Is The Vampire So Bad?
Tom Doherty Associates/Tor/RXR, 1995
ISBN 978 0765357151
I think I’ve already written about books with characters that make you wish they were real so that you could punch them in the face. The nice thing about that feeling is that it comes from all walks of literature – my own personal list includes Cathy from Wuthering Heights, Harold Lauder from The Stand, and both Bella and Edward from the Twilight books (but I have a feeling that last one is pretty common). Mostly, it’s because that character is either an ass of a human being (or not-so-human being in Mr. Cullen’s case), or is going about getting what they want in a really stupid way. In Harold and Cathy’s cases, I can deal with it, because the overall story is pretty good. But there are some idiot characters of literature that just will not be dealt with.
Like Robert Neville.
Alright, so he’s not as much of a douche as you might expect, having witnessed his wife and daughter succumb to the dread disease which carries off most of the rest of the planet. And to be fair on him, the guy has been living on his own for quite some time when the novel begins, so he’s developed certain routines and ways of thinking. I think that the scariest part of the characterisation of Robert Neville is how far away his intellectual faculties have slunk. Because obviously, the guy ain’t dumb. But my query is how come it takes him so long to start figuring out a cure for the virus? I mean, surely a major catalyst would be the nearest and dearest getting sick, right? But Neville is painted quite a few times within the narrative as being a passive creature, almost resigned to bobbing along in the flow of events. Which is totally fine, you need people like that… but just don’t make them the last people on earth. Or, maybe do, but don’t have them whining and moaning every five seconds about how annoying it is to lathe stakes, how you really should find a better method of disposal… and then not do anything about it. Hrumph!
Now, personal loathing aside, this is a pretty solid tale. I’m always a sucker for the brand of dystopian fiction where the last whimper comes about through disease – that’s part of the reason that I love The Stand and The Andromeda Strain, as well as films like 28 Days and Outbreak . There’s just something about the fact that disease is usually so inexorable, and final – plus this little story has the added benefit of being an example of the hybrid vampire-zombie mish-mash. I can’t think of any particular examples of that same hybrid off the top of my head, but I’m sure that there must be some out there… I mean, it’s all the undead, once you get down to it, right?
Some of the story (and perhaps my loathing of Robert Neville) could be that it’s lost in translation a little bit – I am Legend was first published in 1954. Since then, it’s been adapted to film not once, but three times, which even I have to admit is pretty impressive. Filmography aside, while the language isn’t horribly archaic, there are some weird attitudes given voice in there which really give it more of a temporal grounding than it should have. Most of the scenes with Ruth towards the end of the novella make me feel a bit weird in my feminist bone, and then there’s all that junk with the slutty vampires trying to make poor Robert come out of his house by cavorting on his lawn. Yeesh, give a girl a break. Oh, and Virginia Neville struggling up to make breakfast like a good little hausfrau is kind of a give-away too… she soldiers on even though she’s blimin’ well dying of zombie-vampiritis.
The particular volume of this book that I have is comprised of I am Legend as well as a few other short stories. Which is awesome… I really love a good short story, and some of these are particularly good – spooky and even kind of clever. Buried Talents in particular freaked me out; I could really visualise the ‘fat man’ at the carnival stall. The fact that there were no names, no attempt at characterisation or building an environment or anything beyond the actual event described in the story really made it for me. I guess what I’m trying to say is that even if I am Legend itself isn’t your cup of warm biological fluid, persevere with the stories if you can, because they’re certainly worth the price of admission.