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Matheson Uncollected / Richard Matheson

Gauntlet Press / August 2008
Reviewed by: JG Faherty

When I was asked if I wanted to review Matheson Uncollected, I nearly jumped from my seat in joy. I’m a huge Matheson fan, have been ever since I was a kid and found out that The Incredible Shrinking Man was actually based on a book he’d written. Then, when my father told me Matheson had also written I Am Legend (filmed as The Omega Man), and the script for “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (one of my all-time favorite Twilight Zone episodes), I was totally hooked. I read as much by him as I could, and saw all the movies made from his books and stories. Years later, he shocked me again when I found out A Stir of Echoes, another great movie, was based on a book Matheson wrote in 1958!

However, no matter how much I love reading Matheson’s stuff - and it’s the stuff of genius, make no doubt - I didn’t go into this assignment wearing my rose-colored glasses. There’s a reason collections of unreleased or released only in limited fashion stories come out, and that’s usually to repackage and sell stories that weren’t good enough to sell the first time. Quite often, the repackaging includes a special ‘treat;’ in this case, the treat is a rough version of Matheson’s Star Trek screenplay for The Enemy Within. That alone would be enough for me to have bought the book, of course, ‘cause I’m a die-hard Trekkie (original series only, please!).

So, it was with a mixture of trepidation and anticipation that I opened the book.

And those feelings were still with me a day later when I finished it.

See, I was both right and wrong. These definitely aren’t the strongest stories Matheson has ever written. In some, the language is a bit stilted and bumpy, as if Matheson had turned in a rough draft instead of a final copy. In others, the prose zings along and the stories are as imaginative as anything he’s produced, outside of his huge hits.

The majority of the stories are pure science fiction, as is to be expected. A couple veer over into the strange territories he mined for Twilight Zone, and in Stir of Echoes. To me, it seems as if he was trying to sell these stories on the open market today, and didn’t have the Matheson name to back him up, easily 75% of them would find a home in Analog or Fantasy & Science Fiction, or perhaps Weird Tales. Considering that most collections only please about 50% of the time, that’s not bad. Not bad at all. But none of the stories in here will ever be compared to “The Waker Dreams,” “The Thing,” or “No Such Thing as a Vampire.”

The same holds true for the screenplay and the incomplete novel also included in the book. Split Personality (the original title for The Enemy Within), is a fun, nostalgic read for any STAR TREK fan, but offers nothing new, except for an 8-page background piece on the evolution of the episode.

Colony Seven is the first six chapters of a novel Matheson never finished. It’s possibly the weakest piece in the collection; had it been an actual novel, I probably wouldn’t have made it to Chapter Six.

My favorite ‘extra’ is the unreleased script to No Such Thing as a Vampire, based on his short story of the same name. It was great to read the story again, and interesting to see how the script coincided and diverged from the short story. Of course, this script will only be available in the lettered edition, a bonus for spending that extra cash.

Among the short stories, my favorite was “Man with a Club,” a neat little story about a strange appearance on a city street.

Many of the stories in the book sound dated, as if written back in the 50’s and 60’s, but that is simply Matheson’s chosen style, and it doesn’t detract from the reading of the stories.

When all is said and done, Matheson Uncollected is a must for Matheson collectors and fans, Star Trek fans, and anyone who loves well-done science fiction. Just don’t expect any instant classics to emerge from the stories.

Purchase Matheson Uncollected by Richard Matheson.

Posted on Thursday, August 7, 2008 at 11:27AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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