(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Published less than ten years after the end of World War II and the detonation of two atomic bombs, I Am Legend was part of a revival of disaster theme literature. Earlier in the century, literature of this sort was less common and usually centered on natural catastrophe. Notable examples of this earlier type include Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague (1915) and S. Fowler Wright’s Deluge (1928). In England, post-World War II disaster literature continued this emphasis on natural catastrophe, for example in John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (1951) and John Christopher’s The Death of Grass (1956). U.S. science-fiction writers, on the other hand, concentrated on disease, with George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides (1949) preceding I Am Legend by several years. Other noteworthy examples include Algis Budry’s Some Will Not Die (1961), Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain (1969), and Stephen King’s The Stand (1978; text restored, 1990).

I Am Legend was Matheson’s first science-fiction novel, and it established his reputation in the field. He followed it with two others, The Shrinking Man (1956) and Bid Time Return (1975), which won the World Fantasy Award for best novel of 1975. For the most part, Matheson’s writing blends fantasy and science fiction in a combination that is more mysterious than explicable, more fanciful than...

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