanity, to a desire to help the poor creatures…But the author doesn’t do that. Instead he resorts to keeping his hero trapped in his male sexuality and self-pity. I mean, what does the fool do with all of the solitude and time??? Why was there relatively little soul-searching and philosophical musing (Thoreau he is not)? Why didn’t he try building “safehouses” around to extend his perimeter? Why didn’t he pursue a cure sooner? And why did the only person with any empathy turn out to be a woman who was one of the new species (and what was her motive, other than what the author implied that Neville was a prototype WASP male, therefore a “good catch”)? Okay, that’s harsh. But, Neville certainly didn’t woo Ruth (a ham-handed Biblical name) with his charm and character. And he supposedly is smart enough to learn about biology and chemistry and how to fix a generator, but he couldn’t figure out Ruth was a spy? I mean, I saw that coming from a dozen pages away. Neville even has a few “Why didn’t I think of that sooner?” moments to explain plot gaps, which is a really lazy device on Matheson’s part.
Perhaps even all of this could have been redeemed if there was a gloriously written sentence or well-turned phrase or two. Alas, not a one.
This is why I tend to stay away from the genre stuff. I simply require something other than plot from my reading. Or, at least, if a plot has to carry the whole shebang, it better not have any damned holes in it.
I’m not giving up on Matheson yet. I will see what his novella Hell House has in store.