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The ur-text of the modern zombie-apocalypse phenomenon

I Am Legend - Richard Matheson

I came to this book in a roundabout fashion, which was through the films. I had seen "The Omega Man" years before, and I watched "I Am Legend" when it was in the theaters, but it was only after I saw the first film adaptation, 1964's "The Last Man on Earth," that I finally decided to read the novel. I'm glad that I did, too, as it helped me to appreciate the many ways in which it is the ur-text of the entire zombie-apocalypse phenomenon of today. Part of this is because of the first film, which influenced George Romero's classic film "Night of the Living Dead," which redefined zombies in the popular imagination. But while the look of zombies may have been borrowed from the film, the basic premise is all Matheson's -- just about every subsequent post-zombie-apocalyptic tale, from Romero's films down to "The Walking Dead," is really little more than a take on the storyline in Matheson's novel, where a lone survivor finds himself struggling to persevere against mindless hordes besieging him. All the basics are here, from zombieism as a disease to the challenges of isolation and survival that the still-living face -- and very few have really improved on Matheson's ability to capture the monotonous horror of Robert Neville existence, as he battles the exhaustion and isolation imposed on him by his life after society's collapse. His short novel really doesn't receive the full recognition it deserves for all that it has spawned, and no fan of the modern apocalypse genre can truly regard themselves as such without reading this powerful and influential book.