Top image: I Am Legend concept art.
Over the years, I’ve preached the gospel of Richard Matheson to anyone who would listen. There’s a spiel I used to do at Tor sales conferences, whenever we were presenting a new Matheson title, which went something like this:
“Even if you’ve never read one of his books or stories, or recognize his name, you know Richard Matheson. It was impossible to grow up in America and the world without being exposed to his work. The gremlin on the wing of the plane? Matheson. That Star Trek episode where Kirk split into two people? Matheson. The Incredible Shrinking Man, Somewhere in Time, Duel, The Night Stalker, What Dreams May Come? Matheson. That new robot boxing movie? Matheson.”
And that’s not even mentioning all those cool old Vincent Price movies he scripted for Roger Corman. Or the story that was turned into an episode of Family Guy. (Really.) Or all times his work has been parodied on The Simpsons. It was almost impossible to imagine what the genre would be like without his many, many contributions.
Richard and I began working together in 1992, when I eagerly volunteered to edit his new novel, Seven Steps to Midnight, which had just been acquired by Tor. I confess to being a bit intimidated at first. Richard was a living legend who had literally been writing classics before I was born. Heck, I had celebrated my high school graduation by seeing The Legend of Hell House at a Seattle movie theater and had been arguing for years that I Am Legend was the most important vampire novel since Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But I soon discovered that Richard was anything but intimidating. In the twenty-plus years we worked together, he was always remarkably soft-spoken, courteous, and open to editorial suggestions. He was no prima donna.
Oddly, I only met Richard in the flesh once, at the 1993 World Horror Convention in Stamford, Connecticut. A blizzard had cut off the convention from the world, but it was warm and cozy inside. Along with Bob Gleason, who was Tor’s editor-in-chief at the time, we sat up late into the evening in front of a fireplace in the hotel lobby, brainstorming ways to turn one of Richard’s stage plays into a novel. By the time Richard finally retired for the evening, he had cracked the problem and come up with a brand-new POV character for the book, which was eventually published as Now You See It . . . .
In my office are two overstuffed shelves bulging with books by and about Richard Matheson, many of them published by Tor/Forge over the last twenty-one years. Along with his most celebrated classics, such as I Am Legend and Somewhere in Time, are his westerns, his crime thrillers, his semi-autobiographical war novel, his metaphysical musings, and many other unforgettable works that demonstrate the astonishing range of his imagination and talent.
Richard never repeated himself. There is no I Am Legend 2 or Return of The Shrinking Man. He disliked being pigeon-holed and, well into his eighties, was still exploring new genres, styles, and settings. The last book we worked on together, Other Kingdoms, was a spooky supernatural romance about a wounded American soldier who finds himself caught in a dangerous love triangle involving a witch and a fairy princess. It couldn’t have been more different from his previous novel, a gritty thriller titled Hunted Past Reason, which was just the way Richard liked it.
A veteran of World War II, Richard lived a remarkably long and accomplished life that touched millions of people. Rather than mourn his passing, I’m inclined to celebrate all that created and shared with the world. I have no doubt that his fertile imagination will be shaping our dreams and nightmares for generations to come.