Yesterday, I learned via Boing Boing that Richard Matheson, amazing author of speculative fiction, horror, and much more, died at the age of 87.
One of my earliest blog posts was a “horror masters” post on Richard Matheson, who I’ve referred to as “the most famous author you’ve never heard of.” (Though, if you’re a fan of this blog, you’re more likely to have heard of him than the general public.) He wrote many classic stories of horror and science fiction but never seemed to accrue the name recognition of an Asimov or a Bradbury.
He essentially sowed the seeds of modern zombie apocalypse stories with his 1954 novel I Am Legend, which describes the trials of the last man on Earth as he struggles against a population that has turned into vampires. (Three movie versions have been made, none of which have managed to “get the point” of Matheson’s story.) He essentially predicted road rage with his 1971 short story Duel, which was made into a TV movie of the same name directed by the relatively unknown director at the time Steven Spielberg. He wrote countless stories that ended up at Twilight Zone episodes, including Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, about a passenger who spies a strange creature on the wing of a flying plane. He wrote the novel The Shrinking Man in 1956, turned into the movie The Incredible Shrinking Man.
As far as horror goes, I like to refer Matheson as an author of “suburban horror.” His stories regularly take mundane aspects of modern life — airplanes, cars, telephones — and shows how they can become menacing.
His influence is enduring: his 1956 short story Steel was adapted in 2011 into the movie Real Steel (with, as typical, significant changes).
I’ll really miss his work, and hope that he finds the afterlife that he believed in (and chronicled in his novel What Dreams May Come).