Richard Matheson, 1926-2013
The New-Jersey-born author is best known for his 1954 vampire novel I Am Legend. Don't judge it by the three movie adaptations (all of which, going by what I read -- I couldn't bring myself to actually watch -- bastardized it unforgivably). It has to be read. The essence of it lies in what goes on inside Robert Neville's mind, his revelations and insights, his wild gyrations between scientific purposefulness and enraged despair as he struggles to cope with an impossible situation; these are pictures that only the written word can truly paint.
Matheson wrote an episode of Star Trek and several episodes of The Twilight Zone, but it was always his stories in which he was most in his element. Even the more obscure ones stick with you. My first taste of him was "Dance of the Dead", a creepy little piece about the zombie phenomenon reduced to degrading entertainment; like I Am Legend, though much less subtly, it raises the question of whether the human is more monstrous than the monster. "Prey", about a doll that comes horribly to life, was adapted (worthily this time) by Matheson himself as the episode "Amelia" of the TV film "Trilogy of Terror". And don't miss "Person to Person" about a man who hallucinates phone calls -- or does he?
If there's any common theme to many of his tales, it's the way menace emerges from ordinary situations and places, even from inside our own minds. Really, though, they're incredibly diverse and he was always trying out new themes. Starting an unfamiliar Matheson story, you never know quite what you're going to get.
As is often the case with writers, Matheson never "retired" despite his age; his last novel came out just last year. This, of course, makes the loss all the greater. There will never be another quite like him.