I admit that I arrived fairly late in the 21st century where items of personal hardware are concerned. For example, I am only now just beginning to use my own mobile phone (a bog standard pay-as-you-go which formerly belonged to my Grandmother) as opposed to just using up all my wife’s credit texting “see you in the pub in half an hour” to my mates and then hoping nothing delays them or myself on the way. It should come as little surprise then that up until January of this year I had never owned an MP3 player.
The purchase of an in-probably small (to me at least) 2 GB Phillips Go Gear didn’t at first seem like anything more than a good way to use up some HMV vouchers but the micro machine has proved very useful indeed. I am a slow reader – I read to myself at almost the same rate I would if I was reading aloud (this may or may not have something to do with visualisation but that’s getting into a whole different thing and is a discussion author C. E. Murphy would definitely have to be involved with). I also spend all day in front of a computer screen typing and reading and typing and reading. These two factors combine to form a situation in which I do not get a lot of casual reading of novels or even short stories done. I read magazines, bits of newspapers and, of course, lots of stuff on the web but it takes me a long, long time to get through a novel these days.
I had been aware of the fantastic z0mbieastronaut.livejournal.com for a good few years prior to my purchase but I soon realised that listening to audio books, stories and radio plays on a small, portable MP3 player was very different to listening to them on the PC.
So over the last six months or so I’ve been ploughing my way through some fantastic (and admittedly some not so fantastic) stories but it was only very recently that I realised how many of the really good ones were by Mr. Richard Matheson.
Matheson is, of course, a name that most people are familiar with these days thanks to his 1954 novel I Am Legend which was recently adapted into an episode of popular TV sit com The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The original Legend (I admit, I haven’t seen the Will Smith film) is a fantastic novel made all the more enjoyable by its very 50s, pulpy language and pacing – Robert Neville is a sweat soaked (anti?) hero who seems to manage to even think through gritted teeth. Steven King dedicated his 2006 almost-zombie novel Cell to Matheson and George Romero with good reason – Legend is unquestionably the birth of a genre but it’s much more straight and gritty than I expected.
Many of Matheson’s stories have made their way onto television and cinema screens. His short story “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet“, for example, was turned into that Twighlight Zone episode where William Shatner goes crazy on a plane! As a result the first of his works I ever came into contact with was Speilberg’s version of Duel. Matheson wrote the screenplay himself and (from what I remember of the film – it’s been a while) stuck very closely to his story. The original is, of course, all about the language however, and writing an engaging story with hardly any dialogue which is pretty much a car chase from start to finish is no mean feat. Matheson manages to make it work so well that you don’t even realise the complexity of the mechanics involved – the rhythm of the gear changes, the animalistic sounds of the engines. Like Legend it’s deceptively simple and effortlessly executed.
It turns out that Matheson also wrote a book called Comedy of Terrors with Elsie Lee which was later made into a gaudy E. C. Comics-esque film starring Vincet Price, Peter Lorre, Bris Karloff, Basil Rathbone (what a line up!) and the very lovely Joyce Jameson which I was moderately obsessed with as a younger man. One adaptation of Matheson’s work I’m surprised I’ve never seen however is The Legend of Hell House. The novel (simply entitled Hell House) is noted for it’s similarities to The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson published more than a decade earlier (another one to add to the “to read” list) but with a lot more sex, violence and bad language. I recognised in Hell House the seed of a lot of the horror stories I read in my teens written by the likes of James Herbert and Richard Laymon. Despite all the evil and depravity you could imagine sex is the big sin in Hell House which did make it feel a bit dated at times but the story is undeniably effective and enjoyable with a good few twists (maybe just one too many in the end though).
So, thanks to the internet and the MP3 player, I’ve discovered a new appreciation for an author whose work I already vaguely knew but wasn’t likely to start suddenly reading. I will now definitely be tracking down more of Matheson’s work however.
The audio book is a truly wondrous thing and more authors should embrace the concept. Whilst I am fully aware that I have not paid for the MP3s I downloaded, I definitely would have if there was an easy (and reasonably priced) way to do so. More publishers should make downloads available on their websites and on the likes of Amazon and it should be made as easy as possible to purchase the files. I don’t have iTunes so I don’t know what the availability of audio books is like on there (please do let me know) but I think we need something similar, but more simple and not so brand-centric, just for audio books and stories.
I’m probably way behind on this of course. Maybe I should ask my Gran?