Yesterday, Richard Matheson passed away at the age of 87, after battling a lengthy illness.
Much like the recently departed Jack Vance, this one hits me because I’ve been trying to read and review as much of the author’s work as possible; I can point to works I’ve recently read by Matheson, three of his earliest novels earlier this year. I was just preparing some magazine reviews in the works that include Matheson stories—I didn’t buy them issues simply because they included his work, but that was added incentive. Give it another month and two or three of his stories will be posted. I have several more Matheson novels on my shelf to read and review—What Dreams May Come and The Shrinking Man off the top of my head—and his collection of ’50s short works Third From The Sun.
The first Matheson work I read was, duh, I Am Legend; it wasn’t a movie tie-in per se, but I’m pretty sure it had a sticker or something advertising the Will Smith film. It’s the Tor/Orb version with what felt like an army of additional short works attached at the back, to make up for the title story’s comparatively short length, making the book “regular” trade paperback sized. It was chillingly evocative; the title story and several of the supplemental ones featured wonderful suspense and evocative settings awash in atmosphere. I’ve since read stacks of his stories, of the macabre, of the supernatural, of science fiction and fantasy, of psychological dread and fear. Richard Matheson left a lasting imprint on the genres I prefer and hold dear. He was a master.
I was just reading In Search of Wonder the other night, where Damon Knight routinely savaged Matheson as a good stylist lacking in both science and substance in all but a few of his tales. Not only do I disagree, I’d argue that Matheson’s merits as a stylist outweigh any of his flaws; even in his earliest works he could conjure forth tension and suspense that other writers only wish they could create. He merged brilliant creativity with dread, with wonder, and with woe, and while not all of his works impress me, all so far have entertained me. He wrote some of the best Twilight Zone episodes, including the unforgettable “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” and gems such as “Steel,” “The Invaders,” and “Little Girl Lost.” He wrote dozens of screenplays, hundreds of shorts, and a pile of novels. Again, it’s impossible to understate the impact he had, not just on one genre, but the entire wealth of fiction.
So, a goodbye to Richard Matheson, whose works will entertain, shock, surprise, terrify, and haunt us forever.
A few memorial posts:
- io9: R.I.P Richard Matheson, Author of I Am Legend and Many Other Classics
- The Guardian: Richard Matheson I Am Legend Creator Has Died
- 89.33 KPCC: ‘I Am Legend,’ ‘Twilight Zone’ writer Richard Matheson is dead at 87 (video)
- Too Much Horror Fiction: RIP Richard Matheson