Review of I Am Legend / The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson

SFFaudio Review

I Am Legend / The Shrinking Man
by Richard Matheson
Read by Walter Lawrence
9 Cassettes – Approx. 12 hours UNABRIDGED
List Price: USD $72.00 – CURRENTLY OOP (out of print)
BOOKS ON TAPE INC.
(February 26, 1992)
ISBN: 0736621474

Read by Walter Lawrence, this double audiobook features two novels by Richard Matheson. Lawrence does a fine job in narrating both, Matheson’s prose is clear and powerful. I highly recommend this audiobook. Unfortunately, finding a copy to listen to may be rather difficult, this unabridged audiobook is out of print, you can try ADDALL.com or eBay, even better check the shelves of your local library.

I Am Legend
“From out of the night came the living dead with one purpose: destroy Robert Neville, the last man on earth. A mysterious plague has swept the planet leaving in its wake this one survivor. But there is still life of a sort–vampires, the strengthless half-dead who press on Neville from every side. He is almost tempted to join them in I AM LEGEND.”


I Am Legend is a vampire story and a psychological story, the hero, Neville, is the last man on Earth. Every night undead and living vampires pelt his suburban Los Angeles home with rocks. Every day he repairs the night’s damage, restocks his supplies, finds ways to keep himself from going mad, and – oh yes – hunts down the vampires and drives wooden stakes through their hearts. The novel jumps back and forth in Neville’s history, between when the plague first hits, killing his wife, to a few months after he the last man alive, to three years later when Neville is resigned to his new life as the last man on Earth. Neville is an everyman with a scientific disposition, when he isn’t killing vampires he’s studying the disease that causes it in the local library. He develops theories, tries to iron out the inconsistencies in it and performs gruesome tests on the vampires. He lives in hopes that maybe he’ll find someone else still alive, or be able to cure one of the still living vampires.

Richard Matheson has a pretty low profile for such a well known writer. I’d heard his name, but never read any of his books before this one. I knew that he been involved with the original “The Twilight Zone” (1959-1965) television series, had written the book that had been turned into the movie The Omega Man (1971) starring Charlton Heston, but had no idea what a great writer he was until I listened to this double audiobook. First let me tell you this, I think I Am Legend is one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened to, and I’ve heard hundreds. I won’t spoil the ending, but I’ll tell you this, its revolutionary, thought provoking and satisfying – and as I would find out after listening to The Shrinking Man, its one of Matheson’s on-going ideas.

The Shrinking Man

“It started simply enough in THE SHRINKING MAN. One moment Scott Carey was in the sunlight, the next he was being soaked by a warm, glittering spray. His skin tingled, and soon he began to change, to grow smaller and smaller, until his mere existence was at stake.”

The Shrinking Man is a good story, not a good science fiction story, but a good fable. In fact you probably heard the plot before, or saw the movie based on it, The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). Scott Carey is shrinking, everyday he loses 1/7th of an inch in height. The doctors don’t know what to make of it, the press loves the story and his family life is falling apart. Everyday Scott keeps shrinking, nothing can stop it, soon he can’t sit in chairs anymore, people on the street mistake him for a child, treat him as a child. He becomes a resentful, unable to do anything for himself he must depend upon his wife, his brother and eventually his own daughter, who now towers over him, for everything. At one point his own cat becomes dangerous to him. Scott is utterly alone and overtime he begins to cope with his diminutive height a new danger confronts him.

There are many frightening scenes in this novel, most notably a battle with a black widow spider that towers over our hero. There are poignant scenes, a visit to Mrs. Tom Thumb at the circus, a woman as short as he who lives in a doll house and to who being tiny is the only thing she’s ever known. There are also disturbing scenes, teenage toughs beat up and tease what they assume to be a child, and in perhaps the most disturbing scene Scott becomes the target of a drunken pedophile! But the novel is only surfically a science fiction story, and Matheson seems resigned only to the barest of explanations for what is happening to Scott. We’re told that it must have been an exposure to a concentrated insecticide that is causing the shrinkage, that the nitrogen is going out of Scott’s body at a regular rate. But as any student of subtraction knows a constant loss of 1/7th of an inch a day will eventually result in no height at all.

Pulp Cover images:
I Am Legend By Richard Matheson © 1954 Gold Medal Books
The Shrinking Man By Richard Matheson © 1956 Gold Medal Books

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