When Ray Bradbury calls you one of the most important writers of the 20th century, it's safe to say you've been doing something right. Well, Bradbury did in fact say that about Richard Matheson, a man who can only be described as a titan of horror and science fiction. Some of his novels and short stories are undisputed masterworks, and in addition to the high quality and groundbreaking nature of his writing, Matheson influenced scores of other authors and filmmakers.
What Matheson did so incredibly well was take the trappings of genre and move them into the modern world, a feat he achieved to brilliant effect in his 1954 novel I Am Legend. The story of a lonely man battling to stay alive in a world overrun by vampires, the novel created a scientific rationale for vampirism and brought the horror archetype out of the castles and cobwebs and into suburban California. Without his scenes of living corpses shambling through abandoned city streets, we probably wouldn't have Night of the Living Dead, The Walking Dead and the entire modern zombie genre.
If Matheson had just written I Am Legend, his place in genre history might be secure, but he penned dozens of novels and hundreds of short stories, in addition to numerous teleplays and movie scripts. His work was defined by its clear storytelling, his journalistic writing style, and his everyday characters -- regular working folks facing extraordinary or terrifying circumstances and decisions. His stories were also quite moving as well -- watch or read for example The Shrinking Man, which takes its pulpy sci-fi plot and turns it into a powerful meditation on the meaning of existence. It just doesn't get better than Matheson at his very best.
Here are eight things you need to know about Richard Matheson: